This is something that has been said to me, and about me, in the past. And there are a lot of stories on the subject out there. We want to believe that the people we love, and by extension ourselves, are people that are capable of being redeemed, of coming back from dark places in life into better, healthier ways of existing. Darth Vader pitching the Emperor into a pit to save his son. Boromir running to the rescue of Merry and Pippin after almost succumbing to the temptations of the One Ring. Tony Stark using a box of scraps — and later his vast wealth, creativity, and intellect — to solve problems he created and protect the world.
It’s a difficult thing to stare our demons in the face. Some of the mistakes that happen in our lives have catastrophic consequences. Knowingly or not, we can and often do hurt others in pursuit of our goals. Not everyone has the self-awareness or courage to face those mistakes, admit their fault, and accept the consequences. What makes Zuko’s story special is that he does all of those things, and begins making different choices. Nobody saves him; he saves himself. The only reason he takes the steps down a road to redemption is because he chooses to do so.
A lot of turning points in redemption stories come out of life-or-death situations. Anakin Skywalker’s rebirth, Boromir’s sacrifice, the creation of Iron Man — these all come to pass because the situation is dire and there’s no other moral choice. Zuko, while he endured many similar situations, did not have a dramatic “face turn” in the midst of one of them. Instead, each of his many defeats was a brick in a foundation for a new version of himself, one that he built with his own two hands, rather than the one that had been informed by the influences of others. While his uncle did attempt to guide him, in the end, the decisions he made were his own, both when he doggedly pursued the Avatar and when he decided, instead, to help his former quarry.
He began asking hard questions: what does “honor” actually mean to me? How do I want to make a difference in the world? How did my old choices lead me to failure? How can I make new ones that do make a difference? The answers to those questions, the choices he made as a result, are what lead him in a redemptive direction.
Here’s something you might miss: Zuko didn’t do this to prove anything to anyone except himself. He decided that it was worth the risk, for his own sake, to become a better version of himself.
That is how Zuko redeemed himself. That’s what makes his story powerful.
Because if Zuko, who we meet as an arrogant fuck-up, can redeem himself, for his own sake and on his own terms… then so can we.
Be advised: there will be spoilers in this treatise. I can’t discuss what I want to discuss without getting into detail about the plot and the arcs of the film’s characters. Fairly be ye warned.
Before I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I heard about all of the negative takes on it, all of the review-bombing, all of the neckbeard hatred getting spewed all over the Internet. It made me more than a little angry; the troglodytes and trolls who march to the drum of GamerGate and the myth of misandry and the Nazi party simply can’t take a hint, which is frustrating. I resolved to avoid spoilers as much as possible before I finally saw the film.
And now that I have, the vile vitriol of these chuckleheads is just downright amusing to me.
The whole point of The Last Jedi is that we need to let go of our pasts. In order to truly move forward, to be better versions of ourselves, we have to do away with preconceived expectations and deal with the now, in order to build a better future for ourselves and those we love. Above all, we have to learn from our mistakes.
And everybody in The Last Jedi makes mistakes.
Let’s not mince words, here. The mistakes made by Poe get a lot of people killed. From the very beginning, Poe’s “take the fight to the enemy” attitude costs the Resistance the bulk of their fighting forces. He goes one step further when he disobeys Admiral Holdo’s orders to support her and hold their course. She knows Poe is reckless, that his macho never-say-die swagger and desperate plans are an unknown factor she cannot trust. And that lack of trust got under Poe’s skin so much that he sent Finn and Rose on a wildly dangerous mission and lead a mutiny against Holdo’s command. Poe made his mark in our lives, and in the life of Finn, by being an ace pilot and a bit of a maverick; it is these aspects he must face and overcome in order to grow. He — and we — erroneously believe that those things are always good things, when the reality is that it pays to dial back the recklessness and seat-of-the-pants ‘handsome rogue’ routine when other people are counting on you. That sort of thing, in times of crisis, can be downright toxic or even deadly.
