The Internet exploded on Friday (July 27) when Lucasfilm announced the cast of the final installment in Star Wars’ Skywalker saga – the as-yet-unnamed Episode IX. It wasn’t because Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) was listed as returning, though that is cause for celebration since he became one with the Force at the end of The Last Jedi. However, that news was hardly surprising since we know that Jedi Masters have consistently made return visits to other Jedi throughout the saga. No it was because Carrie Fisher (and her beloved character Leia Organa) was confirmed as also returning.
The statement from Lucasfilm declared: “The role of Leia Organa will once again be played by Carrie Fisher, using previously unreleased footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Director and the film’s co-writer J.J. Abrams was quoted saying, “We desperately loved Carrie Fisher. 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 honor Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII.”
And it seems as if the fans were in general agreement with Abrams and welcomed the news, though it was tinged with sadness at yet another reminder of all that we have lost both in the real world and in the Star Wars universe. Some day I hope they release what the actual plan for Episode IX was before the untimely death of Fisher, but that needs to happen a few years after the film’s release so it doesn’t mar Episode IX no matter the reaction to the film. While it was surprising that they have decided to use unseen footage from The Force Awakens to include Leia in Episode IX (is there none from The Last Jedi? Will we also get some stuff from that film too?), it makes complete sense because Leia needed to be in the final film. It wouldn’t really work without her.
Firstly, even without confirmation from Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy that Leia was front and centre for the final film (“She [Fisher] thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been.”), it was obvious that that was what the writers were planning. The Force Awakens focused on Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (who happened to die at the end of the film), and The Last Jedi focused on Hamill’s Luke (who also died at the end of that film), so it stood to reason that Episode IX would be Leia’s (and true to form probably would have died at the end of that film, though knowing the strength of Leia, she might have endured).
Secondly, leaving the ending of The Last Jedi as it stood, having Leia suddenly disappear or die offscreen just wouldn’t have sat well. Following the decimation of the Resistance, the scant few remaining fighters manage to flee Crait with Leia the only members of the Resistance’s command to survive. With no Leia in Episode IX, you wouldn’t really have much of a film as there would be very likely be no Resistance.
That brings us to the next point… giving Leia (and Fisher) a fitting Star Wars ending. For five films, Leia has been a kick arse character and a symbol of female strength, determination, intelligence and more than capable of looking after herself and those around her. She’s a role model to generations of fans; you need look no further than the numerous placards and signs adorned with her image during the women’s marches across the globe these past 18 months or so for proof of that. She deserves more than a brief sentence in Episode IX’s opening crawl explaining what happened to her between the two films. Likewise fans would not have been happy with all of Leia’s action happen “off screen” and just reported on by other characters. We would feel cheated and want to see these feats.
But for all our excitement about the fact that Leia and Fisher will be appearing in the film, we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that Leia will in all likelihood not feature heavily in the film. The footage they are using is unseen, cut footage from The Force Awakens – that’s two films ago and likely before all the action of The Last Jedi was fully plotted out, and definitely before Episode IX. Will Leia’s scenes be flashbacks for different characters? Have they been done in such a way (script, setting etc) that the scene(s) can be slightly reworked and fit into Episode IX’s timeline? Or a mixture of both?
However they do it and however much of Leia we get in the final film, both Leia and Luke needed to be in Episode IX to close out the Skywalker saga and I am so thankful we will get this.
Star Wars Episode IX is due in cinemas December 20, 2019.