Local 'Star Wars' fans remember actress Carrie Fisher for her role as Princess Leia

Zach Vance • Updated Dec 28, 2016 at 7:21 PM

“Star Wars” super-fan Michael Horton eagerly described her as “the people’s princess.”

Famously known for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, news of actress Carrie Fisher’s death on Tuesday sent shockwaves across the pop culture spectrum.

Horton, a native of Erwin, joined millions of fans across the world in mourning the 60-year-old actress’ death.

On Wednesday, Horton stopped by Johnson City’s Mountain Empire Comics to share his Fisher fandom with other “Star Wars” fans.

“It was kind of shocking,” Horton said about hearing the news of her death.

John Stone, owner of Mountain Empire, recalled having a conversation about Fisher’s health being worse than reported hours before her death was actually announced.

“(The customer) had left the store and five minutes later he came back and said ‘I just heard on the radio that she died,’ ” Stone said.

Kevin Hyatt, another “Star Wars” fan, admitted the news caught him off guard a little.

“It was something I was prepping for a little bit, but I didn’t expect it (on Tuesday),” Hyatt said.

Fisher reportedly went into cardiac arrest during a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday. Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds, also a famous actress, tweeted on Christmas Day that “Carrie is in stable condition. If there is a change, we will share it.”

Fisher traveled to London to promote her eighth book, “The Princess Diarist.”

Along with being an author, Fisher was also a vocal mental health activist who spoke freely about suffering from drug addiction, something Hyatt said he admired.

“She really took a stand for it and was very open about the struggle she was dealing with,” Hyatt said. “I think, especially during that time, a lot of people needed to see and hear that.”

After becoming a pop-culture icon, Fisher also played roles in  “The Blues Brothers,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Austin Powers.”

She reprised her role as Princess Leia in 2015’s blockbuster hit, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and her daughter, Billie Lourd, shared a cameo in the film.

Lourd will reportedly play a larger role in next year’s “Star Wars Episode VIII,” as will Fisher. The Los Angeles Times reported that “Episode VIII” recently completed production.

Hyatt said he was a bit worried Fisher’s Princess Leia character may be sustained in future Star Wars films through computer-generated imagery, also known as CGI.

“I really hope they don’t do it with Leia. ... It seems disingenuous to the franchise and to the memory,” Hyatt said.

Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin character was recreated through CGI in this year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie.” Cushing died in 1994. Fisher’s younger Leia was digitally recreated in “Rogue One” as well.

Horton said he first saw the Princess on the silver screen when he was just 2 years old. By the time he was 5, Horton was consumed by the sci-fi flick and began collecting Star Wars memorabilia.

Now at age 40, Horton has his vast collection stowed away in a storage unit.

As Horton reeled off a seemingly infinite list of Princess Leia collectibles on Wednesday, an autographed plaque from the original 1977 self-titled film stood out among the rest.

Mark Hamill, who played alongside Fisher in the “Star Wars” franchise as her brother, Luke Skywalker, wrote a heartfelt note to her memory Tuesday, calling her death “downright heartbreaking.”

“It's never easy to lose such a vital, irreplaceable member of the family, but this is downright heartbreaking,” Hamill wrote on his Facebook page.

“Carrie was one-of-a-kind who belonged to us all- whether she liked it or not. She was OUR Princess, damn it, & the actress who played her blurred into one gorgeous, fiercely independent & ferociously funny, take-charge woman who took our collective breath away. Determined & tough, but with a vulnerability that made you root for her & want her to succeed & be happy. She played such a crucial role in my professional & personal life, & both would have been far emptier without her. I am grateful for the laughter, the wisdom, the kindness & even the bratty, self-indulgent crap my beloved space-twin gave me through the years. Thanks Carrie. I love you, mh”

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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