Finn makes plenty of missteps in his own story. He is “a man who wants to run,” and that’s still his first instinct. Granted, it’s to undertake a desperate plan to get the First Order off of the back of the Resistance, but it’s still running away, on his own. Rose intervenes and finds a way to go with him; this does not stop him from continuing to fail. Even after he finally decides to stop running and dedicate himself to the cause of the Resistance — which, incidentally, is why the sequence in the casino matters — he keeps making mistakes. At the climax of the story, he puts himself in a position to make a “heroic” sacrifice in a suicide attempt to destroy a First Order weapon; Rose denies him that, doing serious damage to herself, but “saving what we love” is a better way to seek victory. She’s right, Finn screwed up one last time, and you can tell from the expression on his face that he’s going to learn from this mistake.
Learning from failure is something Luke Skywalker needs to do, as well. He got ahead of himself and operated under the assumption that the old Jedi Order was something that needed to be preserved. In his hubris, he completely mishandled the training of his nephew and gave rise to an individual who ultimately becomes the Supreme Leader of the First Order. He is so struck by the completeness of his failure that he removes himself entirely from the rest of the galaxy. It is only through Rey, her determination to carve out her own place in the scheme of things, and her unflagging belief in the idea of the Force as something that guides and protects, that Luke is shaken out of his depression and forces himself to come face to face with his mistakes. It is only through Rey — whose lessons are reinforced by Master Yoda — that Luke learns from those mistakes and manages to make a difference, saving lives in the process. Even perhaps, in the long run, the life of Kylo Ren.
Few characters exemplify toxic masculinity as completely as Kylo Ren. His power and potential are regarded with fear by his parents and his uncle. Snoke takes him in only to abuse him and exploit him. His alienation and isolation cause him to turn to the memory of his grandfather and the fascist scheme that created Darth Vader. Moreso than Armitage Hux, a power-hungry despot who fetishizes the Empire’s military might and comprehensive brainwashing, Kylo longs to be relevant and powerful. Since so much of his life has been out of his control, he wishes to seize control, and the only way in which he’s been shown to do so is by force. He and Hux both want to be bigger, badder, more powerful, and more famous than their predecessors. If that’s not a manifestation of the alt-right zeitgeist, I don’t know what is.
Is there a redemptive path for Kylo Ren the way there is for Luke, Finn, and Poe? It’s difficult to say. He comes across to Rey as someone who wishes to help her, to become her ally. Partially due to seeking a relationship that is not abusive, and partially because he merely wishes to posses her, he reaches out to her, coming dangerously close to being ‘seduced’ by the Light. Rey, for her part, feels the pull of the Dark Side, the quick and easy path to power that promises to fix all of the problems in her life and in the galaxy. These are two characters who have been tossed about by tides of life far beyond their control, and who wish to make their own way forward. Kylo’s biggest mistake is in trying to tell Rey that his way is best. He both offers her insight and mansplains the Force to her. He does everything he can to win her over — not necessarily in a romantic sense, but to prove that even in recruiting a follower, in using methods other than abuse and force, he’s better than Snoke.
Rey, for her part, holds onto her belief in herself. She’s always been a person who reaches down into the depths of her own being to find strength, power, and answers. She turned to Luke because the Force was something she barely understood, and he encouraged her to feel it on her own terms to find her own purpose, as he did when he was young. It occurs to me that if he’d taken this approach with Ben, rather than adhering to what Jedi Order teachings he was trying desperately to preserve, things might have been different. But having made that mistake, he tries to learn from it and gives Rey the instruction she needs — the answers lie within oneself, in our own light and darkness, and it is we who must make the choices that decide the course we take. To Rey, discovering that the Force is not unlike the path of self-reliance that’s guided her until this point is the sort of epiphany we all seek — it’s as simple as it is empowering.
