How Will Carrie Fisher’s Death Affect ‘Star Wars: Episode 8’ & ‘Episode 9’?

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Carrie Fisher attends the 54th New York Film Festival on October 10, 2016. (Getty)

Legendary actress Carrie Fisher, who is known for playing Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga, has died.

In addition to this being an enormously tragic loss, Fisher’s sudden death also raises questions about the future of the new Star Wars trilogy. How is her passing going to affect things going forward? Did she still have any more left to film?

The next movie in the franchise is Star Wars: Episode VIII, which will be released on December 15th, 2017. Filming for this movie ended long before Fisher’s death, with production concluding in July 2016. An official from Lucasfilm confirmed to TMZ on Tuesday that Fisher had no scenes left to film for Episode VIII.

However, it was expected that both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher would also return for the final movie in the new trilogy, Star Wars: Episode IX. This is the sequel that will have to deal with Fisher’s death, as that movie is still in pre-production and does not start filming until 2017.

From a plot perspective, Leia’s absence will not be easily swept under the rug considering that she is the leader of the Resistance and will likely be a crucial player in the group’s struggle against the First Order in the next two films. The new Star Wars canon is clearly still interested in Leia’s story, as she was recently the subject of the book Star Wars: Bloodline, which follows Leia Organa in the years prior to Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

In fact, the director of Star Wars: Episode IX, Colin Trevorrow, said in an interview earlier this year that he wants Leia to have a bigger role in his movie. When speaking about Luke and Leia in a January 2016 interview with E!, Trevorrow said that he’s excited to “find new places that we can take those characters.”

“They are icons, but they’re also people that have suffered tremendous loss and challenge over the course of all these films,” Trevorrow said of Luke and Leia, seemingly confirming that Leia would play a significant role in Episode IX along with her brother.

Technically, though, we don’t know for sure that Leia doesn’t die in Episode VIII and that comments like Trevorrow’s were not merely intended to keep this surprise intact. But assuming the plan as of last week was for Carrie Fisher to be in both Episode VIII and Episode IX, Disney is now presented with several equally distressing options.

First, they could recast Leia Organa. This is often the go-to solution in these sorts of situations, such as when Dumbledore actor Richard Harris died in between Harry Potter movies and was replaced by Michael Gambon. Usually, this is the option taken when it’s completely impossible to write the character out of the story; there’s obviously no way to adapt Harry Potter without including Dumbledore, and so Warner Bros. didn’t really have a choice.

But Dumbledore was a character who existed before Harris delivered his performance, whereas Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher are intrinsically linked. For many, having any other actress play the character feels wrong.

The second option is to just cut Leia Organa out of Episode IX, giving her original role to another character and explaining her absence through dialogue. This is what Lionsgate did for the final Hunger Games film, Mockingjay: Part 2. Philip Seymour Hoffman suddenly died during production, and so his remaining scenes were rewritten so that Plutarch’s actions were performed by other characters.

However, that situation was a bit different seeing as Hoffman had already filmed most of his Mockingjay: Part 2 scenes prior to his death, whereas Carrie Fisher hasn’t filmed a single scene for Episode IX. If Disney were to go ahead with this option, they could even theoretically reshoot and rewrite some Episode VIII scenes so that Leia departs the franchise in that movie, with it perhaps being said that she died in battle.

A potential third option is one that is only now becoming available to movie studios: Fisher’s likeness could be digitally recreated using CGIAfter all, Disney just premiered Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, in which Peter Cushing appears as Grand Moff Tarkin even though Cushing died in 1994. A CGI Carrie Fisher shows up in that movie too, with a young Leia Organa briefly making an appearance in order to tie the film into the original Star Wars.

With Star Wars Episode IX, then, Disney could theoretically shift focus away from Leia but still include her in some scenes via the magic of CGI and stand-in actors, thus granting the studio freedom to give this character a proper sendoff. But it’s up to Disney and to Fisher’s family to decide if this is ethical and is what the actress would have wanted.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, John Knoll, the CCO of Industrial Light and Magic, said that Lucasfilm does not plan to regularly utilize this technique of digitally recreating deceased actors going forward, although he made this comment prior to Fisher’s death.

“It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner,” Knoll said. “We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie.”

Star Wars Episode VIII will be released on December 15th, 2017. Star Wars Episode IX will be released on May 23th, 2019, assuming Fisher’s death does not delay production.

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