Lucasfilm has a problem.
It’s not a unique challenge in Hollywood – plenty of filmmakers have struggled with the challenges of losing actors before, and have found ways to patch up cracks in their movies when an important cast member is suddenly and unexpectedly taken from this world.
B-footage of Phillip Seymour Hoffman filled in holes in Mockingjay Part Two, while Paul Walker was digitally recreated to finish off Fast and Furious Seven.
Heath Ledger’s untimely death led to a very unusual final version of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus wherein multiple actors all played the film’s lead role in various dream sequences, in order to salvage something from a project that was still a long way from completion when Ledger died.
But what to do with Princess Leia? Lucasfilm is in an unusual position here. Thanks to how far ahead they work when crafting their movies, and because, let’s face it, there’s not much the studio can’t do with special effects by this point, there’s plenty of time to figure out how to fix the Carrie Fisher shaped hole in their plans for Episode IX.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lucasfilm studio executives are currently meeting to discuss the future of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, and how the character will be used in the next couple of movies.
This report claims that Princess Leia was intended to have a larger role in Episode VIII than in The Force Awakens, and that she would have been given even more to do in Episode IX, but that the studio is rethinking their plans.
Apparently, there are two key scenes in particular that the studio was banking on. One is a touching reunion between Leia and her twin brother Luke (which is rumored to have been shot already for Episode VIII) while another, less concrete scene involves a confrontation between Leia and her son, Kylo Ren (spoiler alert for the biggest movie of 2015).
With these two scenes to fit into two movies somehow, and with an unknown amount of content already in the can, Lucasarts has several expensive and time-consuming options available to them.
Chief among these are the options to either rewrite large chunks of Episode IX to downplay Leia’s importance, or, of course, to recreate Carrie Fisher with CGI.
Neither of these options are ideal. Rewrites will have significant knock-on effects for the rest of Episode IX, and will dramatically weaken the narrative of the entire franchise – if we don’t get to see General Organa square off against her son, then all of the family drama from The Force Awakens and Episode VIII will end without an emotional payoff.
Alternatively, pulling a Tarkin and creating a detailed computer generated Carrie Fisher puppet feels callous and disrespectful. Audiences will likely react negatively to the idea of replacing Fisher with a cartoon character purely for the sake of finishing the trilogy.
Resurrecting Peter Cushing for Rogue One turned heads and made many people question ethics, but considering that work on a CGI Leia would need to start immediately in some form or other, somehow this feels even less ethical to most commenters. Apparently, recreating actors digitally is more acceptable the longer they’ve been dead.
So what option will Lucasfilm go with?
In all likelihood, they’ll probably do both.
They’re in a position where it’s easy to move a few of Leia’s key scenes to other characters, as the movie is so far away from the beginning of filming. They can even try taking small scenes out of Episode VIII and slipping them into IX, as Lionsgate did with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s role in Mockingjay Parts One and Two.
They also have the option to use existing footage of Leia from deleted scenes in The Force Awakens, but to use computer editing to change her location, and even the words she speaks – just changing her mouth to accommodate new dialogue is a far simpler way to fill in the cracks in the movie.
That said, don’t be surprised if a CGI Carrie Fisher turns up in Episode IX for at least a few key scenes. Lucasfilm has the technology, and they’ve proven already that they have no qualms about using it.
Heck, we might even get some CGI Leia in Episode VIII – after all, should the movie need any reshoots, or if they move some of Carrie’s scenes to Episode IX, they’ll need something to smooth over potentially choppy edits.
Don’t expect Lucasfilm to announce these little CGI moments in Episode VIII, though, and don’t expect to be able to spot them – the studio will likely test the water with a few key uses of a Leia puppet, and see whether they can sneak it past audiences, before relying on it more heavily in the next movie.
This multifaceted approach is probably the most likely way Lucasfilm will overcome their lack of the late, great Fisher.
Of course, there is one more option. They could always recast Princess Leia entirely.
Don’t count on that, though – somehow audiences will find it more respectful to animate a digital facsimile, than to replace Carrie Fisher entirely in the final movie in the saga.