Lucasfilm has finally revealed how they intend to honor the legacy of Carrie Fisher in Star Wars Episode IX - and they're taking the right approach. The tragic death of Carrie Fisher in December 2016 shook the Star Wars franchise to its core. Making matters even more difficult for Lucasilm, Leia was an important figure in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. According to Kathleen Kennedy, she'd have been at the forefront of Episode IX too.
The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson wanted Leia's final performance to stand unaltered, in honor of her memory. But that only pushed the problems back on to the next film, with Colin Trevorrow forced to "start over" on the script. Problems over the script ultimately led to Lucasfilm parting ways with Trevorrow, with J.J. Abrams hired as his replacement.
The latest press release from Lucasfilm has revealed that Abrams intends to use previously-unreleased footage from The Force Awakens to bring an end to Leia's story. In addition, in a move that's surprised audiences worldwide, Lucasfilm has also confirmed that Mark Hamill will be reprising the role of Luke Skywalker. The movie is described as the "conclusion to the Skywalker saga," suggesting no future Star Wars episodes are currently planned.
The Problem Facing Lucasfilm
The fundamental problem facing Lucasfilm was a simple one; the ending of The Last Jedi clearly set up General Leia Organa for a major role in the next film. When the credits rolled, Leia was aboard the Millennium Falcon, leader of the last surviving members of the Resistance. She'd be key to the future of the entire galaxy, the leader who inspired others to stand against the darkness. It also looked as though Leia was being established as a possible mentor figure to Rey, helping the young would-be Jedi Knight along her path. Fisher's untimely death destroyed that idea, and faced Lucasfilm with an impossible situation.
No proposed solution seemed to work. Lucasfilm couldn't simply ignore Leia's absence, perhaps explaining it away with a time-jump and the revelation that she'd died off-screen. That wouldn't fit with the actual story of the Sequel Trilogy, and certainly wouldn't feel respectful. The studio swiftly debunked rumors that they'd use CGI for the role too. They'd innovated some interesting techniques in order to bring back Peter Cushing's Tarkin in Rogue One, but the morality of that approach was questioned online, and in this case the grief was simply too raw. Nobody else could play Leia Organa.
This Was the Only Solution
But this proposed solution is the perfect one. J.J. Abrams is essentially giving viewers a chance to watch never-before-seen footage of Carrie Fisher at work. It feels as much like a toast in Fisher's honor as a strategic, storytelling decision. Lucasfilm's press statement stresses that the approach has been given "the support and blessing" of Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd. The studio want it to be known that they are determined to honor Fisher's memory, and that her family are behind them all the way.
This footage becomes all the more important given Lucasfilm's decision to make Episode IX the conclusion of the entire Skywalker Saga. There's simply no way to bring a satisfactory close to the epic that began in 1977 without using the characters of Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker; that, presumably, is why Abrams has called in Hamill to reprise his own role too. It's sadly impossible for Leia to be the star of the show, as originally planned, but she simply has to be a part of the film. This is, quite simply, the only way Lucasfilm can do it.
Appropriately enough, J.J. Abrams is perfectly positioned to make this work. Every director has their own unique tone and style, visible in the details of photography and scene construction. Abrams was the director of The Force Awakens, though, and that means this footage will bear all the same stylistic hallmarks as the footage he'll shoot for Episode IX. It should be possible for him to seamlessly integrate these unseen clips with the story he's preparing to film, ensuring the Skywalker Saga truly does come to a memorable end.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019