Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson briefly considered creating an ending for General Leia Organa following Carrie Fisher's passing. The franchise icon, who played the character in five films, died in December 2016 after suffering a heart attack. Though she had completed filming all of her Episode VIII scenes beforehand, the tragedy raised several questions about how Lucasfilm should handle Leia moving forward. The studio originally planned Episode IX to focus on her, much like how Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were at the center of the sequel trilogy's first two installments.
In the build-up to The Last Jedi, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed Leia's role would not be changed, meaning Fisher's final performance would be seen as it was intended to be. However, this was not a decision made lightly. In the immediate aftermath of the actress' death, Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy had conversations about what they could do, including manufacturing a conclusion for her storyline.
Speaking with Empire, Johnson discussed the process and why he felt it was important to leave Leia's part intact without any alterations:
"We discussed it briefly, and I spoke with Kathy (Kennedy, producer and Lucasfilm boss) when we came back after New Year's. We watched through her scenes and there was briefly talk of, 'god, do we adjust something so that we give her some kind of end in this movie?' I felt strongly that we shouldn't do that for a couple of reasons. We have a beautiful, complete performance from her, and that final moment is so powerful for her, and for us saying goodbye to her. And also, I can't imagine anything that we would be able to manufacture without having Carrie that would've been emotionally satisfying. I definitely I have no idea what would maintain that scene between her and Luke, or the scene in the Falcon. So we just decided to let it lie. I know J.J.'s going to come up with a way to resolve her in the next movie."
Reflecting on The Last Jedi, it's difficult to say what changes could have been made. Several key scenes in the third act are more impactful with Leia's presence, such as Luke Skywalker's arrival on Crait and the General's final conversation with Rey. It was comforting to hear Leia say the Rebellion had everything they needed, reaffirming the film's overarching message of hope. Simply put, Leia had to be there in order for Episode VIII to keep its flow and momentum. If Johnson had ended her story early on, there would have been a void too great to fill. Lucasfilm has had enough trouble ironing out Episode IX without their princess; it's impossible to think how they could have revised The Last Jedi in the midst of post-production to account for real-life.
As Johnson indicates, it'll be up to Episode IX helmsman J.J. Abrams to find a poignant way to end Leia's story. With CGI recreation already off the table and recasting not even a remote possibility, odds are the General will be written out of Star Wars 9, which is arguably the least controversial option available. The Abrams-produced Star Trek Beyond dealt with something similar in regards to how it integrated Leonard Nimoy's death into the narrative, so perhaps Lucasfilm could use that as a template. This would allow Leia's presence to still be felt, even though she will not physically be there.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019