Last year saw the passing of two of the Star Wars family’s founding members: Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) and Kenny Baker (R2D2). The Dragon Con Star Wars track took time to reflect upon their lives and legacies on Saturday afternoon in Hyatt Centennial I. Sue Kisenwether, Christy Morris, Michael Faulkner, Sarah Dempster, Bruce Gibson, and moderator Bryan Young led fans through memories of Fisher and Baker.
Fisher’s strength and courage dominated the discussion. Living in the fishbowl of Hollywood, with stars for parents, Fisher spent her life under the spotlight and learned the value of humor to cope, examine, and move through the many dark moments in her life. Her struggles with addiction and mental illness are well known, but it was her willingness to face them, talk about them, and to become an advocate that was so important. On this dimension of her life, Faulkner likened her to a beacon of light.
Morris spoke not only of her personal strength but also of her portrayal of a strong female character. Fisher’s Leia was anything but the typical damsel in distress. A fighter and a leader, she took care of herself and others. Gibson was nine when Star Wars premiered, and at the time there were few strong female characters in television or film (Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman being the exceptions). An avid action-figure collector since childhood, Morris remembered that even then, he and his friends were comfortable with Fisher’s Leia as a strong character. “She was never the damsel in distress,” he declared. “We had her beating up Darth Vader.”
Young, who had the opportunity to interview/moderate a panel featuring Fisher, reminisced about her spontaneity, unpredictability, and intensity, which was forceful and difficult to overcome. She once kissed an audience member who brought her a Coke on demand and proudly boasted about writing the episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in which the hero lost his virginity. One panelist captured her essence by declaring that she was a “force of nature.” Audience members offered their own reflections, consistently referring to the ways Fisher’s life and work provided a source of both inspiration and strength.
In the case of Baker, panelists emphasized the pivotal nature of the actor’s work in the films. Baker created R2D2, humanizing and defining the role. The personality and spirit that so endeared R2D2 to fans came from Baker, and every actor assuming the role in the future will have to look back at his work as a source. “R2D2 has always been Star Wars,” one panelist declared. Both Young and Gibson reminisced about encounters with Baker at conventions. Young, who met Baker for the first time in 2000–2001, remembers Baker’s warm sense of humor and charm. Gibson recounted the tale of his daughter, who got to meet Baker at a con in London shortly before his death. When selecting a photo for the autographs, she chose the famous photograph of Baker in R2’s shell with the head top off and explained to Baker that she wanted a picture “of you.” Baker didn’t speak, but Gibson was struck by the happiness and joy in Baker’s eyes when he looked at his daughter. She had touched a weary heart. Gibson and his daughter walked away worried, though, that something was wrong. Indeed there was, for Baker passed a few short weeks later.
Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker live on in the body of their work. More than that, they live on in the lives they inspired. Finally, per her wishes, Carrie Fisher drowned in moonlight, strangled by her bra.