As Star Wars: Episode IX begins gearing up for production this summer, the actors involved in bringing the story to life have finally been announced, with Richard E Grant, Billy Dee Williams and Naomi Ackie joining returning stars including Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega.
However, the new stars haven’t brought nearly as much attention as the return of a more familiar one: LucasFilm also revealed that the late Princess Leia actor Carrie Fisher would feature in the film, her return made possible by director JJ Abrams using unseen footage cut from 2015’s The Force Awakens.
“We desperately loved Carrie Fisher,” Abrams said of the decision, after LucasFilm had previously suggested Fisher’s character General Leia Organa would not make an appearance in Episode IX.
“Finding a truly satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga without her eluded us. We were never going to recast, or use a CG character. With the support and blessing from her daughter, Billie, we have found a way to honour Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII.”
The news of Leia’s return has surprised and intrigued Star Wars fans, who are now more eager than ever to see the film before its December 2019 release.
However, Fisher’s inclusion also provides us with one or two clues as to what we can expect from Episode IX’s plot.
What Leia’s return means
Billie Lourd and Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (LucasFilm)
The crucial point here is that Fisher is being included thanks to footage from Episode VII specifically, as opposed to unused footage in general.
In a lot of ways this makes sense, as The Force Awakens is a film Abrams worked on; he knows the material inside out. Helpfully, Fisher also spent most of that film in military clothing in fairly nondescript Resistance bases, as opposed to The Last Jedi, where she wore more distinctive outfits in locations that would be harder to slot into an existing story.
Perhaps most crucially of all, The Force Awakens had a lot of changes made to it during production, meaning that there could be an awful lot of material for Abrams to include the new movie.
In an interesting twist, thanks to various interviews and pieces of tie-in media released after the film came out, we might actually know what some of this material is, giving an unexpected window into potential storylines for the ultra-secretive Episode IX.
First up, a disclaimer – while some of these pieces of information are bona fide deleted scenes, it’s less clear how far some others made it into the filming stage. Rumour has it quite a few of them were shot and then discarded during production, but we can’t be 100 per cent sure, so treat some of these examples with a pinch of Craitean salt.
With that warning in mind, we’re starting by bringing out the big guns – and we mean that literally, because one storyline cut from The Force Awakens involved Princess Leia planning the use of a massive superweapon.
Called the War-Hammer, the machine was devised by the Resistance to take on the First Order, and took the form of a massive ship (many times the size of a First Order Star Destroyer) that had a huge front capable of penetrating any shield to deploy ships.
In the end, the War-Hammer storyline was cut, perhaps to avoid overcomplicating the group’s attack on Starkiller Base – but details of its involvement can be found in concept art for The Force Awakens, and scenes of General Leia developing the weapon (which would have been early on in the film) were rumoured to have been shot and cut from the movie.
Could this form a part of Episode IX? Given the humbled Resistance’s small size and lack of resources post-The Last Jedi, it seems a little unlikely, but on the other hand it could be Leia’s last play to try and take down the forces of evil. And who knows? If there’s a time jump between films, the Resistance may have recovered some of their resources and started a new project like this.
Maz Kanata meets Leia with a lightsaber
In a scene that was actually in one of the trailers for The Force Awakens, we see alien barkeeper and adventurer Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) handing over Luke’s lightsaber to Leia.
In the end, Maz didn’t come along with Finn and Rey to the Resistance Base as JJ Abrams didn’t really have anything for her to do there, but the footage was filmed – so could it be used for Leia’s Episode IX scenes?
At this stage, it seems unlikely – Luke’s lightsaber was destroyed in The Last Jedi, for one thing, and it’s hard to see how this would fit into a new Episode IX narrative anyway – so it’s far more likely that some simpler scenes will be used instead.
Probably the most likely scenes to be included featuring Leia are more talky affairs. One scene cut from The Force Awakens saw the general give a speech to her troops following the destruction of Starkiller Base (kind of a mirror scene to Hux’s big speech in the same film) – so could some of those same words be repurposed for the Resistance’s final victory over Hux and Kylo Ren in Episode IX? It certainly seems possible.
In another deleted scene, meanwhile, Leia reportedly gives a bit of a pep-talk to Rey (Daisy Ridley) before she heads off to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), which in the finished film is mostly cut down to her saying “May the Force be with you.”
A longer version of the speech does exist in the official novelisation, however, giving an idea of what might exist on unseen footage. You can read the extract below.
“I’m proud of what you’re about to do,” she told the girl. Rey replied in all seriousness. “But you’re also afraid. In sending me away, you’re—reminded.”
Leia straightened. “You won’t share the fate of our son.”
“I know what we’re doing is right. This is how it has to be. This is how it should be.”
Leia smiled gently, reassuringly. “I know it, too. May the Force be with you.”
If scenes were shot with lines similar to this – sometimes the script changes after the novelisations have already been worked on – it seems like this interchange could actually slot quite easily into an Episode IX narrative, involving Leia once again in Rey’s battle with her son Kylo Ren.
Overall, it’s these sorts of scenes – Leia interacting with characters in brief scenes, providing emotional support – that seem most likely to “honour Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia” in Abrams’ words, without forcing her into the plot in a way that might ring false.
Taking on the senate
And then we have the scenes that might be heavily repurposed. For example, a deleted scene included on the DVD sees Leia talking to Korr Sella (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), a Resistance Officer who Leia sends as an envoy to the Galactic Senate. She later dies in the First Order attack.
Given the Senate’s destruction in The Force Awakens, it seems unlikely that the scene would be directly placed into Episode IX, but it’s possible scenes like this and others could be repurposed in some way. Sellers could certainly perform new dialogue and reactions to put Leia’s words in a new context, while body doubles and a voice impersonator (or other Fisher clips) could be used to give Leia some new dialogue in the scene that better fits the story of Episode IX.
Such last-minute changes aren’t unheard of, of course – certain shots of Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo in The Last Jedi clearly have newly-dubbed lines added to them when the camera is behind her – and could be a more practical way of including Fisher’s footage in the movie.
Of course, it’s probably more likely that this particular scene won’t be used in the film at all, but it’s a good example to show just how much leeway Abrams could have in repurposing old footage to suit his needs.
Actually unseen material
Look – we’re not going to pretend like we have all the answers here, and it’s very likely that there’s even more footage of Fisher in action from Episode VII that never saw the light of day, and that fans never got a sniff at through concept art, deleted scenes or interviews.
Obviously there is not an unlimited supply, but Leia reportedly had one of The Force Awakens’ most cut-down stories, so it may be the case that those edits could pay off here.
Unless, of course, we consider the most likely option…
Not much at all
Just because Carrie Fisher is being included in Episode IX doesn’t mean she’ll be a big part of the story, and considering the restrictions the production will be put under – only being able to use old, out-of-context footage – it seems much more likely that her archive appearance will be more of an emotional cameo than a crucial role.
Even The Last Jedi, which she’d completed all her filming for, had some trouble with production following Fisher’s death – they couldn’t re-record any of her dialogue if there were any issues, which is standard practice, for example – so it’s hard to imagine how Abrams and co would force rejected footage from a three-year-old movie with an entirely different plot into a coherent, significant presence.
Instead, as mentioned above, it’s far more likely that any short scenes of Fisher delivering inspirational words to other characters are what make the cut, allowing Leia to be a presence and paying tribute to Fisher’s central role in the franchise without overwhelming Episode IX’s new storyline.
Though to be honest, with Carrie Fisher on screen once more, even the smallest scenes will have the biggest impact.
Star Wars Episode IX will be released in UK cinemas in December 2019