It’s only been three weeks since Carrie Fisher’s sudden and untimely death, but already the question has emerged: how will the Star Wars franchise handle Fisher’s death? We already know that Fisher completed filming before her death, and that she’ll have a larger role in Episode 8. But that still leaves filmmakers with a dilemma for Episode 9, the final act of the new trilogy.
A few days ago, rumors emerged that Disney was negotiating with Fisher’s estate for the rights to use her digital image, which was, not unexpectedly, met with the predictable freak-out on the internet. The next day, Disney denied the rumors.
But that still leaves Disney with a problem. If Leia was, as reported, supposed to have a significant role in Episode 9, how should the franchise handle her death?
This isn’t the first time an actor has died or left a franchise, so it’s not like there isn’t precedent. Based on how this has been handled in the past, Disney has four options.
The Dumbledore Option
Beloved British actor Richard Harris–the guy played King Arthur, FFS–played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. But Harris died shortly before the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Michael Gambon replaced him as Dumbledore for the remainder of the series.
Pros: To me, this is the best option. There’s no getting around the fact that Fisher is dead. But Princess Leia is an integral part of the Star Wars universe, and ending her story prematurely would be a disservice to the fans who have followed this story for 40 years. This way, Disney can say, “Yes, Carrie Fisher is dead, and we’re not going to hide that with camera tricks or digital imaging. We’re going to bring in a different actress as Princess Leia, so that we can finish telling the best story we can and honor the character that Fisher created.” Not to mention the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of roles out there for late middle-aged women. I’m sure there are many talented actresses who could bring something unique to the role.
Cons: Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing her, no matter how talented. Whoever replaces Fisher is going to have a hard time living up to that, and will likely be torn apart by critics and fans alike.
The Grand Moff Tarkin Option
Disney may have denied that they are negotiating with Fisher’s estate for the rights to her digital image, but you can’t tell me this hasn’t crossed their minds. Just last month, Disney successfully used CGI, along with a stand-in actor, to bring Peter Cushing back to play Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. Cushing died in 1994.
Pros: This would allow Fisher to “perform” the role that she originated 40 years ago. And personally–as I wrote in my review of Rogue One last month–I thought the use of CGI to replicate Cushing was amazing! I’ve spoken to some casual fans of the series, who had no idea that Cushing was dead, and that his performance was a digital rendering.
Cons: Cushing had been dead for 22 years by the time Rogue One released, and he was never as integral to the Star Wars franchise as Fisher. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you know that Fisher has died, and the wound is much more recent. I’ve also spoken to fans who thought that the digital rendering of Cushing was creepy and unrealistic. Based on the reaction to Cushing’s appearance, I feel like viewers will likely spend more of their time scrutinizing the digital rendering of Fisher than paying attention to the story. Then there’s also all the ethical questions raised by this technology to consider, specifically pertaining to how much control actors have over their voice and images, even after their deaths.
The George McFly Option
Crispin Glover played Marty’s awkward father George McFly in Back to the Future. But when he famously refused to return for the sequels (over disputes over money or the script, depending on who you ask), filmmakers reduced the role and used a combination of another actor and splicing in footage of Glover from previous films to conceal the absence.
Pros: With a reduced role in Episode IX, Fisher’s absence will be noted but less noticeable. Filmmakers can also use a combination of recasting, CGI effects, and archive footage to have Leia in the film to a limited degree instead of writing her out altogether. This is probably the option that will get the least backlash from fans.
Cons: It may be the safest option, but it’s also the least satisfying. Leia has been an integral part of the Star Wars universe from the beginning, so to turn her into a bit character does a disservice to both the story and the fans. This option is also not without ethical implications; Glover successfully sued over the use of his image and facial prosthetics in the Back to the Future franchise. (That said, I think Disney will be smart enough to negotiate the necessary rights with Fisher’s estate ahead of time. Which, to be honest, is going to be a necessary evil no matter how Disney resolves this.)
The Sarah Connor Option
When Linda Hamilton elected not to reprise her role as Sarah Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, filmmakers killed her character off-screen. (We’re told she died of cancer years before the film is set.)
Pros: Since Disney does have the option of negotiating with Fisher’s estate, as well as access to all of Fisher’s archive footage and the Lucasfilm digital technology, we’ve got to assume they’d be able to come up with something better for our beloved princess than offing her unceremoniously off-screen. Story-wise, Kylo Ren has already killed one of his parents; it would make sense that he might kill another. It would also be a great way for filmmakers to say, “We can’t replace Carrie Fisher. We’re not even going to try.”
Cons: Killing Leia might be a salve to Fisher fans, but I don’t know that it would serve the story. Han Solo’s death was probably the most shocking moment in the Star Wars franchise–and one could argue it’s one of the most shocking moments of film history. Wouldn’t killing Leia just dilute that?
TL;DR: All of these options SUCK, because all we really want is for Carrie Fisher to come back and finish playing the role she originated in 1977. But I hope that Disney will think long and hard about the best way to serve the story, the character, and fans of Carrie Fisher.