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While the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy has done an amazing job establishing its new generation of heroes – Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and BB-8 – it’s also done a fascinating job weaving in its key legacy characters. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo got to play a significant role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, helping to shepherd Rey, Finn, and BB-8 to the Resistance in the Millennium Falcon, and then Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker was a central figure in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, reluctantly training Rey in the ways of the Force.
This has left an interesting question up in the air in regards to the role of Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. The pattern would suggest that the upcoming blockbuster would be the beloved character’s opportunity to take center stage, however, the actress passed away unexpectedly months before the start of production.
Given the circumstances, you might presume that the idea of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker having Leia as its central figure might not be feasible, but I learned from director J.J. Abrams this week that he feels that Leia’s role in the movie is just as “profound” as those played by Han and Luke in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, respectively.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the director yesterday during the Los Angeles press day for Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and directly asked him about the aforementioned pattern. In discussing how the production found the right way to include General Leia Organa in the story, he explained that the character’s presence in the film is far more significant than you might think:
Clearly we would have done other things had Carrie, been around, but I will say despite her not being with us anymore, her presence in the movie is not inconsequential. She's not being 'added in' so that she's in the movie. And I would say that her story, her role, the importance of Leia, I would argue is as profound as what you're saying even though she wasn't here.
In a macro examination of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa was positioned by the story at the center of everything from the get go. In addition to being the leader of the Resistance against the First Order, she was also made to be the mother of the central antagonist, Kylo Ren a.k.a. Ben Solo, while also being the ex-wife of Han Solo, and the sister of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker. Every aspect of the narrative was built to lead back to her.
The significance of Leia’s position in the universe meant that the Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker filmmakers couldn’t just write her death into the opening scroll, or take her out of the story completely. J.J. Abrams explained that they knew there were certain avenues that weren’t available to them, and that it took a lot of work to find the right way to do things:
There was no way, as I've said before, to tell the story without Leia. She's too important. It's Skywalker saga. She is the living Skywalker in our story. You don't want to start the story and say something happened to her in between movies. It didn't feel right. We'd never recast it. A digital Leia wouldn't work. There was no way to do it.
There was no real way to generate significant new footage featuring Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, but that’s when it donned on the filmmakers to look back at material that was previously relegated to the cutting room floor. J.J. Abrams himself shot extra scenes with Fisher that didn’t make it into the final cut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and there was a realization among the Rise of Skywalker team that the material could be repurposed as part of the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga.
While we won’t know exactly what this footage contains until we’re actually watching Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker later this month, the material caused the metaphorical light bulb to turn on in J.J. Abrams his head as he realized how it could be used for his new movie. Said the writer/director,
When we looked at the footage from [Star Wars: ]The Force Awakens, which I was obviously very familiar with, and realized we had a number of scenes we could use, and, and write scenes around, it was suddenly like, 'Oh my God, we could tell the story with Leia in the film.'
At the end of the day, the circumstances facing the team behind Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker weren’t obviously not ideal, and in a perfect world Carrie Fisher would have been alive to perform new scenes as Leia. But J.J. Abrams feels not only that he did everything he could to make Fisher’s role in the movie work, but also lucky that he was able to give her a part to play and honor her memory:
Obviously we did everything we could with the material that we had. I would have loved to have done other things too, but I feel lucky that we got to do what we could.
The role played by Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker has long been one of the most anticipated elements of the new movie, but learning J.J. Abrams’ feelings in regards to the way the role parallels those played by Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in the big picture makes it even more exciting. And now the countdown stands at just 15 days.
Stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for a whole lot more of our Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker coverage both before and after the release of the film – including more from my interviews with not only with J.J. Abrams, but also stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran, and Billy Dee Williams.