This post contains SPOILERS for The Last Jedi
Star Wars: Episode IX has the tricky task of completing Leia Organa's story, and Lucasfilm would be smart if they look at their fellow classic sci-fi franchise for how to handle it. Just about a year ago, Carrie Fisher tragically passed away at age 60, having completed all of her scenes for The Last Jedi, but obviously well before the cameras started rolling on Episode IX. Originally, the plan was to put the General at the forefront of the story, much like Han was at the center of The Force Awakens and Luke was the titular Last Jedi. However, real life forced the filmmakers to start from scratch, and it will be interesting to see what J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio come up with.
Leia was the last of the original trilogy's big three to be alive at the end of Episode VIII, with Han meeting his end at the hands of Kylo Ren in Force Awakens and Luke self-sacrificing during The Last Jedi's climax. As the credits roll, the General had been positioned as the leader of a rebuilding Rebellion, consisting of a small band of survivors looking to meet up with allies in the Outer Rim. But unless Lucasfilm is planning on recasting the role (which seems highly unlikely at this point in time), Abrams and his team will have to find another way.
Coincidentally, another massive property Abrams has been involved in dealt with a similar situation not too long ago. We speak of Star Trek Beyond, which gracefully integrated the death of Spock actor Leonard Nimoy into the plot. The legend had reprised his role as Spock Prime in the first two installments of the rebooted series, serving as a bridge between the original cast and newcomers. Chances are, Beyond would have found a spot for him as well, but Nimoy passed away in 2015. In the film, Spock Prime passes away of natural causes offscreen, news that is a primary component of the character arc for Zachary Quinto's Spock.
It wouldn't be out of the question for Star Wars 9 to pull off something similar. Considering a new actress isn't brought on board (which would be a hard sell in a series that quickly became polarizing), Leia's absence is going to have to be addressed in some way. With CGI recreation (thankfully) off the table, the most realistic option is writing Leia out of the story, having her die an offscreen death a la Spock Prime. Honestly, this would stir up the least amount of controversy, especially since there are no overt dangling narrative threads that need to be addressed. Though The Last Jedi is part of a franchise, the narrative it tells is self-contained. One can make the argument Leia was being set up as a Force teacher for the still-learning Rey, but that's a role a Force ghost Luke Skywalker can fill if the story calls for it.
In this scenario, Resistance figures (including our main cast of heroes) learn of Leia's passing after returning from a mission. Without their fearless leader to guide them, the group has to rally in her memory, using her principles to put together one final stand against the First Order and restore freedom to the galaxy. This way, Episode IX could still be Leia-centric in a spiritual sense, even if the character isn't physically in the film. Poe's primary arc in The Last Jedi dealt with his maturation and ability to see the bigger picture, so he could take Leia's place at the top - especially with Vice Admiral Holdo gone as well after her own self-sacrifice.
It's become apparent there should be some sort of time jump in Episode IX, as there's no massive Last Jedi cliffhanger that's in immediate need of being resolved. Having the sequel take place a handful of years after its predecessor would allow the characters to grow in their new positions and make it relatively easier to remove Leia from the proceedings without it feeling abrupt. Abrams certainly has a tall order on his hands, but he worked his magic with Star Wars before, so there's no reason why he can't do it again.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019