Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist (Penguin, 2016) is a tell-all memoir that reveals her 3-month long affair with Harrison Ford in 1977, during the filming of Star Wars. She was only 19 years old; he was 35, married, and a father. She refers to her affair with him as the “longest one-night stand” in time, because it was a short and sexual relationship that began a week after the filming of Star Wars began and ended as soon as the film did. Although she denied the affair for four decades, she finally reveals the painful details of the affair in this memoir because, a much older woman now, she is afraid someone else will tell it, and she wants to make sure the story comes out from her perspective – since it’s her story to tell.
Sprinkled with her famous humor and self-deprecation, the retelling of her relationship with the much older actor is not all fun and jokes, and it is quite difficult to fully enjoy the ebullient charm of her narrative because of the emotional weight her relationship with Ford had on her as a young woman on the brink of her sexual awakening.
At the heart of this weight lies the fact that at 19 years old, Fisher was just finding her voice – the self-deprecating one that has made her so legendary. Mostly, though, in all her interactions with Ford, she was silenced and inexperienced – the opposite of the assertive and commanding persona she adopted through her iconic role as Princess Leia. While her voice as Leia was scripted and written by a man, George Lucas, her real voice was timid and unheard around the man that kissed her one night in the back of a cab while she was drunk and then took her to her London apartment for sex. With only one sexual partner in her past, at 19, she had never considered having a relationship with him, because he was a man (a married one at that) and she was a girl. He initiated the affair, and she went along with him like a “leaf on a rushing stream,” never in control, without volition, bending to his whims and desires. She never exposes what went on in the bedroom between them, but it’s impossible to imagine that she even had a voice in there, especially because of her sexual greenness and her inability to speak to him about anything mundane, let alone the sex they shared together.
While her voice remained non-existent during the weekends they spent in her apartment, in secret, for the next three months, the young Fisher kept a diary of her feelings about Ford and their short affair. She wrote in three notebooks during this time because she found that she couldn’t talk to the man with whom she was having sex, and many of their weekends spent together were “monosyllabic.” He was a man, and much like his character, Han Solo, Harrison Ford didn’t exhibit emotions or bare his thoughts. A few of her diary entries are excerpted in her memoir, and through them, Fisher depicts the raw pain of being a young, unsophisticated girl in a physical relationship with a “sullen and scornful Marlboro Man”:
I’m totally at his mercy, frightened by the power I have given him… I hate him in all his quiet…One not only has to read between the lines, one has to fill him in altogether because he is not there. I must thank him one day for teaching me to be so casual.
Because Ford was frequently grumpy and seemed uncomfortable, Fisher often found herself holding her breath around him, not knowing what to say to him, and this inability to speak existed any time she found herself in his presence, even as an adult, long after their affair had ended. Driven by her need to please and hold onto him, she even started doing drugs with him, and many of the poems and journal entries Fisher included in her book show the depth of her silent despair in being in a relationship with a man almost twice her age with whom she could not connect on an emotional or verbal level.
Fisher is clear in her memoir to depict him as a kind man who had assumed that she had been more sexually experienced than she actually was when he first kissed and had sex with her, but when the fact that he had been only her second lover – ever – came out, he expressed his disappointment but continued to see her. A kind man would have noted the power dynamics that were in his favor, the silence that kept her from having a natural and equal conversation with him, and would have found an adult woman to cheat on his wife with, since as Fisher pointed out, he had been scoping the set for a fling from the beginning. The only female in an all-male set, “the only girl in a male fantasy film,” she had become the most obvious choice.
Though she ends this revelation with the usual and circumspect “there were no regrets and no resentments” concession, it’s challenging to believe this generous statement from Fisher, which is meant to absolve Harrison Ford of all guilt in using her for her sex without ever taking the time to dig deeper for the young and insecure girl that was inarticulate around him and their bedroom antics. As she pointed out in the early pages of her memoir, “It’s a man’s world, and show business is a man’s meal with women generously sprinkled throughout it like overqualified spice.” In her reminiscences, Fisher was Harrison Ford’s spice for the taking, a sexual object, an expendable “other,” her voice and mind inessential to his needs for sexual fulfillment while away from home and wife.