Carrie on forever – should Star Wars’ Leia be allowed to die?
‘If you die when you’re fat, are you a fat ghost? Or do they go back to a flattering time?” so mused Carrie Fisher in the documentary Bright Lights, while exercising furiously in preparation for “Star Wars Episode Seven … ty Two”.
After the “force ghost” visitations of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, imagining how she might appear as Leia Organa after her death clearly amused Fisher. On Friday, Lucasfilm announced that she will feature posthumously in Star Wars Episode IX, which prompts the question: when will Disney let Leia die?
Since Fisher’s death, aged 60, in December 2016, Star Wars fans have been on a rollercoaster ride of emotion – from despair at losing their Princess, to elation when her brother Todd Fisher announced last year Leia would appear in Episode IX, using unseen footage from The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, however, issued a denial, stating: “Sadly, Carrie will not be in nine.”
For fans, it was another bitter blow. Fisher had made a triumphant return to the franchise, and Leia was expected to play a significant role in the next chapter. As Kennedy told Vanity Fair, when Fisher finished The Last Jedi, “she grabbed me and said, ‘I’d better be at the forefront of IX!’ Because Harrison was front and center on VII, and Mark is front and center on VIII. She thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been.”
According to Mark Hamill, he and Carrie had discussed their mortality on set during the filming of Episode VIII. Its release, a year after her death, was a poignant opportunity to see Leia on screen for the last time. In an eerie plot twist, her death and resurrection in flight seemed to foretell Fisher’s own fate; Todd Fisher found it “heartbreaking” to watch. Now we must steel ourselves to say goodbye to Leia all over again, with the underlying suspicion that even this time may not really be the last. Fisher once told Rolling Stone: “I am eternally in Star Wars.” With an unspecified amount of unseen footage and the magic of CG technology, it’s possible her character could indeed #CarrieOnForever.
Audiences are already accustomed to seeing virtual Leias. Her first scene in Star Wars, in 1977, was as a hologram, and by 2016, two weeks before Fisher died, she had already been resurrected for Rogue One. The 19-year-old princess was brought back to life for a cameo, using a combination of actor Ingvild Deila, CGI and archival footage. John Knoll, chief creative officer/visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, explained: “We had really good scans of her … We matched a couple of frames very exactly with our CG model and then sort of bounced back and forth between our render and the archival frame.” The result was so convincing it even fooled Fisher herself, who “squealed with delight” when she watched the finished scene.
However, for Episode IX, only authentic footage of Fisher will be used, (a decision that may be due in part to the negative reception of Peter Cushing’s posthumous appearance as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One). “We desperately loved Carrie Fisher,” director JJ Abrams said. “Finding a truly satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga without her eluded us. We were never going to recast, or use a CG character. With the support and blessing from her daughter, Billie, we have found a way to honour Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX.”
A “satisfying conclusion” may not necessarily mean death for Leia. Disney seems determined to squeeze every last drop of her from Fisher, who wryly recounted in her book Wishful Drinking the relentless commercialisation of her character, recreated as everything from shampoo bottles to sex dolls: “If you can get someone to make you into a PEZ Dispenser, DO IT!”. At a roast for George Lucas, to whom she signed away her likeness for free aged 19, Fisher told him: “Every time I look in the mirror, I have send you a cheque for a couple of bucks”.
Unless Leia is finally laid to rest in Episode IX, fans will always be yearning for her next resurrection. Fisher’s self-penned obituary may be the perfect suggestion for how she might meet her demise: “I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” Mark Hamill, who will make a surprise appearance alongside Fisher in Episode IX, tweeted: “It’s bittersweet facing my final chapter without her – She is simply irreplaceable.”
But we must not grieve for Leia. In the words of Master Yoda: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not.” Besides, as Luke Skywalker reminds her in The Last Jedi, “No one’s ever really gone”.