Princess Leia. More A Victim than Icon

I’ve been thinking about Carrie Fisher. Thinking about her a lot, lately. But my thinking isn’t in a way that I might have expected.

Yes. I was shocked by her death. So were a lot of people. It made me sad. She was still comparatively young. It is always kind of sad to lose someone like Carrie Fisher, who was highly intelligent, very talented, possessing a great sense of humor and clever at mocking others as well as herself. Read one of her books if you get the chance.

The thing is I had a mild epiphany when I saw a headline describing Fisher as an icon and a role model and a trailblazer for women. The story went on to say that the “ iconic actress paved the way for girls to take over their own galaxies, and she did so while battling her own personal demons. Her ‘Star Wars’ role, and her strength and humour in real life inspired a generation of women who are now deeply mourning her loss. She empowered them to be their own heroes!”

Normally I would totally agree with all of that. But In Carrie Fisher’s case I am not so sure. I think she was more of a victim than an icon. A victim of a Hollywood system, that continues to regard a woman as second class. Certainly treated as worth much less than any man.

In 2005, The American Film Institute awarded the Life Achievement Award to Star Wars creator George Lucas. But it was Fisher’s speech to roast him that stole the show. In just over four minutes, Fisher practices gender equality. She flagellates Lucas as equally as she honours him. She was fearless in sharing her story, while also taking pot shots at herself, and the franchise and the industry that made her famous.

“Hi, I’m Mrs. Han Solo and I’m an alcoholic,” Fisher begins. “I’m an alcoholic because George Lucas ruined my life.” She goes on to call Lucas a sadist, but adds that “like any abused child wearing a metal bikini, chained to a giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more.”

Fisher praises Lucas while also reminding everyone of his shortcomings, and with it, the sexism of Hollywood. She points to “Queen Amadillo, or whatever her name is” in the prequel series, who changed hairstyles and outfits “practically every time she walks through a door.”

“I bet she even got to wear a bra, even though you (Lucas) told me I couldn’t, because there was no underwear in space!”

Fisher was especially aggrieved at how Hollywood and Lucas ‘stole’ her identity. How millions of dollars were made selling her Princess Leia likeness. Fisher did not receive a cent. This is what she had to say in an interview with Newsweek : ” The mistake was I signed away my likeness for free. In those days, there was no such thing as a “likeness,” which is a funny thing to say coming from the family that I came from. There was no merchandising tied to movies. No one could have known the extent of the franchise. Not that I don’t think I’m cute or anything, but when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t think I was signing away anything of value.

“Lately I feel like I’m Minnie Mouse—the identity of Princess Leia so eclipses any other identity that I’ve ever had. How much money could I have made from all this stuff? I don’t want to know. It’s too upsetting. Yet funny. For example, I found out recently that I am a type of marijuana. A friend of my daughter’s actually went to one of those medical places, and she told me there was a type of marijuana named Princess Leia. I never liked marijuana, so the fact that I’m a type of marijuana is ironic.

“I’ve teased George Lucas about this over the years, but he’s never been apologetic.

“When you’re 19 you don’t even think about these things. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was. Harrison Ford was 33! He should have known better! Here’s where I’m dumb. I assume if there’s an argument to be made, Harrison would have made it, and if he made it, I would have heard about it, because we had the same deal. But Harrison hasn’t fixed his deal. So this is an ongoing mistake.

“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity. I don’t like to linger in this zone.

“Me, having a tantrum in the corner for my cut of Star Wars toothpaste? I don’t want to get into it. Every so often, I wonder if Natalie Portman is getting more money than the none I’m getting. If she’s holding a check for Princess Amidala’s likeness in one hand and her Oscar in the other, that would piss me off. “

Ironically, Portman is a classic case in point at how everything and nothing has changed for women actors in Hollywood. In a very recent interview with the British magazine Marie Claire, Portman revealed that Ashton Kutcher was paid three times her salary when they both made the rom com movie No Strings Attached. Portman said that while the pay disparity was ‘crazy’ she was not complaining because her salary was still more than what it would take for the average person to earn in a lifetime of work.

“Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar, “ Portman said. “ In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

The gender pay gap is now a hot topic in Hollywood especially since Patricia Arquette made an impassioned speech about the issue when accepting the Oscar for best supporting actress for Boyhood in 2015.

Later that year, Jennifer Lawrence also bought into the issue after the Sony hacks revealed she had been paid far less for American Hustle than her male colleagues.

“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,'” Lawrence would later write in an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter. “At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the internet and realized every man I was working with, definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.”

Most recently actor Felicity Jones who starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story told Glamour magazine: “I want to be paid fairly for the work that I’m doing. That’s what every single woman around the world wants. We want to be paid on parity with a man in a similar position. And I think it’s important to talk about it.”

