If you’ve met Carrie Fisher before, at any point in her timeline, you won’t soon forget the encounter. I was lucky enough to meet her when she appeared in Indianapolis at the 2015 Comic Con as one of the headlining guests. When I heard she was stopping in for the weekend, I knew I just had to meet with her.
Carrie Fisher had been an immense part of my life ever since my older brother introduced me to the Star Wars universe and all of its paraphernalia. One of my earliest memories is watching Attack of the Clones in my living room, peeking between my fingers at the scene with the shape-shifting bounty hunter. I gravitated towards Princess Leia; I clung to her with all my might as a child, but the true obsession didn’t start until I became acquainted with Carrie Fisher herself. As I grew older and my love for the swashbuckling heroic trio of the original trilogy only grew stronger, I looked behind the curtain to the actors and filmmakers themselves. I fell in love all over again with all of the behind the scenes footage and pictures. I hungrily consumed Carrie’s first two novels and dissected her cryptic emoji-ridden tweets. When the chance arose to stand face to face with my heroine, I had to find a way.
I saved up the 75 dollar fee to spend on an autograph from Carrie Fisher. The day arrived (it was a Saturday morning, bright and early) and I had my mom drive me to the convention center so I could purchase my ticket for the day. I had decided to embark alone; I felt it was only right to make this pilgrimage by myself. After standing in line for an hour and a half, dressed head to toe in Star Wars garb, I made my way through the doors to embark on a short journey to Carrie’s booth. She was scheduled to take pictures first, take a break, and then return for autographs. Carrie had done the panel the day before (which I regrettably missed) and naturally had astounded and amused everyone who had attended. She spoke openly about her role as Leia and her novels, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her beloved French bulldog, Gary.
I stood in that line for six and a half hours. Though I was towards the front and had expected to be holding my newly autographed Carrie Fisher prayer candle (a wonderfully apt gift I had received from my best friend for my birthday the year before) within a few hours, Carrie was running a bit late. I didn’t mind. There was so much to look at; a Darth Vader holding a glowing red lightsaber clenched his fist at a leaping Spiderman, a tiny little girl wearing cinnamon buns clutched her rebel pilot father’s hand eagerly. I made a few friends in line and together we swapped stories of the Leia’s we knew from our childhood. I was cool and collected and having a wonderful time.
Rumors would ripple through the line like waves. “Carrie’s taking another break, Gary had to go outside.” “She hasn’t even made it to the first round of pictures yet, she might not get everyone in today.” Slowly but surely, we all drifted forward, absorbing whatever little information the attendants would give us. It was four hours before I got close enough to see anything.
There was Gary, but no Carrie. He was sitting patiently inside the velvet ropes that ran around the autograph table, his head on his paws. He had seen all of this before, and continued to anxiously look behind him at the curtains, waiting just like the rest of us for Carrie to magically appear. He looked bigger than I expected, and after a moment he was led back behind the curtain by Carrie’s blonde assistant.
She emerged and a round of applause flew up among us. My breath caught in my throat. She was there, just a few feet away from me. My emotions got the best of me and tears welled up in my eyes. What would I say to her? How could I tell her how much she meant to me in only a few seconds? Did she know how important she was to me? The line suddenly went much quicker, and I clutched my candle to my chest nervously, tears streaming down my cheeks.
She had an assortment of metallic Sharpies she had chosen as her weapon of choice, as well as a tube of mascara and a plethora of glitter glue and loose glitter. After every item she autographed, she had the recipient bend down so she could shower them in a glitter rainstorm. A few people in front of me was a man who had brought about ten or fifteen posters of the Death Star, with an alarming number of other cast members’ autographs on them. Carrie signed each one patiently, as the rest of us muttered about the Ebay resale value of the man’s collection. He dipped away quickly after she finished, but she caught him and dumped an entire tube of silver glitter over his head. He shook his head off as he walked away, tucking the rest of his precious posters back into their portfolios.
“Are you alright?” one of the attendants asked me. I nodded hurriedly and tried to calm myself by breathing slowly. “Is that what you want her to sign?” he asked, reaching for the candle. I bequeathed it to him, my soon to be most precious possession. “Do you want her to sign anything specific?” I shook my head no. Just for her to hold it in her hands and look at me would be enough. The couple in front of me was wrapping up, and I was ushered to her table within arm’s length of the princess herself.
“Are you okay?” her assistant asked me worriedly. I didn’t blame her for her concerned expression; I was on the edge of hyperventilating. I was still crying and wheezing and I chided myself for not keeping my cool. I managed to squeak out an assurance that I was, in fact, still alive and would be fine. She took my candle from the attendant and laughed. “Are you sure you don’t want this personalized?” she asked, fingering the blank post-it note the attendant had stuck on the glass. I shook my head again. “What’s your name?” she asked, and I managed to get my name out before I was guided forward to stand in front of Carrie.
“Now, that’s funny,” she confirmed as the assistant passed her my candle. She laughed and her eyebrows went up excitedly as she browsed her Sharpie arsenal. “Hello, Sarah,” she added, looking up at me before setting to work on the label of the candle. I almost passed out from sheer excitement; I could hardly breathe let alone say anything. With a final flourish of her golden marker, she passed the candle on to me. “Wait!” she cried, as if I would be going anywhere. She beckoned me closer and pulled out her glue. She painted a design onto my forehead and patted it with glitter. She dipped back into her glitter trove with her fingertips, dabbing the glitter onto the edges of my eyelids. “Don’t cry,” she said sternly. “This will make everything better.”
Carrie Fisher was so incredibly larger than life in everything she did. Her outspokenness and tremendous brilliance touched everyone. I remember noticing how there were no trademark Slave Leias strutting around the convention center, out of respect for Carrie and her acknowledged hatred of that particular costume. As I walked around the convention center regaining my breath and clutching my candle like it was my lifeline, people would look at me and laugh, saying “She’s been to see Carrie Fisher.” She was like no one on the planet. She breathed life and fire into Princess Leia, and no one else would have done the role justice. She died on my 20th birthday, and it didn’t feel right to celebrate on a day that the world was mourning. I am so incredibly touched to have been able to share this brief moment with her. I lit that candle for the first time on the day that she passed. She signed it “Please, Sarah, blow me out!” Her humor and wit were truly one of a kind. Though now she is gone, she’ll shine on through her incredible triumphs over mental stigma, her collection of critically-acclaimed novels and memoirs, and her characters that she brought to life. May the force be with you once and for all, Carrie.