The loss of Carrie Fisher is felt by all who love Hollywood, warmth and wit

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The actor revelled in her role as an elder stateswoman of US cinema witty, stylish and utterly original

Just when we thought 2016 couldnt do anything worse to us. The eerie accomplishments of digital CGI technology had actually meant that the force had been strong with Carrie Fisher this Christmas.

Her digitally fabricated image is appearing as her younger twentysomething self in the iconic role of Princess Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This is the movie set just before the time of the sci-fi classic that started it all and the part that in 1977 made her a global star, a legend, a meme, and an imperishable part of pop culture at a time when pop culture itself was starting to become more and more important.

Fisher invaded the fantasies of boys and girls and adults with her white belted princess gown (like a Roman matron from TVs I, Claudius), her open cheerleader prettiness, her French-bread hairdo and, in a later movie, her outrageous gold bikini.

And Fisher had only just revealed that, in the less-than-romantic environs of Elstree, Hertfordshire, where Star Wars was being shot, she had been having an affair with her married co-star, Harrison Ford.

Carrie Fisher in Return of the Jedi (1983). Photograph: Allstar/Lucasfilm

To moviegoers of my generation, her hologrammed image is still mysteriously, compellingly powerful, reaching out to the great Jedi Master in the depths of her anguish: Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, youre my only hope! And yet, for me, her greatest acting role came 12 years later, in Nora Ephrons classic romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally.

Fishers desperately sad demise is a poignant reminder that never has a movie star looked more different in an older and younger self. And this was in some ways a conscious decision a moving-on from the world of glamour.

Any fans of Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgans hit TV show Catastrophe in which Fisher played Delaneys crotchety mum, who somehow didnt know about Star Wars might struggle to connect Fishers witty, acid, cantankerous, grandmotherly figure with the dewy-eyed Leia of the Star Wars movies in the 70s and 80s. And her performance as General Leia Organa in The Force Awakens, the seventh in the Star Wars series, was in its way quite as stately, though her appearance opposite the now venerable Ford was gloriously romantic.

She was just 60, but with wit and style, she always showed that she was amiably unconcerned with the celebrity culture of which she would always be a focus the semi-retired elder stateswoman of American cinema.

And yet for all the Star Wars hoopla, it was When Harry Met Sally that gave Fisher her most human, most accessible role. While Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are lengthily working their way from best-friend-dom to romance, their respective best friends played by Fisher and that excellent character actor Bruno Kirby (who died in 2006) are having their own spark. It is a lovely moment when the four go to a restaurant, and Kirby and Fisher obviously have the hots for each other. This was a great role for Fisher a supporting character, yes, modestly conceived and proportioned in comparison to the Wagnerian greatness of Star Wars, but thoroughly beguiling.

As for the rest of her movie career, it may not have made as much of an impression, although her autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge (filmed in 1990 with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine) was a brilliant insight into that celeb Hollywood circus about which she took a comically detached view, and was undoubtably an inspiration for David Cronenbergs 2014 Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars, in which Fisher had a fascinating small role as herself.

Fisher was a one-off, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher who found that the resulting minor Hollywood-royalty prestige was utterly superseded by her blue-blooded status in a gigantic modern movie franchise; she was elevated to mythic status while remaining very human and humorously detached from it all. Her loss is overwhelmingly sad.

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