I know that I’m not the first to see The Last Jedi in this way, but I hope that in taking things point by point, character by character, I can illustrate why I feel this is a better film than Empire Strikes Back — it has more to say. To me, the best science fiction, even a fantastical space western where people hack off each other’s limbs with laser swords, says something about our society at large. If anything, Empire Strikes Back is a time capsule that latches onto the fears of its time. The characters are betrayed by friends and crushed by enemies. But these are things that happen to them, not because of them, with the exception of Luke’s decision to try and rescue his friends. The Last Jedi gives us active characters across the board whose choices, especially their wrong choices, shape the story that unfolds, rather than allowing it to unfold around them. If the story of Empire Strikes Back is one of fear, The Last Jedi is one of determination. And that will always be more empowering and more meaningful than fear.
Poe, Finn, and Luke all become determined to learn from their mistakes, to turn their failures into lessons that can be applied towards making the galaxy a better place. That’s what makes them heroic, not the explosions they cause or the sword fights they have. Kylo is blind to his flaws and failures, for the most part, and that’s what makes him villainous. The film is not merely saying “here is what toxic masculinity is”; it goes on to say “and here is how you can be better than it, if you stop and think and learn how.” Our heroes need to fight themselves just as much as they need to fight their enemies, and as exciting as their face-offs with their enemies might be, their struggles to overcome themselves and their pasts is, to me, far more meaningful.
I love this film. I love that its female characters are strong, determined, and supportive. I love that its male characters are flawed, insecure, and emotional. Nobody’s dumb, and nobody’s a caricature. These feel like real people. You can understand them, empathize with them, and desire to see them improve and grow — even a character like Kylo Ren. “You can be better than this,” I want to say to Kylo, as much as to many other people that have been in my life. “Why aren’t you better than this?”
The Last Jedi, in addition to being an exciting sci-fi adventure, a well-shot and nuanced film, and a worthy continuation of one of the greatest sagas of our time, is a living example of how we can learn from our failures and overcome our flaws. It shows us people, men in particular, who have fucked up and possess the strength and wherewithal to learn from it, to do better, get better, be better. This isn’t just something that applies to us now, even if the film is cast within a certain encapsulation of our current socio-political climate. It’s a timeless lesson, one that I myself have had to learn, and that will never lose its edge or its power as we move into a future that, one hopes, is better and more prosperous than the past we will, and must, leave behind.
That’s the whole point of it. Learning from our mistakes means letting go of our past. Stop fetishizing those things you hold dear, stop falling back on old habits and lines of thought, stop trying to force the world to conform to your point of view. Instead, look within yourself at your failures and flaws, learn what you can from those choices, and dedicate yourself to overcoming the obstacles you’ve created for yourself on a path to being a better person. Only then will you make the world a better place. You won’t do it by screaming at everyone else how wrong they are about things and calling them names.
As much as I laugh at the enraged fanboys, I can’t help but pity them. They completely miss the point.
“No one is immune from failure. All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment. A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on.”
I’m trying to think of a villainous character that has affected me as thoroughly and deeply as Star Wars‘ Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo.
Writing villains seems deceptively easy. Give them a plan of conquest, add some mustache-twirling or overtly abusive behavior, make them cruel to underlings, plant petards on which to hoist them. Wipe your hands, done and dusted.
Not so with Thrawn. Yes, he’s diabolical in thought. He’s ruthless in executed action. He’s the direct and diametric opposite of our heroes.
But, especially in the “new canon” — the Rebels animated series and especially his origin novel by the inimitable Timothy Zahn — there’s something admirable about the admiral.
The Empire, in Star Wars, is just as much a stand-in for Nazi Germany as Sauron is a stand-in for the Kaiser, or Adolf Hitler. It is a brutal, xenophobic regime, dedicated to a ‘purity’ within the galaxy and the utter destruction of unrestricted thought and the usage of power, not for its own sake, but for altruism and introspection. The Empire is always looking without, never within, and assaulting the opposition and the misunderstood with seething hatred and disgusting self-congratulation.
And hither comes Thrawn, an alien, a warrior, and seemingly, the last thing the Empire would want.
