This was supposed to be Carrie Fisher’s movie — her center spotlight after the previous two films in Disney’s modern Star Wars trilogy successively featured Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, her castmates across four decades.
“It’s nothing short of heartbreaking that she wasn’t here to collaborate on this film, because we couldn’t possibly tell the story without her,” J.J. Abrams said of directing “The Rise of Skywalker” without Fisher, who died three years ago last month.
Ever since her death, those creatively involved with the Skywalker Saga — which seemingly concluded with the Dec. 20 opening of “Rise” — have tried to honor Fisher’s memory while also wrestling with how to present her iconic character, Leia Organa, on screen.
The starkest misstep since was a digital motion-capture representation of a young Leia briefly in the one-off film “Rogue One” — an eerie effect that many fans thought fell squarely into the “uncanny valley.”
Lucasfilm announced last year that Fisher would appear in “Rise,” but assuaged fans about how the posthumous “performance” would be handled.
“We would never consider recasting,” Abrams said this month, speaking by phone from the L.A. area. “And we wouldn’t want to do a digital character.”
Abrams had worked with Fisher on his 2015 “Star Wars” reboot — “I knew her a little bit for a long time before we did ‘Force Awakens,’ ” he said — and Fisher’s presence is tastefully crafted from existing footage of her in character as Leia.
“Originally the frustration I felt at cutting out these scenes that we had shot in ‘Force Awakens,’ ” Abrams said, “were suddenly the relief that we needed in prepping ‘The Rise of Skywalker.’ “
In several scenes in “Rise,” we see a strong-minded Leia guiding another Force-sensitive Jedi warrior, the new trilogy’s central hero Rey (Daisy Ridley), to take on the Empire, including Leia’s own son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Chris Terrio, the “Rise of Skywalker” co-writer, said helping script Leia’s new scenes required “every skill that I’ve ever picked up along the way.”
“You would have scenes that honestly were shot with some different context in mind,” Terrio said. “But you’d want to get to the emotional truth of what was going on in the scene so that we could … stay true to her acting choices.
“So when we were reconstructing scenes around Carrie,” the co-writer continued, “we would try to see what Carrie was doing and just look at the warmth and her wit and all these things that Carrie was.”
Although Fisher’s screen time is less than once planned, there is a power to her presence.
“If she had been around, (are there) other things we would have asked for and written? Of course,” Abrams said. “But the fact we had this — that allowed us to incorporate her into the movie in a way that makes me feel like she’s in the film and in a significant way — and in a way that I truly believe she would be happy with.”
Notably, Fisher’s relatives blessed Abrams’ use of the existing footage.
“I’m grateful not just to (Fisher) for all that she did long before I was involved,” Abrams said, “but what she did when we made ‘Force Awakens’ together and to her family for being as supportive as they’ve been — for allowing Leia to appear in the film.”
And with that last performance, Abrams believes he honors the beloved actress.
“Carrie was one of a kind,” Abrams said. “And her wit and her wisdom and her spark were just extraordinary.”