Lucasfilm had to "start over" on Star Wars Episode IX following the death of Carrie Fisher. The movie community was shaken in late 2016 by the untimely loss of the actress and script doctor, aged just 60. An unexpected tragedy, once the shock of Fisher's passing had worn off thoughts slowly moved to the future of the character she'd made so iconic, Leia Organa.
It emerged that the actress had filmed all of her scenes as General Leia for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the question remained of how she'd be used in Colin Trevorrow's trilogy-ender - the prospect of CGI recreation a la Peter Cushing in Rogue One was quickly debunked, but the question of body doubles or repurposed footage remained. It eventually emerged that Leia wouldn't be in Episode IX at all, which it now appears was the result of a bigger shift behind the scenes at Lucasfilm.
Speaking to EW around the time of Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy discussed the impact Fisher's death had on the cast and crew and revealed it led to a complete rejigging of Episode IX.
"Obviously, with Carrie having passed away, it shook everybody. We pretty much started over.”
This isn't the most surprising news given that Fisher was originally set to appear in Episode IX - some changes would naturally need to be made - but Kennedy's comments suggest that the adjustments have been rather impactful, fitting of a planned increased role for the character. That said, it has been previously stated that the exact ending of the sequel trilogy wasn't set at the time of The Force Awakens release, so it's unclear how much of an impact this will have had on the overall conclusion.
Indeed, the actual plot of Episode IX is tightly under wraps and with The Last Jedi under a similar shroud of secrecy to The Force Awakens it's hard to even predict where Rey, Kylo and co. could be heading in the May 2019 release. Based on everything we know, though, the most likely outcome will be that Leia dies offscreen between 8 and 9, although Trevorrow may avoid something so drastic and have the character survive the trilogy, with Leia just alluded to in his film
Whatever's planned, Lucasfilm's handling of Fisher's death so far has been exemplary, with every public discussion on the topic and the emotional tribute at Celebration's 40th Anniversary panel being respectful of both the actress and character's legacy. Their focus now is on the trickier story standpoint; the script for Episode IX is finished, with the production set to start in summer. We won't find out what exactly Trevorrow and co. have planned for Leia, but it sounds like they've done everything to make it a fitting sendoff.
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