Now, it’s official: Star Wars fans will have one final chance to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, with Lucasfilm announcing that the actress, who died in December 2016, will appear in next year’s Star Wars: Episode IX.
In a statement, director J.J. Abrams sought to put concerns about potential CGI resurrections to rest, saying that the new movie will use “unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII” and assuring fans that “we were never going to recast, or use a CG character.” While this is, undoubtedly, comforting, it would also appear to offer particular clues about the role Fisher — or, more specifically, her character, Leia Organa — will play in the movie.
Firstly: Purely for practical purposes, Leia’s presence in the movie will be small. If nothing else, there can’t be that much extraneous, unseen footage from 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens; she was barely in that movie, so unless large swaths of scenes were shot but never even hinted at by anyone involved in the production, there’s limited material to draw from in the first place, and surely not everything available will be used.
Considering the context of the footage, it also limits the potential use for Episode IX. Leia appeared in few scenes and locations in The Force Awakens. Leia was on Takodana, rescuing Han, Chewbacca, Rey and Finn, and then at the Resistance base on D’Qar, where she takes part in planning, and later monitoring, the attack on Starkiller Base. Aside from brief interludes with Han and, later, Rey, she’s very much in “harried leader” mode throughout the movie. Does this mean that this is the Leia we’ll see in Episode IX, even after losing her ex-husband, and then her brother, in the previous two movies?
(It’s possible that the Fisher footage will end up being just a minor flashback, used to punctuate a contemporary moment; memories during her funeral, as some on social media have already suggested. If so, then the above problem is side-stepped, to a degree.)
Abrams’ comments leave space for some level of postproduction trickery to be applied to the Fisher footage. Presumably, Fisher will be intercut with new footage of actors shot specifically for Episode IX. Will digital trickery be used to make sure that Fisher shares a location with the other cast members? If so, will that be all that’s altered? What about costuming choices? For that matter, what about the potential for posthumous dubbing or soundalikes used for dialogue where Leia is off-camera or not in close-up? Abrams said that the movie would never use a CG character, but what about a performance augmented or altered by CG?
Of course, if any such edits or alterations are made, they’ll have to be done with subtlety and sensitivity. This is key to the entire enterprise of including footage of Fisher posthumously. For as much as fans want to be able to say goodbye to the actress, and also to Leia, they want to do so in a manner that feels appropriate and respectful to both. While Abrams and Lucasfilm — and Fisher’s family, especially daughter Billie Lourd, named in Abrams’ statement — want to provide both closure and tribute to Leia and Fisher alike with this move, they’re courting backlash if this isn’t done perfectly.
That the footage will come from The Force Awakens feels particularly fitting, then; that, after all, was a project that already came with expectations and looming accusations from fandom expecting the worst. It’s also perhaps a reminder that those involved with this move love the mythology — and loved Fisher as a person — as much as anyone else, if not more so, and will be approaching it with the utmost care.
Everyone will, inevitably, remain worried until the final product appears onscreen, but perhaps we can rest just slightly in the meantime.