Carrie Fisher and Margot Kidder have a lot in common. They both played iconic characters in extremely popular movie series in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. They were also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and turned to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to cope with their manic conditions. They both hit rock bottom at one point and were able to channel it into something positive.
Let’s consider how the actresses who brought larger-than-life characters to the big screen in Star Wars and Superman: The Movie handled their roles and dealt with crippling mental illness
First and Best
Kidder and Fisher made such a huge impression with their iconic roles as Lois Lane and Princess Leia, respectively, there was really nowhere else to go but down from there. They excelled in those roles. In Superman: The Movie, Kidder gave the definitive Lois Lane portrayal that still has not been topped in film or television. She’s a bit scatterbrained but she is also forceful and inquisitive, like a good reporter should be. She’s tough while also easily falling into the role of a damsel in distress for Superman to rescue every so often. She rides the line of being the perfect foil to Superman and Clark Kent while also believably not questioning the fact they could be two different people.
Fisher’s Princess Leia perfectly captures the spirit of the original Star Wars film. At first, she seems like a classic royal damsel in distress, but as soon as she starts mouthing off to Darth Vader we know she’s not some submissive lamb going to the slaughter. She’s got an attitude, and she’s not afraid to exert her authority. She’s still vulnerable and afraid, such as during the scene with the syringe-wielding droid. But she’s also resourceful and brave, such as during the prison escape. It’s impossible to think of anyone else embodying all of those qualities so effortlessly as Fisher.
The second films in the Superman and Star Wars series introduced quite a bit more romance, and the female leads certainly rose to the occasion. In Superman II, Kidder’s Lois has serious suspicions about Clark being Superman, and when he finally confirms her suspicions he can’t hold back anything else from her. He lays it all out for her and the two make love after he gives up his superpowers to be with her. She also gets to see him at his lowest point, getting beaten up and humiliated by a bully before rising from the ashes and returning to greatness with his powers restored. The ending is a bit of a copout, making her forget everything she had learned in the film. But it’s still a wonderfully acted scene and a fantastic role.
The Empire Strikes Back sees Fisher’s Leia slowly but surely fall for the charms of the smooth-talking Han Solo. She fights and fights her feelings, but she can’t help falling in love with him. She gets to see the aftermath of Han’s suffering at the hands of Darth Vader. And then she has to say goodbye to Han in one of the best scenes in the film as he’s lowered into the Carbon Freezing Chamber. The film ends with her in suspense about whether or not she’ll ever be able to see her love again.
The three big takeaways from the actresses’ third appearances in their respective series are bikinis, off-screen action, and love triangles. Lois shows up for just a few minutes at the start of Superman III to flaunt a skimpy red bikini top as she announces she’s going on vacation to Bermuda. At the very end of the film, she shows up just one more time bragging about her adventures in the Caribbean and what a great story they’re going to make. She also discovers that Clark’s high school sweetheart, Lana Lang, is now working at the Daily Planet, setting up a love triangle.
Leia has quite a bit more screen time in Return of the Jedi than Lois did in her third outing. She gets captured by Jabba the Hutt and is forced to wear a gold bikini for the rest of the first act. Later, she befriends an Ewok on Endor and we don’t see her for some time until she’s already tamed an entire village of Ewoks. She must have had quite an adventure off screen to win the trust of all of those cute, furry creatures. At the very end of the film, she tells a jealous Han that Luke is her brother, resolving that particular love triangle.
May the Fourth Be with Youth
There’s no shame in getting old. No one stays young and beautiful forever, and actors and actresses live and die by their looks. That’s a big component of how they get roles. So saying that it was a bit of a shock seeing Kidder and Fisher in their most iconic roles the fourth time isn’t meant to disparage them. They both looked noticeably older and weary. Kidder returned in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace just four years after her previous appearance in Superman III. But she looked considerably worse for the wear. She lacks the old spunk of the Lois we knew and loved in the first two films, and she just looked tired and old.
Fisher certainly had a better excuse for the change in her looks between films. It had been 32 years since her last appearance as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi when she showed up once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She has a matronly quality, but there’s no disguising she doesn’t have the same chemistry she once had with costar Harrison Ford. She looks sad and vulnerable in most of her scenes.
Hitting Rock Bottom
And now I’m going to veer into the more personal and tragic sides of these women’s lives. In 1996, Margot Kidder had been working on her autobiography for three years when her computer got infected with a virus. All of her work on her book was lost. Driven into a manic state, she ran away from her home and was found in someone’s yard four days later. She had to receive psychiatric treatment, but it looks like that helped her through that dark period in her life because she hasn’t suffered a repeat of that mental breakdown since.
In 1985, Carrie Fisher had been struggling for months to go cold turkey off her increasingly dangerous drug use. But one day she accidentally overdosed on a number of legal drugs, such as sleeping pills and prescription medication, and had to go to the hospital. She thankfully survived that ordeal and wound up turning it into a positive experience by incorporating it into her semi-autobiographical book Postcards from the Edge.
Down to Earth
Margot Kidder is alive and well, even though we don’t see much from her in Hollywood. It was always a pleasure to see her show up as a guest star on various Superman-related shows, such as Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville. But other than that, she’s just not the star she once was for such a brief moment.
Carrie Fisher has had a somewhat higher-profile career after Star Wars, including a recurring role in Family Guy, appearances in lesser-known Tom Hanks films like The Man with the Red Shoe and The ‘burbs, and, of course, an absolutely hilarious cameo as a family therapist in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. She also became a solid writer, polishing all sorts of movie and TV scripts over the years. Her death will add an extra dose of poignancy to the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII. It’s nice to see both of these actresses come to terms with the roles that made them famous, even as they overcomplicated their already-challenging lives.
I don’t envy any actor or actress. Their lives must be unbearably stressful, always worrying about what audiences will think of them and whether their next film will be a hit or a career-ending flop. Add in bipolar disorder, depression, and drugs, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Margot Kidder and Carrie Fisher got to soar to the stars and be stars, but in the end they had to come back down to Earth. I’m glad they overcame their drug addictions and seem to have found some kind of peace late in life.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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I could accept Margot Kidder as a recast for Princess Leia, for Star Wars Episode IX.
Nice. That would be fun. I’m sure fans would revolt, though.