This post contains spoilers about the Star Wars franchise.
While Lucasfilm and Disney will have a difficult time finding a way to honor Carrie Fisher by giving General Leia Organa a send-off worthy of her legacy, they already made an excellent decision while getting there.
After BBC Newsnight this week featured a report seemingly confirming CGI as an inevitable route to complete Leia’s story, Lucasfilm outright denied the rumor late Friday. “We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa,” the company wrote in a statement.
Lucasfilm’s decision seems tastefully appropriate given how using CGI to recreate Fisher would have probably been too much, too soon for fans. After Rogue One brought back the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, utilizing CGI to use his likeness and replace it over another actor’s performance, there were some who expressed doubt over doing the same for the late Fisher, who passed away last month.
With CGI-based performance apparently off the table, Disney and Lucasfilm still have the unenviable task of finding a way to wrap up Leia’s storyline. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Star Wars braintrust—consisting of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Star Wars: Episode VIII writer and director Rian Johnson, and Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow—will meet in Los Angeles soon to discuss how to best move forward with Leia’s character.
Episode VIII reportedly features a pivotal scene between Leia and her brother, Luke Skywalker. Fortunately, Fisher’s work is said to be completed for that film as principal photography ended months ago. However, Leia was purportedly meant to have a confrontation with the saga’s primary antagonist, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), in Episode IX.
One of the solutions being bandied about among the braintrust at this early stage is reshaping Episodes VIII and IX. This is something Lucasfilm and Disney have experience with, as they reportedly re-shot up to 40 percent of Rogue One after being unhappy with the film’s initial cut. The end result was a resounding success, as the film was embraced by critics and just surpassed A New Hope as the second-most financially successful Star Wars movie.
Johnson has some experience with this, too. After all, he ended up having to heavily rewrite his screenplay after The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams did re-shoots of his own, thus changing the trajectory of the new trilogy. Johnson and team could find a way to either re-shoot some of the narrative or adjust certain scenes. If so, they could find ways to take the scenes they shot with Fisher and perhaps insert some of them into Episode IX with the help of some digital trickery and script pivots.
Rogue One director Gareth Edwards did something similar when he found old cans of never-before-seen footage from A New Hope in the Lucasfilm archives. He ended up digitizing the footage and inserting bits of X-Wing pilots into Rogue One. Leia does have some deleted scenes from The Force Awakens.
It’s difficult to speculate on how feasible this might be, given how we have absolutely no clue what role Leia has in Episode VIII. It’s been reported her role was meant to be bigger in IX than VIII, which might make this option troublesome.
If inserting some of Leia’s scenes into Episode IX is not an option, then writing her out entirely is worth considering. The fact she was meant to have a confrontation with Kylo Ren implies Luke possibly passing on the baton to her in Episode VIII.
The possibility of Leia wielding a lightsaber and confronting Kylo could have been one of the greatest moments in any of the movies. It could also have mirrored Luke’s trajectory in the original trilogy. Instead of a son trying to save his father, it would be a mother trying to save her son. With Kylo torn between the light side and the dark side, hearing Leia perhaps echo Luke’s line at the end of Return of the Jedi—“I’m a Jedi, like my father before me”—could have been an incredible moment not only for Leia’s character, but for Kylo’s possible redemption.
A better solution might be readjusting the narrative of both films, giving Leia a proper send-off in Episode VIII. As Episode IX begins, Leia’s passing could be acknowledged in between movies. There are some ways to thematically achieve this without resorting to significant uses of CGI.
This all depends on how the planned confrontation between Leia and Kylo Ren was meant to be resolved, but that could still happen in-between movies. Episode IX could feature moments of that confrontation in flashback, utilizing existing footage or dialogue to give snippets of said confrontation. Abrams achieved similar results when he used fragments of Alec Guinness’ voice as Obi-Wan to feature in a hallucinatory scene from The Force Awakens.
Then there’s always what Star Trek Beyond did. As Leonard Nimoy passed before Beyond was conceived, the filmmakers devised a very proper and touching tribute: Nimoy’s Spock was mentioned as having passed between movies, featured briefly in clever visual moments like on a computer touchscreen. It also informed the character arc of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the film, giving Nimoy’s death an appropriate thematic weight.
If the filmmakers of Episodes VIII and IX did something along those lines, it would most definitely require giving some of Leia’s planned moments to other characters. That could be the most touching tribute to Fisher’s memory, toasting the lasting impact she had on young actors.
Coincidentally enough Rogue One likewise featured a much younger Princess Leia, also using CGI technology to recreate a 19-year-old Fisher.
Yet Gwynne Watkins of Yahoo Movies calls the CGI used to bring back Cushing “terrifying,” writing further that “the scariest thing about the Peter Cushing character in Rogue One is that he’s only the beginning.”
Disney and Lucasfilm seem to have heard some of those complaints and put to rest the notion of a CGI-recreated Leia.
Any decision that Lucasfilm and Disney make will come under intense scrutiny from millions of die-hard fans. It isn’t an easy conversation for Kennedy, Johnson, and Trevorrow to have—especially since Kennedy and Johnson worked with Fisher, and like the rest of the world, are likely still mourning her death.
Unlike the rest of the world, they face difficult decisions about Leia. Fisher was a hero to young girls and boys everywhere. She was a trailblazer who left an indelible impression wherever she went. Fisher proved female characters can be badass and more than just damsels in distress.
Here’s hoping further Star Wars installments are worthy of the galaxy’s fiercest and most legendary general.