Thrawn is a free thinker. He is just as much a philosopher as a tactician. He is aware of how clever he is, but he applies that cleverness to his goals, which is always the defeat of his enemy. He has his moments of weakness, and of failure, but he uses those moments as lessons to be applied to future encounters. He respects his enemies. He despises incompetence and foolishness in his would-be peers. In an Empire full of hotheads, egomanics, and demagogues, he is cool, measured, respectful, meticulous, and, in species as well as thought, alien.
I find these qualities admirable, and I wonder: is he truly villainous?
Yes, he works for the villains. Yes, he exhibits ruthlessness towards the heroes. Yes, he employs occasionally brutal tactics to achieve his desired goals — which, as befits a warrior, is the destruction of his enemies.
But does he do these things out of malice? Blind hatred? Ignorant, projected rage?
No. He wages war because he’s good at it, he finds it a fascinating application of his abilities, and, in the end, he likes it.
Not inflicting pain, mind you. He’d much rather defeat an enemy expediently, demonstrate that they will lose, and offer them a chance to surrender and save lives. He is an artist, his medium is warfare, and his materials are the ships, troops, and officers at his command. He’s loyal, dedicated, charismatic, and cool under fire. He has the wherewithal to admit to mistakes he makes, admire his opponents, and do whatever is in his power to improve himself and those around him for the betterment of all.
Aren’t these qualities we often find in protagonists, in heroes?
We don’t really attribute honor, introspection, and respect for others to the Empire, or the Nazis for that matter. More often than not, it is those we admire and those cast as positive protagonists in our stories that exhibit such qualities. And, according to Zahn in the new canon novel, Thrawn may indeed be more than just another villainous tool in the Emperor’s arsenal. I’ll put this bit behind a spoiler tag.
Thrawn explains to the Emperor that he was exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy due to his use of pre-emptive strikes. This is a lie. The Chiss sent Thrawn as a scout, to suss out the Empire’s abilities and strengths and evaluate them as potential allies in battling threats from deeper within the Unknown Regions. This is a huge risk for Thrawn: if he is caught or killed, he will be unable to relay anything to his true superiors. That, to me, is a heroic undertaking. By the same token, he shows a great deal of trust in Eli Vanto, sending the human officer to the Chiss as a contingency a calamity befalling Thrawn personally. A friend and confidant, Vanto can inform the Chiss of a great many things, and bridge the gap between the galactic powers if Thrawn is unable to do so.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m biased towards antagonists who favor brains and cunning over brawn and bluster. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see; there are aspects of Thrawn that personally speak to me. The same way that Sherlock Holmes or Tyrion Lannister are characters who rely on cleverness and discernment to achieve their goals, Thrawn is defined by his brilliant mind and careful application of deduction and strategy. I know I could use more of that in my life.
Either way, I’ll be sad if the last season of Rebels is the end of Thrawn’s story. He’s mentioned in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy (now available in paperback, go buy some books), but his fate is left ambiguous. It’s unclear to me, in the end, if Thrawn is truly a villain, but in this case, he’s certainly cast as one.
But not all those cast as villains truly allow evil to fester in their hearts.
I would like to think that if Thrawn truly feels emotions like hate, he can examine, disassemble, and reorient those energies. His few moments of anger are still incredibly restrained by Imperial standards, and it shows a quality of character rarely seen among the one-dimensional jackbooted thugs around him. It speaks to someone who is more than the sum of their parts, more than the mere sketch of the role into which they are cast.
And, in the end, who among us isn’t more than they seem or are reported to be?
A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I played Star Wars: The Old Republic as a Chiss Sith Marauder. Considering how much of the new Star Wars media I’ve consumed of late, it feels right to revisit the characters of that time. And, hey, it just might make for a good story.
There was a time when I was certain of everything.
My mother, an agent of the Aristocra, became instrumental to the rise of the Sith Empire in its renewed war with the Republic and its Jedi. I was certain that she would carve a path forward for all of us. I was certain that, as a wielder of the Force myself, I would do her proud. I was certain that she would set an example that I would not only meet, but exceed.
