The future of Star Wars without Princess Leia
Fans, family and friends have been mourning the passing of actress, writer and comedian Carrie Fisher, who left an indelible mark on cinematic history with her portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies. And while the dust hasn’t yet settled from the shock of her death, Disney, as shepherds of the Star Wars films, must now decide how to handle her absence in the forthcoming instalments of the far-reaching franchise she helped turn into a monolith.
Fisher had already completed all of her filming for Episode VIII, which is said to be a much more substantial role than her cameo in 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Colin Trevorrow, the director of Episode IX, has confirmed plans were in the works for more screen time for Leia when he told E! in January of 2016 that he was excited to “find new places that we can take those characters.”
Those plans were confirmed by a couple of stories in The Hollywood Reporter, which said that at least two key scenes have been planned for Episode VIII (December 15) and Episode IX (2019). Apparently a Leia reunion with Luke Skywalker and a confrontation with the son who killed Han Solo, Kylo Ren, were also on the cards.
It seems clear that Leia was going to be a key player in future Star Wars films. But what will they do about what’s been filmed and what was meant to be filmed is yet to be determined.
Leia is a core cast member to a franchise with the most passionate fanbase in cinematic history, so the studio is under a microscope to resolve her storyline in a way that’s fitting to the character while also being respectful to the late actress, especially considering the timeliness of her death. She’s possibly the most ardent and headstrong person in the saga, and they don’t have the option of killing off the character or even simply explaining her away in the opening crawl.
Carrie Fisher was as synonymous with the character of Princess Leia as just about any actor with any movie role ever, so recasting the actress is unimaginable. However, one option is to use CGI to digitally recreate her likeness, a technique notably used to fill the void left by Paul Walker in The Fast And The Furious franchise, and, coincidentally, there’s already precedence in the Star Wars universe for using a CGI Princess Leia. As recently as 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story eyed casting consistency, so the filmmakers digitally matted the face of the late Peter Cushing onto another actor in order to depict the character of Grand Moff Tarkin. For cohesion, they also used this technology to show a youthful Princess Leia.
Using CGI for Episode IX is an intriguing option as it would allow the writers to tell whatever story they feel is most suitable. But it’s not the most likely avenue Disney will take. It’s certain to be met with some disdain and it involves a lot of work, as explained by Star Wars visual effects supervisor John Knoll: “It is extremely labour-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner. We’re not planning on doing this digital recreation extensively from now on.”
In all likelihood, Disney will accommodate Carrie Fisher’s absence from Episode IX with some clever script doctoring. The Lucasfilm Story Group, a committee responsible for determining the entire Star Wars canon and the creative team behind the films, will surely convene and plot how to handle the character going forward.
Although no reshoots have yet been announced for Episode VIII, which has already completed filming and included Fisher, Disney has the ability to alter this film in order to properly plant the seeds for Leia’s departure. They’ll have to move quickly and use what remaining time they have before the release of Episode VIII wisely.
While Disney’s intent is still unclear, they have some time to make a decision as the next Star Wars installment is still 11 months away from hitting theaters and Episode IX doesn’t start filming until next year. No matter what they decide, fans will be rooting for an appropriate send-off to a cherished character and a beloved person.