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The future of Star Wars without Princess Leia

Words: Jason Wolf
Photography: Getty Images/ Sunset Boulevard

How will Disney handle Carrie Fisher’s absense in future Star Wars films? Here are several options. 

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 fierce portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. And while the dust has not yet settled from the shock of her sudden death, Disney, as shepherds of the Star Wars films, must now decide how to handle her absence in the forthcoming installments 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. And Colin Trevorrow, the director of Episode IX, has confirmed plans were in the works for significantly larger 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.” 

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And those intentions were confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, which reported at least two key scenes have been planned for Episode VIII (Dec. 15) and Episode IX (2019) - a Leia reunion with Luke Skywalker, and a confrontation with the son who killed Han Solo, Kylo Ren.

So, Leia was intended to be a key player in the future Star Wars films, but what to do about what has been filmed and what was meant to be filmed is yet to be determined.

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Disney’s conundrum

Leia is a core cast member to a franchise with the most passionate fan-base in cinematic history, so the studio is under a microscope to resolve Leia’s storyline in a way that is fitting to the character – perhaps the most ardent, headstrong person in the saga – while also being respectful to the late actress, especially considering the timeliness of her death. That excludes killing off the character or even simply explaining her away in the opening crawl.

Option 1: CGI

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, which was 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. 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.

The case against CGI

However, using CGI for Episode IX, while intriguing in that the writers could be afforded to tell whatever story they feel most suitable, is likely not the avenue Disney will travel. It’s certain to be met with some disdain but it’s also immense legwork, as explained by Star Wars visual effects supervisor John Knoll: “It is extremely labor-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”.

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Option 2: Script doctoring

In all likelihood, Disney will accommodate Carrie Fisher’s absence from Episode IX through 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 out how to handle the character going forward.

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Option 3: Altering Episode VIII

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 if they think quickly and use their remaining time before the release of Episode VIII wisely.

Holding out hope

While Disney’s intent is still unclear, they’re afforded time to make a decision seeing how the next Star Wars installment is still 11 months away from hitting theaters and Episode IX doesn’t even 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.

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