The guest of honor was late, not that any of the few thousand of us waiting in the arena of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center cared.
I’m sure most who had waited for roughly an hour for their arrival would gladly have waited for another. Maybe even two if we were really determined and had nothing pressing to attend to.
(I was and didn’t).
What could be more pressing than an hour or so spent in the same room as Carrie Fisher?
It was May 29, 2015, the first and only day of the three-day Dallas Fan Expo I could attend.
From my apartment in west Fort Worth, I had driven 45 minutes to downtown Dallas, wearing the obligatory Star Wars t-shirt. I had two goals that day: to get author Kevin J. Anderson to sign my copy of his “Last Days of Krypton” novel and to bear witness to Carrie Fisher with my own eyes.
I’d been in the same building as her five years earlier, while attending Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida, with my mom, dad and sister in tow. I had seen her and Mark Hamill on a video screen in an overflow room during the “Main Event,” during an interview between Daily Show host Jon Stewart and George Lucas.
But on this day, roughly 20 years after I was first introduced to Princess Leia via the Star Wars VHS tapes I wore out until 2005, Fisher was the Main Event.
An afternoon of snaking across the convention floor, attending an Anderson panel and successfully obtaining his autograph ended with me joining the majority of convention goers in trekking to the center’s arena.
Most people were directed to the seats in the bowl above the arena floor, an area granted access to only those with a premium pass.
In an act of uncommon hubris, I ignored this requirement.
This might be my best chance to see Fisher in person without paying a large autograph fee. I was going to get as close as I could.
Somehow I timed my walk through the floor entrance just right, so the volunteers verifying passes didn’t see me and my lack of proper credentials.
Within moments, I was finding a spot in the middle section of seats that sat on the floor.
Then, with a constant loop of trailers for Jurassic World and The Force Awakens playing on a video screen, we waited.
When I know I’m going to experience something memorable, I tend to have a notebook on hand. It’s a habit learned from being a journalist for living.
On this day, even though no one could know Fisher would pass away over a year later on Dec. 27, I jotted all I could down in a red notebook with the Shell logo on the cover.
Fisher finally appeared on stage, sometime after the The Force Awakens teaser had reached double-digit playings.
“It’s not my fault,” Fisher claimed of her delayed arrival. “And deep down, nothing ever really is.”
She then added she had family, including her mother Debbie Reynolds, who were from El Paso, Texas.
“They were married for 50 years,” Fisher said of one part of the family. “Isn’t that something? They hated each other for 48 of them”
Eventually, she addressed the reason why the majority of the people in attendance were there.
“Has anyone here not seen Star Wars?” Fisher asked of the film franchise that shot her to stardom at the age of 19 in 1977, when my parents were on the verge of being 13.
A few arms shot up.
“There are? Well, they’re four,” Fisher stated. “It’s all about Star Wars. Everything is about Star Wars.”
The Force Awakens, the first live action Star Wars film in 10 years was being released seven months later. Fisher would be reprising her role as Leia Organa for the first time since Return of the Jedi in 1983, two years before my parents were married and eight before I was born.
When Fisher broached the subject of Episode VII, the room collectively leaned forward in its seat.
Because she proudly owned up to a well-known fact.
“I’m a compulsive divulger,” she said, before describing some of the signs that had been on the Episode VII set.
“Loose lips sink starships” was one.
“Good thing I wasn’t involved in D-Day,” Fisher said. “‘Yeah, it’s Thursday. The beach thing.'”
But on this day, she successfully toed Lucasfilm’s NDA-imposed company line.
No starships were sunk.
As she went on, Fisher was all over the place, narratively and physically.
It was wonderful.
She went from standing to sitting, then to lying down on the couch onstage, accompanied by her dog, Gary.
At one point, Fisher welcomed a fan named Stephanie on stage. An adult, Stephanie tripped over how to address one of her heroes, as I’m sure countless before her have.
“You can call me Leia,” Fisher offered warmly.
Eventually the panel transitioned into a Q&A segment to close out the night.
One kid used it as an opportunity to get on stage and pet Gary.
Another asked Fisher what it was like to now be a Disney princess.
“I like the support group,” Fisher joked, going on to “describe” Snow White as “Quite, kind of bitter.”
The last thing I wrote in my notebook before the panel closed was Fisher remarking on Star Wars’ 40th anniversary, which was still two years away then. An anniversary that will be a little less fulfilling now with her absence.
“It’s going to be 40,” Fisher observed before deadpanning, “Probably depressed…lying about its age.”
It was an hour I’ll never forget.
Thank you, Carrie and may the Force be with you.