The untimely passing of Carrie Fisher left an irreplaceable void in the world, and fans continue to mourn the tragic loss. In the meantime, Disney and Lucasfilm are starting to discuss how to handle Fisher's character, General Leia Organa, for the remainder of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. After reprising the role in 2015's The Force Awakens, Fisher returned for Star Wars: Episode VIII and filmed all of her scenes for the sequel prior to her death. Reports have suggested Leia was going to have an expanded role in Episode VIII before coming back in an even larger capacity for 2019's Star Wars: Episode IX.
While no final decisions have been made, Lucasfilm did provide some clarity recently. The studio issued a statement denying the speculation that they were going to use CGI to digitally recreate the late Fisher as Leia, a la Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This came as a great relief to many viewers, but there is still much interest in how the story group handles this unfortunate situation moving forward. As of now, there seem to be two plausible options on the table: writing General Leia out of Star Wars 9 or recasting the role. Seeing somebody other than Fisher in the part may seem blasphemous to some, but examining the larger picture, could it be the best solution? We examine the pros and cons of recasting Leia.
First, it's worth mentioning that there is a precedent for this. Richard Harris portrayed Professor Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, and then Michael Gambon stepped in for the remainder of the series following Harris' death in 2002. Granted, that case is a little different because the Harry Potter films were obviously based on the books of the same name, and Dumbledore was a crucial part of the novels. In order to do a faithful adaptation, the character had to be included, which left Warner Bros. with no choice but to recast. Star Wars 9 is not drawn from pre-published material, meaning that a story that does not call for Leia could be written - as strange (and sad) it is to think of the saga's possible conclusion without her.
That being said, this would most likely call for a massive overhaul of these next two chapters. Lucasfilm at the very least had a general outline for the main arc of the sequel trilogy before The Force Awakens was released, and planned the stories for Episode VIII and Episode IX well in advance. This means that Star Wars 8 writer/director Rian Johnson conducted (and wrapped) principal photography on his movie with future developments for Star Wars 9 in mind. Should Disney decide Leia will be written out of Episode IX, then Episode VIII will need to be significantly altered to account for the changes. Entire plot points would have to be rewritten and new material shot, going above and beyond the typical pickups that blockbusters see these days. In essence, Lucasfilm would have to make Star Wars 8 an entirely different movie in 11 months, which may or may not be logistically possible. Johnson was editing the picture as early as August 2016, so he had some idea of what the final product was going to look like.
Though the circumstances were drastically different, the studio has been through substantial reshoots before with Rogue One, and that project turned out fine from a critical and commercial perspective. So this is doable, but it is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Rogue One was a standalone entity that existed in its own box. Star Wars 8 and Star Wars 9 are forever intertwined as parts of a larger whole. If Leia is written out, then Episode VIII has to be retooled to satisfyingly conclude her arc, while also not compromising any key emotional beats for Episode IX. Right now, it's difficult to say how this could happen. If Leia survives Star Wars 8, it would not be in line with her character if she left an ongoing conflict, and killing the General off-screen is unceremonious, considering her importance in the story as the Resistance's leader. Conceivably, Leia could meet her end in Episode VIII, but that may not be the best way to honor Fisher's memory. After all, Brian O'Connor was not killed in Furious 7 after Paul Walker's tragic passing.
This is where recasting Leia comes in, and it's quite possible Lucasfilm has already talked about this amongst themselves. While this would be a bitter pill to swallow, it would allow the studio to stick to their initial plan without making too many changes to the future films - and Leia's role in the overall story could come to a more natural conclusion. Of course, this solution does present a fair number of hurdles. Princess Leia was very much an extension of Carrie Fisher, and what the actress did in the role cannot be replicated. Finding a different thespian (no matter how talented) to come anywhere close to Fisher's performances would be an arduous task, and then audiences would have to be sold on the newcomer being the "new Leia." It could be extremely jarring and has a ton of potential to backfire disastrously. If the studio went this route, they would undoubtedly take great care in the casting process, but it may not go as smoothly as they would hope.
Obviously, not everyone is going to buy into recasting (at the outset or ever), though there is a compelling argument to be made in its favor. Allowing Leia (and by extension, Fisher's legacy) to live on and have a meaningful impact in the Skywalker saga would be a strong way of paying respects to what Fisher did. Characters in pop culture always outlive the actors who play them. Nobody is saying Fisher should not receive a classy and graceful farewell in Episode VIII, but Leia also deserves a fitting sendoff. To say that her part in the story should be over now that Fisher has sadly passed is debatable. As long as Fisher's estate would be comfortable with this move (and there's nothing right now indicating they wouldn't be), then this could be the best way to go. Leia's role in the sequels is far more than a cameo (like Spock Prime in the Kelvin Timeline), so it could be determined there's no easy way to write her out completely.
One can of worms recasting does open is why this was not done for Tarkin (and a young Princess Leia) in Rogue One. Actor Guy Henry, who played Tarkin during principal photography, could definitely resemble Cushing - especially with some prosthetics. It may seem odd that it's not OK to recast the secondary role of Tarkin, but someone else can step into Leia's shoes. Many viewers were impressed with Rogue One's controversial CGI effects, but Lucasfilm nevertheless received a fair amount of pushback for "resurrecting" an actor who has been dead for more than 20 years. The outcry could be even stronger if that was done for Fisher. Also, CGI Tarkin took 18 months of post-production work to complete, and the character was only in a handful of scenes. If Leia is to be a main character in Star Wars 9, it would be simpler in filmmaking terms to have an actress appear as the character in the flesh.
Regardless of what Lucasfilm does, there is no straightforward way to manage this. All the options on the table have their own set of pros and cons, and whichever one wins out will have to be the one that best serves the vision for the trilogy. Recasting Leia, while inconceivable to many, is much more ethical than placing a digital Fisher up on the screen, and if the new actress is convincing enough, viewers would be able to get engrossed in the story. Disney has done an admirable job recruiting top-tier talent for their Star Wars movies, so they'd pull out all the stops to find a new Leia. They are far from finalizing any plans, but recasting is something that should get more consideration than some might think. It would preserve Fisher's final performance and present it as it was meant to be seen, which would be a nice and touching gesture.
- 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