How 'The Rise Of Skywalker' Brings Back Leia (And Carrie Fisher)

When Carrie Fisher died in 2016, the immediate assumption was that her character General Leia would not be returning for the next Star Wars sequel. But that idea was soon put to rest when it was revealed director J.J. Abrams would be utilizing unused footage of Fisher to complete the Skywalker saga. Now, we have even more details on how Abrams and company are bringing back Leia for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a heavy emphasis on Han Solo. The Last Jedi let Luke take center stage. It stood to reason, then, that The Rise of Skywalker would finally let Leia be front and center. But Carrie Fisher died in 2016, which put a bit of a wrench in that idea. Not to be deterred, J.J. Abrams found ways to bring back Fisher – without restoring to too much digital trickery. In a new piece at Vanity Fair, Abrams confirms he never felt comfortable creating a digital version of Fisher, and that there was "no way Lucasfilm was going to re-cast the role."

Luckily for Abrams, he recalled there was unused footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens. "It's hard to even talk about it without sounding like I'm being some kind of cosmic spiritual goofball," the director says, "but it felt like we suddenly had found the impossible answer to the impossible question."

Abrams then began writing scenes around the old footage, "fitting Leia's dialogue into new contexts." He also shot scenes with lighting similar to the lighting in the footage already shot. "It was a bizarre kind of left side/right side of the brain sort of Venn diagram thing," Abrams says, "of figuring out how to create the puzzle based on the pieces we had."

Much to Abrams's surprise, Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd, who appears in the franchise as Lieutenant Connix, urged the filmmaker to give her scenes with Fisher. "I purposely had written her character in scenes without Carrie, because I just didn't want it to be uncomfortable for her," Abrams says. Instead, Lourd told him: "I want to be in scenes with her. I want it for my children when I have kids. I want them to see."

As a result, there are moments in the film where the two characters interact – which sometimes became a bit overwhelming for Lourd. "She would get emotional and sort of have to excuse herself for a minute," Abrams adds. "I know it was hard for her for a while."

I'm not crying, you're crying.

I'm very curious to see how this all plays out, and just how big Leia's part is in the film. The Vanity Fair story states that "Fisher's full human performance [remains] untouched," and that "Leia's integration into the film is so complete, she physically interacts with some of the other characters in The Rise of Skywalker."

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens December 20, 2019.