Unintentional Voyeurism by Express Invitation: My Read on “The Princess Diarist”

Today I read The Princess Diarist. Depending on who you are and how you approach fandom, I might recommend that you do the same. Or I might not.

The Princess Diarist is a personal book. It’s less the telling of the story of the making of Star Wars as it is a glimpse into the emotional life of its then-nineteen-year-old leading actress. Through this book we get a very intimate glimpse of what it has been like to be Carrie Fisher- beginning in her youth as the famous-once-removed daughter of Hollywood royalty through to her current experience of the “celebrity lap dance” that she continues to perform thanks to her permanent alter-ego: “Princess Leia Organa, formerly of Alderaan and presently of anywhere and everywhere she damn well pleased”.

If you’re at all into that sort of thing, or even morbidly curious as to what it might be like to get a glimpse inside Ms. Fisher’s head, then picking up The Princess Diarist is definitely worth your consideration. But if celebrity tell-alls and occasionally uncomfortable recollections aren’t your cup of tea, then perhaps this book isn’t for you. In The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher not only gives you a glimpse into her inner life, she holds it up to your face and forces you to look at it- in all its sordid and uncomfortable relief, until you’re almost squirming at your own unintentional voyeurism. And if you don’t go in for that level of discomfort, then perhaps you should steer clear. This book is filled with unvarnished truth-telling, but more so in an emotional sense than a factual one. It left me tearful, empathetic, and grateful to Ms. Fisher for her willingness to lay herself so bare to the world. I love this book and I love Carrie Fisher [even more than I already did] for writing it.

The Princess Diarist is presented in three acts, best described [by me] as: Before, During, and After principal photography for Star Wars (A New Hope in the modern vernacular) took place. Acts one and three are the narrative portion of the book. Arranged into chapters of time and subject matter, the first and final third of the book are infinitely readable. Ms. Fisher synopsizes her life before and since she first donned the now-famous double buns as Princess Leia. The narrative is conversational, casual, and fully imbued with expressions of Ms. Fisher’s acerbic wit. If you enjoy listening to Carrie Fisher speak on panels or the news, you will likely enjoy her voice in these chapters. Much of the volume’s opening pages include passages recalling events that many hard-core fans already know about. Ms. Fisher even goes so far as to apologize to the readers for this at one point. But the storytelling is solid and there is something particularly charming in hearing the whole tale at once and in a uniform tone, rather than piecing together what we think we might know from snippets of what has come before.

This first act, by far the longest of the three (taking up nearly half the book’s length) also contains Ms. Fisher’s recollections of the time spent in London shooting Star Wars. Without tossing spoilers around, what I can say about this portion of the book is this: In case her longstanding status as a bestselling author and the success of her prior memoir, Wishful Drinking, weren’t enough to convince you- this lady can tell a story. Her friendly, self-deprecating recounting of the days spent shooting the iconic film is a joy to read, even when the memories are somewhat less than joyous. And some of those memories are a fair sight less than joyous. There is very little in the way of behind-the-scenes-of-Star-Wars information here, by the way. This book is not about Star Wars. This book is about a very young woman whose job it was to be in Star Wars. So unless you want to know more about the movie making provenance of the makeup team or the specific flavor of British Isles accent the hairdresser spoke with, you’re not going to be excited about the backstage pass The Princess Diarist has on offer.

The third act of the book, the “After” is more of the same- in all the best ways. Ms. Fisher tells of the adventure that was early stardom, and the oddity that came with the overexposure of a superfluous press junket. She talks about escaping public scrutiny by visiting amusement parks at night, and lets us in on the carnival-like (or whorehouse-like, to hear her tell of it) atmosphere of today’s convention and autograph signing culture. Ms. Fisher’s voice is consistent throughout, and much of the narrative feels like a conversation with friends. There is even a section done up as fictionalized dialog with typical fans and it was so overwhelming as to give readers a real taste of what it must be like to live life in the author’s head.

But where we really get into her head is in the “During” section. You noticed I skipped over that part, didn’t you? “The elephant herd in the room to tiptoe around” is the middle section. I have a very strong feeling that this is the part of the book that will be polarizing to fans. Some people (me!) will love it, others will hate it, and it is this section that causes me to say that The Princess Diarist may not be for everyone.

The middle third of the book is presented as unedited, unrevised entries in the journals that Carrie Fisher was keeping during the filming of Star Wars. These passages read like you might expect. They are in every way expressions of the inner chaos of a verbally gifted teenage girl experiencing an emotional awakening. “Adolescent jargon peppered with random selections from a fairly gaudy vocabulary,” she writes. I could not have put it better. She writes about why she writes, and she writes about why she writes about it. “I’m afraid,” she reveals in one of the more deep-diving passages, “that if I stop writing I’ll stop thinking and start feeling. I can’t concentrate when I’m feeling.”

The words are raw and at times taxing in their grandiloquence. But they are her words, written at the time, and every bit what one might expect from an overwrought, verbose teenage girl who is putting them on the page for an audience of only herself. These entries vary greatly in length and in tone, ranging from conversational prose to bad poetry. There’s a bit of fairly good poetry buried in the old diary as well, one particular riff on popular nursery rhymes left me with a smile and another lengthy bit of rhyme left me in tears.

And yes, that elephant herd I spoke of; it is clear nearly always that the feelings she is trying not to feel by writing them instead have everything to do with her lover and costar, Harrison Ford. She even calls him by name a couple of times. There are no dates to the diary entries, so there is no way to guess when hours, days, or weeks have passed between one and the next. There is only once, near the end of the diaries, when the time that has passed is specifically called out. We get to read through the diary, as emotionally charged and cerebrally disjointed as it is at times, following the author’s journey through obsession, infatuation, and despair. “I suppose that no matter what happens,” she writes near the beginning of the journals, “I will allow it to hurt me.” We get to read along as that prediction comes true.

No matter what I think of “Carrison” or of the affair that went on between Fisher and Ford,which is the basis of this book (an opinion that I will not include in this review), I cannot overstate how brave I find it- even forty years later- that Ms. Fisher has let the world see the words that she meant solely for her own eyes. If I were to happen upon anything that came from my own pen as a teenage actress-come-writer struggling with feelings for a costar (and yes, I was indeed that person once upon a time), my inclination would certainly not be to ever let those words-as flowery and poetic as I’m sure I would have found them at the time- see the light of day.

This is not a Star Wars book. Star Wars is at best a background player in the story Ms. Fisher tells in The Princess Diarist. It’s at times intriguing, at times amusing, and at times heartbreaking in its revelations of the state of mind of an insecure, heartsick teenage actress. It was a quick and easy read, and well worth my time to read it.