Erika D. Smith

The Force wasn’t with us in 2016

From left, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill during the filming of the CBS-TV special “The Star Wars Holiday” in 1978.
From left, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill during the filming of the CBS-TV special “The Star Wars Holiday” in 1978. Associated Press file

In the closing moments of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a Rebel Alliance soldier rushes through a hallway and enters the bridge of a distinctly late 1970s spaceship.

“Your highness,” he says, holding up some sort of futuristic microfilm. “The transmission we received. What is it they’ve sent us?”

A computer-generated Carrie Fisher, as impossibly young as the day I finally convinced my parents that I was old enough to watch the original “Star Wars” trilogy, turns and takes it. She smiles a knowing smile.

“Hope,” says Princess Leia. The credits rolled.

I should’ve known right then and there, given the cruel, emotional roller coaster that 2016 has been, that “hope” wasn’t what I was about to get.

Indeed, just a few days after I posted a selfie with my “Rogue One” ticket, Fisher, as feisty in real life as she was in the movies, suffered a heart attack on a flight bound for Los Angeles. Paramedics worked on her unconscious body for several minutes before rushing her to UCLA Medical Center.

Fisher died there Tuesday morning. She was only 60.

“No words #Devastated,” tweeted Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker to Fisher’s Princess Leia.

“Goodnight, Sweet Princess,” tweeted Kevin Smith, the Gen X director of “Star Wars”-themed “Jay and Silent Bob” fame. “Thank you for so many happy memories, your heroics, your art and your friendship.”

It has been declared by more than one journalist that 2016 is “the year the music died.” It’s hard to argue with that. But I’ll go a step further and argue that 2016 is really the year pop culture died – or at least was dealt a severe blow with a lightsaber.

In addition to Fisher, we lost George Michael on Christmas Day, plus Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Muhammad Ali, Harper Lee, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman and Florence Henderson. Not to mention Nancy Reagan, Tom Hayden, Janet Reno and John Glenn.

These people weren’t just people. They were cultural icons who were revered by multiple generations, from baby boomers to millennials.

Smith, for example, was as quick to tweet about Fisher on Tuesday as he was about Michael after he died on Monday at just 53 years old. “The voice of #GeorgeMichael is woven into the musical fabric of my adolescence – so when I hear his songs, I feel young.”

I spent Christmas Day watching two teenagers play the video game “Star Wars Battlefront” and thinking about the time I joined hundreds of other fans at Fremont Park in midtown to whack one another with glow-in-the-dark lightsabers for a few hours.

And on Christmas night, as I rocked out to Wham! videos with some nostalgic baby boomers and Gen Xers, I thought about the chills I got the first time I heard “Freedom” and “Faith” on the radio.

Although the people 2016 stole were celebrities who most Americans never met, they inspired us with their creativity and their intelligence. They played a role – sometimes multiple roles – in our lives, and so their passing is ever more poignant for those of us left behind.

I fear the world will soon be a more culturally stunted place. Already, 2016 has been a year of sequels, remakes, remixes, often relying on the talents of those who’ve died.

“Rogue One” has raked in more than $323 million at U.S. box offices. “Star Trek: Beyond” has pulled in more than $340 million. The film marks the last appearance of Anton Yelchin, the young actor who played Chekov and died this year in a freak accident outside his Los Angeles home.

And acclaimed hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, released its first new album in years to great fanfare, but only months after member Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, died of complications from diabetes.

May the Force be with us in 2017. It’s our only hope.