"I've always hated watching you leave"

I woke up to the news that Carrie Fisher had passed away, and a thousand voices crying out online about it. Inside my head I keep hearing the solitary, soulful notes of "Luke's Theme" from the soundtrack of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope (the music piece officially known as"Binary Sunset" and later, as "The Force Theme"). In my mind's eye, I see the scene from last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when General Leia Organa (played by Fisher) walks slowly towards Rey and they hug, in a moment of mourning for the recently killed Han Solo.

I first encountered Fisher-as-Princess-Leia in 1983, when I was nine and saw my first Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi. Despite the execrable slave-girl costume that launched a thousand sexual fantasies, the movie turned me into a fan of a contemporary mythology for the first time. Before it became cool among my peers to like Star Wars or anything else that would qualify as a geek pursuit today, I was devouring Star Wars books and hoarding videotapes of precious, taped-off-TV airings of the films from the original trilogy. Princess Leia became part of my personal pantheon of women in science fiction/fantasy who kicked ass, alongside Commander (eventually Admiral) Lisa Hayes of Robotech (the books, not so much the cartoon series), FBI special agent Dana Scully of The X-Files and and Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television series, not the movie).

Seeing Fisher-as-General-Leia last year felt like witnessing a small miracle: a post-1980s Star Wars movie that did not entirely suck, a once sexualised character allowed to age realistically – and also exist as a convincing military commander and mother and estranged lover all at once. In contrast, seeing the CGI version of Fisher-as-princess in this year's Rogue One was a disturbing jolt – Fisher immortalised with the earmuff hair buns and impractical flowing white dress from A New Hope.

Funny enough, the one Star Wars action figure I ever owned was of that particular version of Princess Leia, except that the action figure – because of the mechanics of construction – had the princess wearing what was effectively a white pantsuit, with a removable white robe around it. She also had a blaster. All the better to kick ass with, I used to think when I was playing with the figure, sans robe, against my cousins' multitude of (male) action figures.

Fisher was not only the princess, of course. She was a sharp writer, a brave advocate, a memorable actress (When Harry Met Sally is another of my old favourites) and an unabashed personality who perhaps best fit the description of the Rogue One droid K-2S0: "He tends to say whatever comes into his circuits."

Most of us, women and men, don't have to contend with being a symbol in addition to being a person. Fisher couldn't help the fact that she became larger as a symbol than as a person, no matter how much she contended with that symbolism and accomplished in her own right. As someone far, far away from her galaxy, all I can say is that the symbol mattered too and mattered greatly – both the princess, and the fiercely honest, fully alive person Fisher seems to have been.