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How Carrie Fisher Became Princess Leia

Carrie Fisher, best known for for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the  Star Wars saga, has died. Below is an excerpt from Star Wars FAQ (Mark Clark) and how Carrie was chosen for the role.

Casting Call

Even before George Lucas had completed his Star Wars screenplay he was faced with finding actors to portray his still-evolving characters. Auditions began in late August 1975, while Lucas was finishing the fourth draft of the script. While not quite as excruciating a process as writing the films (see Chapter 4), casting soon became another protracted ordeal – both Lucas and for the actors under consideration for major roles.

00122914fcLucas wanted to hire young, unknown performers for the picture’s leading roles, as he had for American Graffiti. This was in part a cost-containment strategy, but he also believed that actors not already associated with other characters would be more effective in the fantasy context of Star Wars. It was one thing to ask viewers to accept Wookiees, lightsabers, and the Force, but something else again to ask viewers to accept someone like, say, Ron Howard as Luke Skywalker. To assist with the talent search, Lucas again relied on casting director Fred Roos, who had served marvelously on Graffiti. At the beginning of the process, Lucas, Roos, and several assistants worked twelve hour days, seeing as many as 250 actors per day. After three grueling weeks of this, to save time and money, Lucas joined forces with another young director, Brian De Palma, who was looking for a group of young unknowns to star in his film Carrie (1976). Lucas and De Palma took the unusual step of hosting joint auditions. Hundreds more actors were invited to come in and try out for both films. Lucas’ demeanor during the process was so low-key that some of the would-be cast member mistook him for De Palma’s assistant.

Nevertheless Lucas had definite ideas about what he wanted and placed a premium on chemistry between his leads. During callbacks (without De Palma), he screen-tested actors as ensembles to see how various would-be Leias, Lukes, and Hanes worked in concert with one another. Early on, Lucas wanted to hire legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to play Ben Kenobi, but Mifune declined. “If I’d gotten Mifune, I would’ve used a Japanese princess, and then I would have probably cast a black Han Solo,” said Lucas in J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars. One of the trios in contention for the leading roles featured newcomer Will Seltzer as Luke, former Penthouse centerfold Terri Nunn as Leia, and a young Christopher Walken as Han.

Jodie Foster was given serious consideration as Princess Leia. She was screen-tested, but not hired because she was only thirteen years old at the time, and casting a minor would introduce restrictions on the shooting schedule. (De Palma declined to cast her in Carrie for the same reason.) Other performers in the running for major roles included John Travolta, Am Irving (both eventually hired for Carrie), Nick Nole, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (later “Boom Boom” Washington on Welcome Back Kotter) – a potential Hans Solo. Ultimately, of course, Lucas settled on Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carri Fisher for leads; a pair of distinguished British actors for key supporting parts; and four performers with specialized talents (and physiques) for the remainder of the primary cast.

None of their lives would ever be the same.

Carrie Fisher 

Roos also suggested that Lucas consider Carrie Fisher for the role of Princess Leia. Fisher, born October 21, 1956, in Beverly Hills, was Hollywood royalty herself – the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. Her parents divorced when Fisher was two (Eddie left Debbie to marry Elizabeth Taylor). Fisher appeared alongside her mother in the promotional short “A Visit with Debbie Reynolds” (1959) and in the TV movie Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children (1969). Beginning at age twelve, she worked in her mother’s Las Vegas revue, and at sixteen she and her mother appeared together in the Broadway revival of the musical Irene (1972). Prior to Star Wars, Fisher had made just a single screen appearance, but it was an unforgettable one – as Lorna, a precocious teenager who beds Warren Beatty (minutes before her mother does the same) in director Hal Ashby’s sex farce Shampoo (1975). Lucas liked that Fisher could believably play a bossy, intimidating, character yet still seem warm and likable. Despite concerns over the actress’ weight, he cast her as Leia, paying her $750 per week. With Star Wars, Fisher would finally step out of her mother’s shadow.

Star Wars FAQ tells a story as thrilling and action-packed as the movies themselves, with bold characters facing apparently insurmountable odds, full of frantic chases, narrow escapes, daring victories, and tragic setbacks, culminating in an unlikely triumph that changed the course of the galaxy – or at least of Hollywood.

Post-Apocalyptic Television: Logan’s Run


Guest Blogger: Scott Von Doviak, author of If You Like The Terminator


In my new book, If You Like The Terminator, I write about some of the post-apocalyptic science fiction movies that preceded James Cameron’s 1984 film to the silver screen, among them MGM’s 1976 adaptation of Logan’s Run. One of the last big-budget sci-fi films of the pre-Star Wars era, Logan’s Run doesn’t hold up as a genre classic (for reasons I expound upon in the book), but it was successful enough to spawn a short-lived television series. The movie is a childhood favorite of mine, one I still revisit from time to time despite its obvious flaws, but the TV show was little more than a vague memory…until now.

In April of this year, Warner Home Video finally got around to releasing Logan’s Run: The Complete Series as a DVD boxed set. That the series lasted only 14 episodes in the 1977-78 television season may help explain why it’s taken so long to reach home video, but in our retro-obsessed age, no ‘70s artifact is ever truly forgotten. Out of some nostalgic impulse, perhaps spurred by recently re-watching the movie for my book, I rented all three discs and watched the entire series over a two-week span. I might as well get a blog post out of it, right?

The pilot episode condenses the events of the film into about 10 minutes, as Sandman Logan (bland Gregory Harrison) is easily convinced by runner Jessica (Heather Menzies, resplendent in her Farrah ‘do and tiny-shiny skirt) to help her escape the City of Domes and search for Sanctuary. The outside world is supposed to be a wasteland devastated by the nuclear war that necessitated the domed city and its accompanying death sentence for all who reach the age of 30. In fact, the countryside is positively teeming with quirky post-apocalyptic societies, each presenting its own set of challenges for the Sanctuary-seeking runners.

The Fugitive-style structure, with Logan, Jessica, and their android companion Rem (Donald Moffat) continually eluding their Sandman pursuer Francis (Randy Powell) quickly grows stale, but the show is not without its charms, particularly for fans of cheesy ‘70s sci-fi. The creative talent behind the scenes included Star Trek writers D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold (who scripted the fun time-travel episode “Man Out of Time”), as well as legendary science fiction author Harlan Ellison (who figures prominently in If You Like The Terminator). The stories tend to be variations on old Star Trek episodes or other tried-and-true sci-fi sources (the final episode “Stargate” owes a debt to Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but it’s the show’s appealingly clunky yet colorful retro-futurism that makes it worth revisiting, however briefly.

If You Like The Terminator

Here is the first book to explore the spectacular array of films, television shows, and other works that helped inspire The Terminator, as well as those that have drawn inspiration from it. If You Like The Terminator… delves into the history of science-fiction cinema, from its earliest days to the golden age of the 1950s and beyond, encountering killer robots, time travelers and postapocalyptic wastelands along the way. This turbo-charged journey through time also reviews the improbable career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, revisits the action heroes of the 1980s, and reevaluates the films of James Cameron, before touching down in the computer-dominated realm of today’s science fiction cinema and projecting the future of the Terminator franchise.