Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Girl power secrets

The three female stars of the latest Star Wars film talk about their strong-minded characters

With the new movie shrouded in secrecy and the cast barely allowed to talk about it, it is Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher who rescues the promotional tour for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with her wit and batty charm.

While a gruff Harrison Ford barks out characteristically terse responses to reporters' questions and the newer cast gushes about their experiences on set, Fisher - who plays the sarcastic rebel princess in the original trilogy of films from 1977 to 1983 - goes delightfully off-script.

The 59-year-old leavens the proceedings at a recent press conference in Los Angeles by cracking jokes about everything, from sex with Yoda and Leia's new "baboon- ass" hair to more weighty subjects such as female empowerment.

The star, who once dismissed her part in the early films as "just a lot of running down corridors", shows she is not about to start taking any of it too seriously. This, despite the fact that The Force Awakens is her biggest role in decades as well as the most anticipated movie of the year, a reboot of a franchise that has earned more than US$4 billion (S$5.6 billion) at box offices worldwide.

Princess Leia and Carrie have been a source of inspiration for girls...we started with Leia and Leia’s still there kicking a**. I’m definitely not quite there yet, but I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure, and... she will have some impact in a girl power way. 

BRITISH ACTRESS DAISY RIDLEY (with John Boyega in a scene from the movie). She plays the new main heroine Rey

Instead, Fisher, who is also an acclaimed screenwriter (Postcards From The Edge, 1990) and a Hollywood chronicler, approaches all Star Wars questions with tongue firmly in cheek.

She would have to, wearing those hairpieces.And you know, I do have now a baboon-a** hairstyle. I mean that with love. So you need a sense of humour for that sort of thing. It keeps it lively and fun when you’re getting shot at and everything

CARRIE FISHER, about having a sense of humour playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy (1977 to 1983)

Asked if Princess Leia has a sense of humour, she says: "She would have to, wearing those hairpieces. And you know, I do have now a baboon-a** hairstyle. I mean that with love.

"So you need a sense of humour for that sort of thing. It keeps it lively and fun when you're getting shot at and everything," says the star, who describes her costume in the new movie, where she is now General Leia, as "a kind of classy gas station attendant look".

But at the urging of co-star Daisy Ridley, who plays the new main heroine Rey, Fisher concedes that the role of Leia, who routinely stands up to Ford's Solo and Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, is groundbreaking in many ways.

"I was the beginning of girl power. What's really fun about doing anything that girl poweresque is bossing men around," she says.

"I know a lot of you women out there haven't done that yet and I encourage you to do so later this afternoon."

In the original trilogy - Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return Of The Jedi (1983) - she says she "got to be the only girl on the all-boy set, which was really fun, you know, to put things in their drinks and stuff like that".

"We drank through the whole trilogy in the beginning," she says, adding that making the new film under the watchful eye of director J.J. Abrams was a less alcoholic affair.

"This was a sober set. That's what J.J. brought to this, sobriety," says Fisher, whose semi-autobiogra- phical film Postcards From The Edge was based on her own struggles with drug addiction and childhood as the daughter of two showbusiness stars, actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher.

She says she was pressured to lose 15.8kg to reprise her role in the new film, where Ford, 73, and Hamill, 64, will reprise their roles too.

"They don't want to hire all of me - only about three-quarters," she told Good Housekeeping magazine.

"Nothing changes, it's an appearance-driven thing. I'm in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger because that's how easy it is."

But Fisher obviously got fed up after being quizzed about this again and again. In a chat with the slender host of a morning show that would later go viral, she said: "I did lose weight and I think it's a stupid conversation. But not with you - you're so thin, how do you keep that going on? Do you exercise every day? Isn't it boring?"

Nevertheless, she has little time for political correctness when it comes to Leia, dismissing the idea that the metallic gold bikini that the character wears in Return Of The Jedi is an inappropriate image for young girls.

Commenting on reports that dolls of Leia wearing this might be pulled from shelves after a father in Pennsylvania became outraged at how skimpy it was, she told The Wall Street Journal: "The father who flipped out about it (saying) 'What am I going to tell my kid about why she's in that outfit?' Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn't like it. And then I took it off... backstage."

Still, as much as she makes light of the character, there is no doubt that Leia has left her mark on generations of Star Wars fans, including new cast members Ridley and Gwendoline Christie, who will play Captain Phasma, the first female villain in Star Wars.

The two British actresses hope Rey and Captain Phasma will become role models just like Fisher and Leia. Says Hollywood newcomer Riley, 23: "Princess Leia and Carrie have been a source of inspiration for girls... we started with Leia and Leia's still there kicking a**.

"I'm definitely not quite there yet, but I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure, and with a story she is woven into richly, she will have some impact in a girl power way."

Christie, 37, was just six years old when she saw her first Star Wars movie and The Game Of Thrones star says she remembers "being so struck by the character of Princess Leia and thinking even then, in my infant mind, 'This seems different to the other women I see in films', and feeling very inspired by a woman with such tenacity and being so strong -minded".

For Fisher, the other legacy of Star Wars is how these films have become something that different generations can bond over.

Because of the broad fanbase the six movies have amassed, they are something that both parents and children can share, she says. "I find that it's really a family experience," says the actress, whose 23-year-old daughter, Scream Queens actress Billie Lourd, has a small role in The Force Awakens.

"I've had people over the years come up and say, 'I'm showing this to my child, I didn't want to wait till they were six.'

"And you watch your children watch the movie and you learn something about your children - will we like the same characters?

"You also see all these pictures of entire families dressed as the characters and I find that so moving. It's just an amazingly emotional movie.''

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Check out The Straits Times’ interactive graphic, Star Wars: A List Of The Core Characters FromAll The Films.Goto http://str.sg/ZzjX

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Girl power secrets'. Print Edition | Subscribe