There was a time when my passion was my guide.
I gave little thought to the future, to plans, to politics. I lived in the moment. I whirled through the enemies of the Empire like a Jakku dervish. I challenged and supported my beloved Xul’darin in her rise as a Sith Inquisitor. I loved, and hated, and rose in anger, and fed upon fear.
There was a time when everything went wrong.
The wreckage of the Frozen Lance has become my home. I cleaned out the bodies of my loyal crew, pushed snow atop the broken hull, sealed myself away. My homeworld is a cold, remote place; Hoth is as good a substitute as any. I roam the corridors alone, meditating, scavenging for food and supplies when I venture out. I’m slowly coming to terms with being the sole instrument of my own downfall.
The Sith teach that passion is a more powerful guide than peace. That the Force is born of emotion, and so one must embrace that emotion, rather than suppress it, as the Jedi do. And embrace it I did. I unleashed it. My anger made me strong; the fear of my enemies thrilled me, to the point of ecstasy in battle, the heat of lightsabers second only to the heat of tangled limbs in several beds.
To be Sith is to lose control. And I was a very, very good Sith. Too good.
I destroyed all I had built in moments of hot, blinding rage. The intimation of betrayal, even one that had been born of my own actions, was enough to set me off. My crew turned on me. Loyal servants sought to assassinate me. I fought back, and in doing so, all I had sought to create to propel me forward to a goal I’d never solidified crashed down into the snow and howling winds. Thoughts of using one of the escape pods never occurred to me; if I was going down, then by the stars, I was going down fighting.
I survived. I’ve been left to think and reflect. And in the cold, I’ve come to my conclusions.
I cannot go on as I was. My precious passions, the core of my old life, had turned me to a gibbering fool. My heart remained that of a small, frightened boy wishing desperately to be worthy of his mother’s love. Pushed by emotion and heedless of reason or forethought, I’d brought about this ruin of a life by my own unguided and impetuous hands. When moments of desire and anger seized me, I’d seized them back, and in doing so sealed my own doom.
If I am to live on, I must live on without such foolishness.
Whenever I manage to leave this frozen cocoon, it will be another act of destruction. But it will also be one of growth. Within these cold durasteel bulkheads, I have incubated. Something completely new, that I never thought I would or could be, is growing. I cannot say if it is better or worse than what I was before; such things are subjective. But here, I have found a measure of peace. I’ve come to understand myself more; to see who I was, and what was broken about it. I turn my thoughts, perhaps for the first time, towards the future, and find myself wishing to move forward, away from the past, the memories, the pain, the longing.
I contemplate these things as I refine the lightsaber on the bench.
I hold the kyber in my blue hands. It strikes me as somewhat odd. This is a remnant of my past, something I’d used before was a weapon to slay anyone in my path, with indiscriminate glee. I’ve shorn it down, chipped at it, changed its shape and its harmonic vibrations. It remains dangerous, perhaps even unstable. Yet it feels more true, more honest. I know what it is, now. I see it as a tool, a way to carve a true path forward; not through blood, but through doubt and darkness. When one is lost to the Dark Side, one cannot see the way forward.
I feel the Dark Side close in, outside, beyond the ruin of this place.
It is time.
“Zel’thane’nuruodo,” comes an augmented, amplified voice. “Come out. Face your end.”
I reassemble the lightsaber. I pull on my cloak, its former jet black stained into a steely gray by the dust of the wreckage and wear all around me. I make my way to the hatch, don my gloves, and touch the activator. What formerly snapped out of the way with an eagerness to unleash my wrath now groans, as if reluctant to let me face what awaits me. It seems to warn me: This is a trap. This will only bring you more pain. This is a bad idea.
Be that as it may, I will not turn away from destiny.
I step out into the cold. The sun is setting. Hoth will soon become even more bitter, and unforgiving. As are the dark shapes arrayed before me.
There are a half-dozen, at least. All in black cloaks. All seething with the Dark Side. The one in the front, particularly so. Rage and heartbreak and the sting of betrayal, all honed into a laser intent on burning the heart out of me, perhaps with her gaze alone.
