Girl power was at an all-time high in 1997. The zeitgeist of The Spice Girls and their debut album Spice was more powerful than any pop culture enthusiast could’ve imagined. There was also the arrival of the Lilith Fair, becoming the first all-female artist and band festival, created by the sedative Sarah McLachlan. (Though it mainly consisted of folk-pop/alternative music. The fest thankfully diversified the next two installments).
Other debuts included Baduizm by Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott, then “Misdemeanor” in the middle, and her out of this world Supa Dupa Fly. On one of her singles “Sock It 2 Me”, featured artist Da Brat declared towards the end, after her own feisty rap, that it was “9-7. This the muthafuckin’ bitch era! What y’all (expletive) wanna do!” The era further solidified when Da Brat and Elliott joined Lil’ Kim, Angie Martinez, and Left Eye at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards and together performed “Ladies Night”, a major “We Are Family” moment for women in hip-hop. (Technically called “Not Tonight (Remix)” via Kim’s album Hard Core. But almost no one refers to it as that).
Coincidentally that same ceremony, Meredith Brooks was nominated for her assertive song “Bitch”, a rally for women to stop apologizing for being difficult and a dream simultaneously. Also that September the VMAs aired, Ally McBeal premiered on FOX. David E. Kelley‘s unapologetically neurotic protagonist was antecedent to the women of 1998’s Sex and The City. And we will not exclude Fiona Apple dropping that quasi-Calvin Klein commercial inspired video for “Criminal”, a track in which the first verse contained the scathing lyric of: “And it’s a sad, sad world. When a girl can break a boy just because she can…”
My childhood was laced with women, various ages, and colors, achieving critical and monetary success, and the copious shades of their personalities ascended whether the media was prepared to dissect what if the future was really female or not. Feminism was fun in my day. Women embraced the label because it simply co-signed ability, chance, and freedom, and lots of glitter eyeshadow if one damn well pleased. It was unifying. #missingthegoodolddays #wherehaveallthecowboysgone
I turned ten years old that February and to rewind to another specific time in 1997, Star Wars was re-released in the springtime to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iconic film. I desperately wanted to partake in the nostalgic festivities and my sister took me to the since gone Cheri movie theater to fulfill that wish. (Today, it is a King’s bowling alley).
I can easily recall moviegoers excited and it was clear from some of them that this was a repeat viewing. When it comes to Star Wars, there is a demarcation line of those that have simply seen the films (this was before the prequel chapters that began with 1999’s The Phantom Menace) and the fanatics, geeks, and devotees of George Lucas‘ world. Maybe only Star Trek fans and those crazy kid fans of the Grateful Dead that followed the band from tour stop to tour stop back in the ’70s could compete. (They had a name: Deadheads).
My sister and I sat somewhere in the middle, our heads slightly tilted up for the big screen in front of us. Once it started, I felt initiated into the club. The Star Wars club! Finally, I can see what all the fuss was about! I was pretty thrilled when the famous upward scrolling of the prologue began, with John Williams‘ victorious sounding instrumental theme. But I also knew what, or better yet who, I was there for. I really wanted to see Princess Leia Organa in action.
I was already aware of the Princess Leia buns, her white, ancient Greek looking toga dress and that bikini from Return of the Jedi. I was equally accustomed to the two expressions Carrie Fisher had when portraying the heroine: genuinely happy or ready to whoop ass. The moment Fisher/Leia (the names have been interchangeable for years) appeared on screen, I could’ve jumped for joy. Jump for girl power! Some of the dialogue in Star Wars is campy and goofy, but Fisher commanded as Leia. Her leadership felt natural too. She wasn’t always confident a trick or tactic would work against evil, but she was always willing to try. You got to appreciate Lucas for including a woman character that felt from her gut she could rock with the big boys in a galaxy far, far away. The Women’s Movement of the 1970s really paid off! Like she said amongst a worrisome Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker: “Somebody’s got to save our skins!”
Princess Leia even had some moments of weakness, because all strong women have a heart and sometimes the heart melts when it comes to love. When she told Hans Solo, “I love you” in The Empire Strikes Back, right before he was being whisked away, he (Harrison Ford) responded with a satisfied, “I know.” (I still shiver about the exchange).
I left Cheri loving Star Wars. I saw why some geeked over it. I admittedly didn’t run for memorabilia or join an AOL chat room, but I acknowledged the sense of community it gave so many. Star Wars, you either feel a connection instantly, or you don’t. But you still appreciate it from its characters, production or pop culture status. I’m one of many in while not a maven, Princess Leia is an icon for me and Fisher a royal bad-ass that women can look up to and were as real as they come.
Last year, just a month after her latest book The Princess Diarist was available in bookstores, Fisher sadly passed away at the age of 60 from cardiac arrest. Her death devastated and was the latest in an already too long list of icons departed in 2016. The tears flowed some more when her mother, old Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, died the next day from a stroke at the age of 84. We all knew what really brought on her demise: a broken heart.
For the massive event that was the Women’s March on Washington this past January, Princess Leia’s presence, as a symbol of girl power, was reaffirmed when images of her and a lightsaber against her chest was surrounded by black text stating “A Woman’s Place Is In The Resistance”, a play off of her role as the founder of the Rebel Alliance and the Resistance in the Star Wars films. She was additionally reimagined as Rosie the Riveter. Mark Hamill, the original Luke Skywalker, was touched by the tribute, as Fisher was wholly acceptive of being a voice for feminism, as well as mental illness and/or depression. I recently bought a pin, from a local artsy store, with Princess Leia on it and simply reads “Rebel.”
Today, Star Wars is 40 years old. It was released to a little over 300 cinemas in 1977 on May 25, increasing by the weekend thanks to word of mouth and decent, some celebratory, reviews. I was born ten years after it debuted and was the age of ten when I saw it. This year I’m 30 and I appreciate the creation of Princess Leia more than ever. I am so thankful for a childhood in which popular culture was full of women that were brave, kooky, completely brash, and when glamorous, were no short of modern-day Marilyn Monroes and Dorothy Dandridges. Fictional characters like Princess Leia, 20 years later back then, were no exception. I welcomed her into my personal enclave of pop culture icons I admire.
The force is still with you, Carrie Fisher.
To Star Wars, happy 40!