Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: 'The Princess Diarist'

Carrie Fisher had written six books, two of which are memoirs, but she had yet to fully address the cinnamon-bun-haired, unusually petite elephant in the room. Even in her previous book, Wishful Drinking, which came packaged in a teasing jacket depicting a soused Alderaanian princess passed out on a bar, Fisher’s most famous role only starred on a few pages.

With Star Wars so vengefully back in the pop culture consciousness, and Carrie Fisher, herself, finally back in Star Wars, the writer/actress could not ignore Leia any longer. So everyone who owns a tiny, plastic reproduction of Carrie Fisher will surely rejoice in the idea of 250 pages of undiluted Star Wars memories in her seventh book, The Princess Diarist.

Those expecting nothing but jolly behind-the-scenes anecdotes don’t know Carrie Fisher that well and should adjust their expectations, because The Princess Diarist is much more interesting and challenging than that. The story begins in somewhat familiar territory, as Fisher recounts her audition with George Lucas and Brian DePalma, who was simultaneously casting for Carrie. Despite Fisher’s disclaimer that this is an oft-told story—and I have certainly heard her speak about her Star Wars audition many times—the details here were totally new to me as she recounted her awkward dialogue with DePalma in greater depth than I’d ever heard before.

However, as soon as Carrie Fisher meets Harrison Ford, The Princess Diarist takes an unexpected dive down the rabbit hole. Half of the book is consumed with a painful affair with Fisher’s co-star, and it is relayed with all the self-doubt, anger, and drama of a twenty-year-old girl involved with a gorgeous, moody, married, experienced man fifteen years her senior. This will not be the source of romantic Leia and Han fantasies for fans. This is a deeply sad story as we become aware of just how obsessed with Ford she was, and forty years later, she seems to still feel those feelings acutely.

In the middle of this episode, Fisher justifies her book’s title with a chapter consisting of diary entries she wrote while in the midst of the affair. To mix our sci-fi metaphors, this section is like the Star Wars memoir’s 2001-stargate sequence. All logic and linearity go out the pod-bay doors as Fisher bounces between self-castigation, poetic flights of fancy (some of which read like pop song lyrics), and confused thoughts that could only come from an inexperienced yet highly literate person who is dealing with deeper psychological issues than mere unrequited love. It can be cringe inducing, and even baffling (one entry imagines some sort of dream collaboration between Led Zeppelin and corny Ray Conniff), but there is an undeniable bravery in Fisher’s decision to include these pages and a genuine emotional power behind them. Few fans would probably expect to feel anything other than goofy joy when reading a Star Wars memoir. Fisher will make them feel a lot more than that.

Yet her love for her fans is very clear even as she pulls no punches about her intense unease about signing photos of herself in a metal bikini at conventions for cash or being an onanistic fantasy object for fifty-year old men. She provides extended dialogues with fans to illustrate how odd they can be but also how deeply the star and the fans’ mutual feelings remain. It is uncomfortable, daring, imaginative, and unexpectedly moving, much like the rest of The Princess Diarist.
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