When Carrie Fisher died in 2016 before filming began on the last Star Wars movie, fans mourned her passing. In the final film, her daughter Billie Lourd was offered the chance to act alongside her mother one last time.
When director JJ Abrams began planning Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker, he felt the loss of star Carrie Fisher keenly.
The actor, who appeared as Princess Leia and, later, General Leia Organa in five Star Wars movies was intended to be the hero of the ninth and final movie. But her tragic death on 27 December 2016 – after completion on the eighth Star Wars movie but before production had begun on the last – ended that dream. And so Abrams set about sketching how he could possibly make this last Star Wars movie work without Leia, its big beating heart.
While planning, Abrams discovered that a cache of scenes featuring Fisher that had been left on the cutting room floor from The Force Awakens. Maybe they could work in The Rise of Skywalker, the director thought. It would require a difficult dance of matching lighting and reshooting dialogue, but it was also, Abrams told Vanity Fair, “the impossible answer to the impossible question”.
Abrams knew that he would need to splice these scenes into the movie as a whole, and began writing dialogue interactions between Fisher and other characters.
One character that he omitted from these moments was Lieutenant Connix, one of General Organa’s subordinates played by Fisher’s real-life daughter Billie Lourd. Abrams was concerned that appearing with her late mother onscreen would be too difficult for the actor.
“I purposely had written her character in scenes without Carrie, because I just didn’t want it to be uncomfortable for her,” Abrams recalls.
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 me.”
The end result, then, is a brace of scenes in The Rise Of Skywalker in which Lourd and her late mother appear onscreen together for the final time.
“There are moments where they’re talking; there are moments where they’re touching,” Abrams said. “There are moments in this movie where Carrie is there, and I really do feel there is an element of the uncanny, spiritual, you know classic Carrie, that it would have happened this way because somehow it worked. And I never thought it would.”
Fisher isn’t the only member of the Star Wars family who will be mourned in The Rise of Skywalker. Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in the original series, died on 30 April 2019 at the age of 74.
“We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him,” Harrison Ford said in a tribute at the time. “He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience.”
Star Wars creator George Lucas added: “Peter was a wonderful man. He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature – and I learned to always let him win. He was a good friend. And I’m saddened by his passing.”
May the force be with them both.