While the world continues to mourn the death of Carrie Fisher (and her mother, Debbie Reynolds), the powers-that-be at Disney are busy trying to figure out how Star Wars will handle Leia moving forward into Episodes VIII and IX. It was the unspoken question that likely lingered in many a fan's mind in the days immediately following Fisher's passing, although it didn't seem appropriate to openly talk about the future of a movie franchise in the immediate wake of such tragic news. And, while it still may be too soon for some to think about, Disney insiders are reportedly hard at work plotting out Leia's role in Star Wars: Episode IX (or lack thereof), according to The Hollywood Reporter.
As one source acknowledged to THR, "People are still deeply mourning Carrie's death over there," but discussions are ongoing on how to handle Fisher's most iconic character. Spoilers for The Force Awakens ahead. Although the actress had already finished filming her scenes for Episode VIII, THR reports that, "Leia was to have been [an even] bigger part of Episode IX than VIII." This larger role would apparently have included a climactic "confrontation with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), her son who killed Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 2015's The Force Awakens."
The fact that Fisher died before filming on Episode IX had commenced ultimately makes things both easier and harder for the Star Wars team. Easier, because they have more time to figure out what to do before shooting begins, but also harder, because they have no scenes to preserve and work around like Furious 7 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 did when Paul Walker and Philip Seymour Hoffman (respectively) passed away during those films' productions.
Per THR's report, Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy will allegedly begin meeting next week to map out a new plan for the trilogy's closing chapter. In the meantime, here are some of the options that are likely being considered:
1. Write Leia Out Of The Film
Given the reports about how important General Organa's role in Episode IX was supposed to be, this option might prove difficult — but it would also probably be the simplest, when all is said and done. As THR points out, significant rewrites are "not unheard of in the Star Wars universe. Rogue One went through a major overhaul and was met with glowing reviews and blockbuster box office."
The opening crawl of Episode IX could reveal that Leia has tragically been killed in an attack on a rebel base by the First Order since the events of Episode VIII; or, if the filmmakers want to preserve Fisher's legacy by keeping Leia alive, they could simply have the character leading the rebellion from offscreen, with other characters mentioning her activities in passing. Not the most dramatically satisfying of options, to be sure, but the choices are limited.
2. Use CGI To Resurrect Carrie Fisher
In an almost eerily prescient move, the recently-released Rogue One just resurrected another deceased actor from the Star Wars franchise, using impressive CGI to recreate Peter Cushing's villain Grand Moff Tarkin a full 22 years after the actor passed away in 1994 — as well as using the the same technology to de-age Fisher herself into her Episode IV-era Princess Leia.
Even if this option is the one that's chosen, it still might be prudent to relegate General Organa to "a reduced role," meaning "Leia would only appear in glimpses," as THR suggests — not just because the technology is not yet convincing in large doses, but also because some fans might find it disrespectful to use computers to replace Fisher so soon after her passing. Even if, by the time the film comes out, three years will have elapsed.
3. Recast The Character
Of course, if writing Leia out of the film entirely proves impossible from a story point-of-view, and mounting a full CGI performance proves impossible from a technical (or ethical) point-of-view, then pretty much the only option that remains would be to recast the character. This is bound to be the most controversial option, and one many fans might insist would never happen, but it wouldn't be the first time an actor has been replaced midway through a major franchise. Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard in the Iron Man films, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight trilogy, to use two recent examples. (To be fair, neither of those changes were because of the death of an actor, and neither character was anywhere near as iconic as Princess Leia.)
But there is one person who might be able to pull it off. Meryl Streep already played a fictionalized version of Carrie Fisher in the 1990 film Postcards From The Edge, based on Fisher's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. She's also relatively close to the age Fisher was when she passed, not to mention the fact that she's one of the most well-regarded actresses in Hollywood. If anyone could step into such a tricky situation with grace and pull it off respectfully, it would be her. Granted, this option is still undoubtedly the least likely of the three.
We probably won't know exactly how the franchise plans to handle Fisher's passing until sometime closer to Episode IX's 2019 premiere… but, in the meantime, we have the beloved actress' bittersweet final performance in Star Wars: Episode VIII to help us remember Fisher's lasting legacy when that film debuts on Dec. 15, 2017.