I know her. I know the crimson of her tattooed lekku. I know the eyes that once captured my soul and ruled my every breath, as much as I ruled hers.
“Xul’darin.” I say the name. I say it quietly. I let the sound ground me in this moment.
“Hello, Thane.” Her voice drips with false sincerity, a phantasm of affection. “It’s been a while.”
I don’t respond. Her stance shifts. She’s confident. Assured of her righteousness.
“No witty retort? No flirtatious remark? I’m disappointed.”
“Leave this place,” I tell her. “Take your Inquisitors and go. I wish no harm to any of you.”
Xul laughs. “You’ve gone soft, Thane. Pity. I always liked you more when you were hard.”
My memories caress my senses. Her smile. Her gasps. The feel of her skin. The taste of her blood. My name whispered on her sweet lips. The caress of those lips on and around me. The glimmer in her eyes when…
I push the memories away. I do not shove them. They are of happier times. But they have no place in the moment. The dead are dead. They’re not coming back.
“That was over a long time ago.” I keep my voice from being too harsh. But I make it firm, adamant, unmoved. “I’ve made my mistakes, Xul. I hurt you. And I’ve kept to myself. I’m learning myself, and how to forgive myself.”
Another laugh. A bitter one. One tinged with madness. “You’re a fool. Forgiveness? Please. Even if such a thing were possible, you went beyond such sentiments a long time ago.” She shifts her stance to one of combat. Her lightsaber, ignited now, does not so much illuminate the area around her as frighten the shadows to a reverent distance. In her other hand, lightning crackles. Angry, seething, hungry for pain.
“There is no forgiveness for people like you.”
The other Inquisitors light their sabers as well. I take a deep breath, center myself, close my eyes. I let the Force flow into me. I do not demand it, or even command it. I simply open myself to it. There is darkness there, to be sure. My broken heart, my regret, my anger at myself, my fear of death. But so, too, is light: my hope for a better tomorrow, my pride in making myself better than I was, my gentle grief for what I’d lost, and cost myself, and can never regain.
When I open my eyes, I see a shape beyond the Inquisitors on a snow bank in the distance. I think I recognize the shape. One of my crew. One of the most trusted. One reluctant to join the fray, who watched the battle explode with calculating and fearful eyes. She’d disappeared during the melee. Perhaps to an escape pod, unbeknownst to me. Perhaps it is an illusion projected into my mind. Perhaps a ghost, born of my grief and unresolved shame. Or perhaps, still alive, she’s come to witness what happens next. To choose her allegiance based on who survives. To watch, as she always did, with that cool calculation that I’d always admired.
Who am I to deny an old friend a good show?
I turn my body to the side. I raise my lightsaber’s hilt. It’s curved shape fits in my hand like I was born holding it. Before, I’d have held one in each hand, red blades whirling, causing damage and bringing death with glee in my heart and a laughing warcry on my lips.
Now, I am silent. I press my thumb against the switch.
Indigo at the edges, white within, the blade pierces the gathering dark. Xul blinks. She was not expecting this. She’d been ready for an assault. She was anticipating the rush of anger, the thrill of combat, the thirst for death. Not for me to keep my distance. Not for me to be prepared for her to be the aggressor. I narrow my red eyes, and take up the defensive posture of a fencer, one with practiced skill and a honed, clear mind.
Perhaps there is something to the Jedi tenants of peace and lack of emotion. At least for moments like this.
“You’re going to die on this frozen rock,” Xul’darin spits, trying to goad me. “And I’m going to kill you for what you did. What you did to me. To us. You murdered us. I’ll make you suffer for days before you die. This is justice.”
“This is revenge,” I tell her, gently. “You are merely a pawn of your emotions. It makes me sad. I had to learn to let go of my hatred. To leave the past behind. To create something new, now, in this moment, and moving forward. It’s the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. By that cold light, the one I now hold within the heart I broke with my own hands, you and your Inquisitors are nothing.”
