Written By: Dan Geer
Ever since the untimely and unfortunate passing of actress Carrie Fisher last December, fans of the Star Wars saga have wondered how this will affect the sequel trilogy and the role of General Leia for Star Wars: Episode IX (she already completed filming for Star Wars: The Last Jedi before she passed).
To be honest, fans are a bit worried. It’s probably not the most appropriate feeling to immediately have after the death of a human being, but it is understandable. The writers and director Colin Trevorrow really have a conundrum on their hands.
It really comes down to this for everyone: Should they write the character out of the story, or should they recast? This is quite a loaded question, but one that I think has a pretty clear answer.
The concept of recasting a character for a sequel is nothing new, whether the original actor died or not. Actor Richard Harris was recast with Michael Gambon as Dumbledore for the Harry Potter series because Harris passed away. Mark Ruffalo took on the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe simply because Edward Norton opted out after The Incredible Hulk. These are but two examples, but it actually happens quite frequently. Whether by life or death, these things happen.
But let’s be clear: There really hasn’t been a case quite on the level of what is going on with Star Wars and the role of General Leia. A wide range of fans go so far as to say that Carrie IS Leia. Neither of those other cases listed above are comparable to replacing Carrie Fisher because neither were identified with their character long enough in the public consciousness like Fisher was. She owned that role for nearly 40 years, embraced it, and became the sole ambassador of Leia. It wasn’t the character that was iconic, but rather Carrie as Leia. So to replace her when the story line and character of General Leia are still ongoing is a tough pill to swallow.
Director J.J. Abrams recently spoke out about the passing of Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek series, saying that he does not think recasting is even an option for that character. If a director cannot even comprehend anyone else but Yelchin playing Checkov, someone who only embodied the character for less than a decade that really did not have nearly as much of an impact on pop culture as Fisher (and wasn’t even the original actor to begin with) – how can we in our right minds ask Colin Trevorrow to consider recasting General Leia for Star Wars: Episode IX?
Now, some have compared recasting General Leia to how the young Han Solo is being cast for the Han Solo spin-off film. If they’re “recasting” Han and Lando for that film, why not General Leia for Episode IX? It is not surprising that this comparison would be made, but let’s take a little time to emphasize the difference.
Casting for a younger, or even older version of the character actually works because people readily accept a different actor who is playing the character at an entirely different stage in the character’s life. People are fine with it because there is simply no other way to do it.* This actually already happened in the Star Wars saga with the character of Anakin in the prequels, and while people may debate on how well the casting choices were, they accepted two different actors playing the character at two different stages in the story line where there is a big age difference.
There really is no legitimate comparison between these two scenarios because casting a younger or older version of a character is not “recasting” in this case. It’s simply “casting,” because it is a different version of a character. With General Leia, they would be replacing Fisher with a new actress in the same exact role of General Leia, with the character being the same age at the same stage of her life as it pertains to the story of the sequel trilogy that Fisher already partook in for two of the three sequels.
Now that is not to say that a recast cannot be pulled off at all. I believe there’s a slight chance it could, if the actress is one of the very best actresses out there that can embody the character the way Carrie Fisher did. The story could continue on with her alive. But unless it is simply not possible for Episode IX and the sequel trilogy as a whole to work effectively without the character – then writing her out is the more reasonable of the two options because of how long Fisher has been identified with the role and the stage the character is at in this storyline.
Maybe Leia dies off screen in between VIII and IX, or perhaps we’re lead to believe she has to “vanish” like Luke Skywalker did for whatever reason. Those are but two points of speculation, but I am positive the writers are much more creative in this area and could come up with something great. This is Lucasfilm under the direction of Kathleen Kennedy, headed by Disney. They have proven over the last decade that they only hire the best talent out there with Marvel and Star Wars.
The writer’s room can be a powerful thing with motivators like this. Rewrites happen all the time – and sometimes they even happen for the better. There are most likely plenty of creative ways the character can be written out of the story in a very appropriate and poetic way.
Let’s be patient, wait and see how The Last Jedi pans out, and then we can speculate further. For now, as it stands, we know of no reason to recast. It is very possible to adjust the story to fit the circumstances where Fisher is honored, and the story is still worthy of Star Wars.
*After Rogue One, people brought up the CG human as option for General Leia, but it took 18 months to create in CG the few brief scenes with Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. Leia would require much more screen time. Plus, it would probably not be in good taste, considering how soon after Fisher’s death Episode IX will be. Not long after this speculation started, Lucasfilm issued at statement confirming that this is not an option.