Today’s Los Angeles press conference for Star Wars: The Last Jedi had a tough act to follow: Two years ago, during the press conference for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, co-star Carrie Fisher had the entire room cracking up with her inimitable wit. Describing the film’s older take on her character Leia as having a “baboon-ass hairstyle” and “kind of a classy gas-station attendant look,” Fisher was on top form that day, issuing dry, delicious answers to journalists’ questions. What did director J.J. Abrams bring to the Star Wars franchise? “Sobriety,” she said. Could she talk about the “girl power” she had in The Force Awakens? Fisher thought about it, “No.”
The Last Jedi’s press conference had no chance of being as funny as that one. Instead, it was much more emotional, since the film features Fisher’s last performance as Leia, shot before the actress died in December of last year. To hear her female castmates tell it, both Leia and Fisher had a profound impact on them.
Co-star Gwendoline Christie, who plays Captain Phasma in the new Star Wars films, recalled first laying eyes on Princess Leia when she was a young girl. “She was very significant when I was 6 and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that character is really different,’” said Christie of the galaxy’s feistiest princess. “I watched TV and film obsessively from such a young age, and it stayed with me for my formative years. She’s really interesting; she’s smart, funny, she’s courageous and bold. She doesn’t care what people think and she isn’t prepared to be told what to do.”
Continued Christie, “What was really instrumental for me as someone who didn’t feel like they fit in that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be is that there was inspiration there. You could be an individual and celebrate yourself and be successful without giving yourself over, without necessarily making some sort of terrible, huge compromise.”
Laura Dern, who joins the franchise in The Last Jedi, said that Leia had meant a lot to her as a girl, but Fisher meant even more to her as a woman, especially since she was open about her struggles with addiction and mental illness. “[She was] without shame,” said Dern. “That’s what moved me the most about the icon she gave us but also what she gave us literally and personally, which is to carry who she was so directly and to share her story and expect nothing less than any of us.” For The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, Dern said, “I think she found an equal irreverent subversive, and they had this dance that gives us this performance.”
“I don’t think I could really follow that,” said The Last Jedi lead Daisy Ridley, “except to say that Carrie’s daughter Billie [Lourd] has, I think, all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless and —”
“— Always late,” deadpanned Mark Hamill, Fisher’s screen brother.
“I think that Carrie bringing up a daughter who is all of those qualities and then some, in this world, that’s just who she is,” continued Ridley. “That’s her being her.”
Finally, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran weighed in on Fisher. “Something about Carrie I really look up to — and it’s something I didn’t realize until recently — is how much courage it takes to truly be yourself when you’re on a public platform or constantly people will be looking at you,” she said. “She was so unapologetic and so openly herself and that’s something I’m really trying to do, and it’s hard.”
In every way, then, the women of Star Wars will remember Fisher as their north star. “I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie. What an example, you know?” said Tran. “I am so fortunate to have met her, and I think she will really live on forever.”