Yesterday a few outlets (big ones too) jumped the gun on a story about how Lucasfilm were planning to handling General Leia in Star Wars Episode VIII and beyond. Lucasfilm then made a statement on the matter...
This all came to my attention in the Talk Star Wars VIP facebook group, where we often discuss developments like this. Paul posted an article by Gizmodo that quoted a BBC Newsnight piece claiming Lucasfilm were negotiating with Carrie Fisher's estate for the future use of Carrie's likeness in Star Wars films. Here's a telling quote from the BBC piece-
I must point out that Germain over at Gizmodo took a very measured approach to the story, and did his due diligence in reaching out to Disney for comment.
This just goes to show how these terribly divisive arguments start, and how jumping to the wrong conclusion about a company's motives can generate a great deal of bad will toward both the company and the product they are trying to produce. Now, I don't want to score points of off the BBC for making an error in judgement here, but here is my response the piece when it hit our facebook group-
Now that was the Star Wars fan in me talking, not the blogger or the podcaster, the fan. My reaction was to try and see a possible solution here, and not a huge moral dilemma. I wonder how many Star Wars fans would allow themselves to get swept up by the BBC's provocative, presumptuous comments.
Following this piece, Lucasfilm made a bold, uncharacteristic move and made a public statement. Here is the statement in full-
Lets get a few things out there. Firstly, the meeting of the Lucasfilm executives and the producers of Star Wars, had planned a meeting for January to discuss the future of Star Wars. The original intention was to look at whether Star Wars needed enumerated saga entries, or if it could move forward with stand alone A Star Wars Story films. One would imagine the success of Rogue One would have given the group much to debate. It was only after Carrie Fisher's untimely passing in December that "how to manage Leia" would have jumped to the top of their list of things to discuss. To suggest that this is a "unseemly haste" is needlessly provocative.
The Leia Problem is one that Lucasfilm simply have to solve. Carrie was "absolutely wrapped" on Episode VIII at the time of her death and so the big question is, how do the producers address her absence in IX. We know Carrie was slated for IX (the actress made comments to this effect at Star Wars Celebration in the summer of 2016) so Leia has story responsibilities in that movie that simply have to be serviced. Put bluntly; Leia survives VIII.
Unfortunately the debate about the posthumous use of deceased performer's likenesses has tempted many into making an argument where none exists. Would Lucasfilm's first thought have been, "build us a digital Leia!" No. Why would it have been. In their statement Lucasfilm point out that Carrie is a family member, a person they worked with to create this wonderful character. She was not simply an asset. Whats more, the Leia likeness is only part of the equation here. Carrie's performance was 99% of the character, how can that be addressed without Carrie herself being available. Remember, Tarkin had Guy Henry under that digital make-up. So simply moving ones and zeros around would not a Leia create. Which brings us to a few very real problems Lucasfilm have to consider.
One. With Leia having story responsibilities in IX, and no Carrie Fisher to deliver them, IX will need to be altered.
Two. With Carrie"absolutely wrapped" on episode VIII, that story, and indeed that film will most likely need to be changed.
Three. The legacy of both Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia will need to be considered.
Lets consider point two first. Leia's arc in VIII is in the can, so one option, which seems clear to me, is to take the available footage and spread it over the two movies. Now I speak from a place of complete and utter ignorance when it comes to the story of VIII, but there have been rumours. If Leia is to fall foul of an attack (one teased by Rian Johnson's involvement wit the story of Bloodline - think napkin bomb), and she sits out much of the movie, then leave Leia's fate open ended in VIII. This will give her the Han Solo moment from Empire, and the opportunity to return in IX using whatever "third act come back" was shot for VIII.
This will require significant retooling of VIII, but the have most of the year to achieve it, moving Leia's plot specific story points to other characters in VIII. An approach considered by Lucasfilm before committing to the Tarkin character in Rogue One.
This approach should allow Leia, indeed Carrie, to complete the trilogy / saga, without killing the character off, or recasting / CGI-ing the part. This will require a restructure of both films around the needs of that one character. Which may or may not be a huge task.
This covers point one on the issues list. Altering Leia's story responsibilities in IX. It's a huge assumption, but we've probably all made it; Leia would most likely have been the one to redeem Kylo Ren and bring about the return of Ben Solo / Organa, her son. If something like that had been planned for IX, then a major retool now would rob the character of this powerful arc. Like I said, it's an assumption, but that role / responsibility could pass to Luke, if handled correctly.
Point three is much more important to me. Protecting and respecting the legacy of both Carrie Fisher, the custodian of Princess Leia and the legacy of Princess / General Leia. Recasting the role is an absolute no, in my humble opinion. I think it will upset and distract too many people if someone else wanders onto the screen in Leia's wardrobe speaking Leia's lines. I mean, would you have accepted another actor in the role of Han Solo in The Force Awakens? What about Luke in VIII? If Kevin Spacey turns up on Ahch-To in Luke's robes to train Rey, how are you going to respond? No politely that's for sure! So why would that be acceptable for Leia? It simply isn't. And Leia is worth so much more than simply despatching her off screen, or in expanded story telling. I expect to hear this as an option soon, "Kill her off in a comic book or novel. Then drop that in the opening crawl of IX." That is simply not sufficient when it comes to giving Leia her exit from the Star Wars saga. This is Princess Leia! She needs to leave Star Wars with grace and dignity. Why kill her off at all!?
I'll admit, after we lost Carrie, my first reaction was, write her out in VIII. Now though, having had a little time to think it over, I'm convinced that her arc in VIII could be split over the two movies. Obviously I have no idea what her story arc is, but with a little rewriting there must be a way that allows Carrie Fisher to contribute to the story, posthumously, through a performance already given. Leia's role may seem minimal if spread across the two films, but by moving dialogue to other characters and the judicious use of deleted / alternate takes, there might be a way to service this character and Carrie Fisher that pays tribute to both.
Whatever the solution ends up being, the first steps toward it need to be taken now. It is not unseemly for Lucasfilm to have these discussions. It's not hasty to approach Carrie Fisher's family and discuss the posthumous use of Carrie's performance[s]. It is practical and it is necessary if we are going to get the story Leia and Carrie deserve.
I would very much like to know how you would prefer to see the loss of Carrie Fisher handled in the upcoming Star Wars films. If you'd like to share your thoughts, please feel free to pop them in the comments below.
As always this post was written with love and respect to Carrie Fisher and her family. Our thoughts remain with Billie Lourd and with Todd Fisher at this time.
Thank you for reading,