I salute with my glowing blade.
“So come on, then. If I die here, I die as I am, not clinging to what was. I cannot say the same for you and those you’ll send to die on your behalf.”
Xul screams. They come for me.
No matter what happens next, I’m ready to meet them.
So much loss has happened since the last time we celebrated a new year. So many luminaries have left us behind. But if we’re personifying the year of 2016, we can envision it holding back at least one more devastating punch to the emotional gut. And this one… this one hurts. It hurts a lot.
Carrie Fisher has died.
Putting my thoughts on this tragedy together is proving difficult. Star Wars has had a profound impact on my life. It is one of the first science fiction universes to which I was introduced, and many of its elements did and do resonate with me on a fundamental level. Princess Leia was a huge part of that from the very start. Back when the episode subtitled “A New Hope” was merely called “Star Wars,” the tall, white-robed, cinnabun-haired diplomat was a strong, defiant, patient, and even deadly character. She was, in a word, iconic.
Time did not dilute this image. While many may point to her character being forced into a position that could potentially be disempowering and humiliating, Leia rose up against her would-be master, and (bolding for emphasis here) strangled the lecherous slug to death with the very chain he was using to keep her prisoner. I cheered, as a child, when I saw this. And while, yes, as I grew there was physical appeal in the salacious nature of the outfit, I still felt more engaged and delighted by what she did while wearing it than simply seeing it on her. Leia was never an object. She was a person. And she remains so today.
Carrie Fisher managed to finish filming Leia’s scenes for Episode VIII before she left us, so we’ll be seeing her again later next year. But I am not going to let people forget that Leia is not her only legacy. Princess Leia fought Imperial forces bent on subjugating the galaxy.
Carrie Fisher fought forces within her own mind bent on controlling who she was and who she could be.
Bipolar disorder is an absolutely insidious and terrifying disease. The emotional swings and disruption to life that go along with them are devastating. It can lead to incongruous behavior. Outside observers can even attribute other disorders and explanations to what they witness during serious manic or hypomanic episodes, or disregard major depressive episodes as a form of manipulative overacting. And, in general, a huge stigma exists regarding even discussing a condition like bipolar disorder, and securing effective and proven treatment is incredibly difficult.
When she wasn’t struggling against her inner conflict, she was offering help and hope to those fighting their own. Many people see what occurs during mixed states, rapid cycles, and the extremes of the moods involved as a battleground. And navigating the trenches of said battleground is something that many people find intimidating, if not impossible. But someone who has been in those trenches, trying to navigate a minefield of awful moments and terrible choices and digging foxholes to try and escape the horrors of it all, can relate to the struggle. And Carrie Fisher did her best to do what she could for others. Just before she died, she wrote this letter to a fellow victim of the disorder.
“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges,” she wrote. “Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community — however small — of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”
In light of her death, the way she closes the letter will give you chills: “Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching.”
I feel that, for those of us left and still dealing with these challenges, our duty is to take up that vigil. And, for my part, we may not always be on the stable side of things. But we can always make it back there. It’s a hard road. A long one. And it’s often fraught with obstacles that we inadvertently placed in our own way. Human beings are very good at creating problems for themselves to overcome. We generate conflict on flimsy pretenses to justify our own agendas. We demonize those we see as ‘other’ in order to lionize ourselves and make ourselves the heroes in some sort of dichotomous, simplistic narrative. We’ve all done it. Some of us might even do it again.
We owe Carrie Fisher better than that.
I for one choose to keep talking about what happens in my head and my heart. I for one choose to keep telling my story, even the parts that people don’t want to hear. I for one will stand up for those too weak or scared or confused to stand on their own, and tell them — and you — that we are not alone. I for one choose to believe that light can prevail over darkness, and that whatever it is, the Force is strong with us.
We’ll miss you, Carrie. Your fight is over.
We’ll take it from here.
As Princess Leia put it, “somebody has to save our skins!”
Wednesdays are for discussing the whys and wherefores of our world.