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How the Star Wars Trio Has Aged Gracefully — And the Undue Scrutiny on Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher as Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When Carrie Fisher auditioned for Star Wars: A New Hope, she was 19 years old. I’ve seen her original audition; she nails the part, delivering her lines with a sense of strength and grace that, many years later, encouraged a 12-year-old me to idolize her character in that film.

Before offering Fisher her role in A New Hope, however, the production team told her that she had to lose 15 pounds to play Princess Leia. You’ll have to trust me on that citation, because I can’t find it now that it’s been swallowed up by more recent news about the fact that the exact same thing happened to Carrie Fisher once again prior to filming The Force Awakens. This time, Fisher was told she had to lose 35 pounds in order to reprise her role. “They didn’t hire me, they hired me minus 35 pounds,” Fisher recently quipped. She could have said something similar about earning her role 40 years ago.

Today is Carrie Fisher’s 59th birthday. Her co-stars Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford are 64 and 73, respectively. Although I’ve seen plenty of jokes across the internet about how old the trio from the original Star Wars films look now, the cruelest jokes of all have been reserved for our heroine — the youngest of the three, whose appearance has been scrutinized throughout her career, ever since she rocketed to fame as a 19-year-old sex symbol.

Yesterday, Salon published an editorial by Mary Elizabeth Williams about Carrie Fisher’s history, particularly with regard to the Star Wars franchise. Williams titled her piece, “Star Wars lets Princess Leia age realistically: Is this an alternate Hollywood universe?” and went on to express her relief that The Force Awakens still includes Carrie Fisher: “in a business — and God knows, in particular a genre — in which women are all but invisible and women who are over thirty are practically unheard of, the sight of an older, softer Leia is cause for cheering.”

But what, exactly, is the alternative? Recasting a younger actress in Leia’s role? If Carrie Fisher hadn’t lost the weight, would that have happened? Should we really be giving the Star Wars team credit for allowing Carrie Fisher to appear alongside her equally famous co-stars, both of whom are older than she is? Williams points out in her piece that any compliment about Han Solo and Leia appearing to be an “age-appropriate” couple seem strange, given the 15-year age gap between the two actors (Harrison Ford turned 73 this past July). That age gap theoretically wouldn’t be a problem, except it doesn’t appear in a vacuum — it’s part of a larger trend in Hollywood casting. This trend is so pervasive that even a 15-year gap seems somehow progressive.

I’m glad that Carrie Fisher will appear in The Force Awakens alongside her co-stars. I don’t want to have to celebrate the fact that she has been “allowed” to appear, however. A lot of the coverage of Fisher’s reappearance has focused on her weight, with little acknowledgement of the systemic problems surrounding that. (I don’t want to go too far down the “Healthy At Any Size” rabbit hole, but it’s worth pointing out that genetics play a huge role in how much people weigh, and although crash diets can result in short-term changes, it’s not always possible nor even healthy for everyone to look the way Hollywood tells us people “should” look.) While I’m discussing aspects of human beings that can’t be changed, let’s all reflect on the fact that as people age, they get wrinkles and their hair fades. This shouldn’t be some sort of shocking revelation. Nor should it be something that only Carrie Fisher has to worry about.

We don’t know yet what sort of role Princess Leia will play in The Force Awakens, either. I’m not yet ready to celebrate a triumph for older women actors in sci-fi based on her brief appearance in the trailer, especially since I already don’t feel great about how the Star Wars production team — not to mention the fandom — has treated Fisher thus far.

Sometimes, it seems like we still have a long way to go, and unfortunately, this seems to be one of those times.

(via Salon)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).