With the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher this past week Disney and Lucasfilm have the unbelievable task of how to handle the iconic character of Princess Leia. Fortunately this issue doesn’t have to be resolved soon since Carrie completed all of her scenes for Episode VIII releasing this coming December. The issue at hand is how much of an impact Princess Leia had in the story line moving into Episode IX. It is obvious that the story will have to change, the amount of change is uncertain. Unfortunately this is not the first time an untimely death has impacted the production of a movie or franchise. Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, and Paul Walker come to mind of actors whose untimely death put a delay in movie production. Each was handle differently with success in each way.
Option 1: Dedicate a story in novel form to Princess Leia
Pro- Using this format would allow a more in-depth story to dedicate to such a pivotal character in the Star Wars franchise. The storyline that would’ve been in Episode IX for General Leia could be adjusted for the novel to increase her role and give this character a proper send off.
This book could be released just prior to the release of Episode IX and re-energize the Star Wars Novel franchise which has been lackluster for a while. You could easily expect a significant amount of copies sold by fans of the franchise and of Carrie. Proceeds from book sales could go to charities on behalf of Carrie’s estate.
Con- The biggest hurdle going this route would be for the fans who do not read the book would not know what happened to General Leia. The script for Episode IX would have to be adjusted to include references from the events in the book. Franchises and movies that have tried this path before failed at doing a great job linking stories from book to film. While this would be a less expensive option than recasting or CGI there is big risk that this could fail miserably.
Odds of this happening: 20%
Option 2: Recasting the role of General Leia
Pro- This would allow the storyline to continue as planned. Production wouldn’t have to be changed. This would be the easiest solution that Disney and Lucasfilm could choose. They could go in two directions choosing an actress that has an established career or one that no one has heard of. This has been done before more specifically when Richard Harris passed away after the first Harry Potter film and producers re-casted the role of Dumbledore to Michael Gambon. This was an easier decision since Richard had only played Dumbledore for one film and would’ve cost the studio millions to continue the series using CGI for such an important character.
Con- Fans could see this as a form of disrespect to Carrie Fisher and her role as Princess Leia. Even if the role of Leia wasn’t a significant piece of Episode IX it would be an impossible job for any actress. Any replacement would be constantly compared to Carrie Fisher and not be given an unbiased critique of their work.
Odds of this happening: Less than 5%
Option 3: Use Motion Capture and CGI to continue Leia’s presence in the story
Pro- We have already seen what ILM and Lucasfilm can do with the work they did in Rogue One with Peter Cushing and a young Carrie Fisher. The length of film used on the CGI Peter Cushing as Moff Tarkin showed that if need be Lucasfilm could bring back any character from the original trilogies. This technique has been used before in more recent films like Gladiator with Oliver Reed and Fast and The Furious with Paul Walker.
Con- The team behind Episode IX will have to balance how much CGI they want to use in the movie. One of the most common complaints about Rogue One was the amount of CGI was used for Moff Tarkin and how it distracted audiences from the scene. Another impact going this route will have on the movie is it will increase the budget significantly. Using motion capture and CGI won’t be cheap and will increase the budget for Episode IX. Disney and Lucasfilm won’t be hesitant to spending the money but it will make producers look and cutting expenses on other parts of the film.
Odds of this happening: 75%
Whatever decision Disney and Lucasfilm come up with we all know that it will be made with the highest regard to the memory of Carrie and the story of Leia.