Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977. My parents, my two little brothers and I went to see it in a movie theater. That’s significant: My dad was a rabid, classic-Hollywood-loving film buff, but we didn’t go to movies. He didn’t think “modern” films worth the price of a ticket let alone five tickets for a family outing. I basically still agree with him; my love for classic Hollywood films is stronger than ever, and movies from the 1950s onward just don’t usually float my boat.

Star Wars was an exception for my dad’s standards, as was Superman (1978) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). We saw them all in theaters; I came home from college to see Raiders with my family. Dad loved serials from his childhood, short film series that played before main features; he embraced the franchises of Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones because they reminded him of those old serials. These new movies felt familiar to him; raised on black-and-white classics, they were a new experience for me. Later known as Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, the original Star Wars captured my generation’s imagination, it fulfilled sci-fi promises made to film lovers of my parents’ generation, and it set a cinematic standard for future generations.

Star Wars came to the Eastwood Theater in Indianapolis on June 15, 1977. I turned 14 on June 20 that year; I don’t remember if we went before or after my birthday, but I was 13 or 14 years old when Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia burst into my world. What a birthday present!

Leia was all that I, a sickly shy introvert, was not: She was strong, beautiful … and man, was she tough. While the world fixated on her cinnamon-bun hairdo in Star Wars and her sexy metal bikini in Return of the Jedi (1983), to me Leia was more than those immediately iconic visuals. She commanded armies of men and creatures. She stood toe-to-toe physically and mentally with heroes Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, and she outpaced their wit and humor time and time again. She wasn’t afraid of the ultra-menacing Darth Vader or anyone or anything else; she was fearless. There weren’t many “girl characters” like her in the movies of my youth or the classics I loved so much.

In my adult life, Carrie Fisher impressed me just as much as Princess Leia had. I respected Fisher for her tenacity, honesty and perseverance.

I could barely see through my tears when I watched her reprise Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. I cried uncontrollably on December 27, 2016, the day she died. When Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released in 2017, it featured Fisher’s first posthumous appearance as Princess Leia, and my heart broke for good. My galaxy is worse off without her in it.