Portman, who is widely tipped to score an Oscar nomination for her role in the Jackie Kennedy biopic, Jackie, also told Marie Claire that she intends to make sure that her next film is directed by a woman.

Will all of this make a difference? Maybe. In time. In the meantime, let’s keep having the conversation.

Star Wars-The Real Back Story

When someone writes a hit movie or a best seller, it’s easy to think it all resulted from a stroke of creative genius and it just happened organically. But in almost every case nothing could be further from the truth.

Take the Stars Wars movie franchise for instance. A number of intriguing back- stories exist about how things got to be as they were in the Star Wars movies. Here I should give a plug to a writer called Chris Taylor who discovered them and wrote a book suitably titled: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multi-billion Dollar Franchise.

For example, Taylor tells the story of when Star Wars creator George Lucas showed a rough cut of the movie to his mates Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palmer, Spielberg thought it was going to be a huge hit but De Palmer mocked it mercilessly. He told Lucas what is all this “ Force shit? Where’s all the blood when they shoot people.” But sarcasm aside, De Palmer was a talent. Lucas knew it. And De Palmer wanted to help his friend. So he and Jay Cocks, another screenwriter and critic for Time magazine, agreed to re-write the opening crawler. You remember. The big words in yellow at the start of the movie, which disappear into outer space. The words give the back-story of the Empire and the rebel alliance.

And there are plenty of other intriguing and tasty morsels to be had.

How about the origin of the Han Solo Wookie? That came about after the sound editor on one of George Lucas’s other projects hired a voice actor called Terry McGovern. And McGovern just happened to bring along an old army buddy called Bill Wookey.

You might be starting to get where this is going.

At some stage marijuana must have been smoked because a very stoned McGovern adlibbed during a voice-over recording “I think I just ran over a Wookey back there.” Lucas who might have been equally stoned, who knows, thought what McGovern had said was hilarious and he wrote down the line in his notebook but changed the spelling of Wookey so that it ended in the letters ‘i’ and ‘e’. Incidentally McGovern was also hired to be a voice actor on Star Wars. Remember the scene where Obi-Wan-Kenobi hypnotises one of Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers into saying: “These aren’t the droids we are looking for?” Well that was Terry McGovern’s voice saying it. McGovern was paid the princely sum of $200 for his token bit of screen immortality. Bill Wookey, McGovern’s friend never met George Lucas and had no idea his name would inspire film history. That was until Bill Wookey happened to see the movie and other people who also saw it said he must have inspired the character Chewbacca. Bill Wookey is a hairy, bearded man who is 6 foot 3 inches.

There is one back-story that Taylor tells that I particularly like. It concerns the origin of the name of the little droid R2 D2.

George Lucas was also responsible for the movie American Graffiti. He and a man called Walter Murch did the sound mix. But in order to do the job properly they needed to match the dialogue to the right reel of film. So they would write on cans of film the letters R for reel and D for dialogue. Of course each can was numbered so there would be no confusion. Apparently, one day (this is a true story) Murch yelled out: “I need R 2 D 2” and everyone on set laughed their heads off. Lucas laughed as well but he also wrote the line down in his notebook.

The Vietnam War played a major role in shaping the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas was rejected for the draft because of his diabetes. But even before he made Star Wars, Lucas wanted to create a documentary style anti-war film on Vietnam. It was to be called Apocalypse Now, a title devised by one of Lucas’s friends. Instead the project was passed on to Francis Ford Coppola, who gave Lucas his first movie job working on the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Taylor says in his book that in 1973, Lucas wrote a note on Star Wars: ‘A large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters.’ In some ways that was how Lucas saw the Vietnam War. The Empire being the United States and the freedom fighters the Viet Cong. Star Wars apparently had a rough time getting the required backing from a studio. It was pitched to United Artists but they rejected it. Universal had an option on the production but never bothered giving Lucas an answer. He took the project to Disney but they also said no. Finally Fox said yes and the rest is history.

In case you are interested, Fox permanently owns the rights but Disney will get a piece of the action. They bought LucasFilm for $4 billion two years ago.

But I’ve saved the absolute best anecdote until last. Taylor’s book talks about how Han Solo got to be cast. Lucas considered Harrison Ford but initially ruled him out because he thought a potential Star Wars audience might be distracted if a cast member from American Graffiti (Ford had a small part) suddenly turned up in his next movie.

Harrison Ford, was unemployed at the time and had returned to his original job, as a carpenter. Would you believe one of his carpentry jobs just happened to be at the American Zoetrope offices where Lucas was casting for Star Wars. Ford was installing a new door. Lucas saw Ford working and decided he would, after all, invite him to cast for the role of Han Solo and Ford got the gig. It just goes to show everything happens for a reason. Imagine how different it all might have been had Lucas gone with his other choice, Christopher Walken instead of Harrison Ford? Would Star Wars still be the box office blockbuster with a very different Han Solo? I doubt it.