Not Including Carrie Fisher in ‘Rise of Skywalker’ Would Have “Felt Like a Cheat,” According To J.J. Abrams

Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia, one of the most iconic figures in all of cinema. Without her, Star Wars would feel bare; she’s an essential part of the franchise. Not only because she’s Anakin’s daughter or Luke’s twin, but because she was able to help save the day and she didn’t even use her inherent Force skills. She was no doubt born with the Force, but never received training, at least not on screen. 

So it makes sense that, after her passing, director J.J. Abrams worked to include her in The Rise of Skywalker

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher pose at the Golden Heart Gala in 2014.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher at the Midnight Mission’s 100 year anniversary Golden Heart Gala, 2014 | Araya Diaz/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission

J.J. Abrams felt he had to use actual Carrie Fisher footage

In Entertainment Weekly’s new cover story on the final Star Wars trilogy and the history of the franchise, J.J. Abrams told them about how essential it was to include Fisher in this finale. “Saying Leia had passed away, or that she was off somewhere else, felt like a cheat,” Abrams said. 

Then I remembered we had these scenes that we hadn’t used from Episode VII. It was like finding this impossible answer to this impossible question. Suddenly we had classic Carrie in these amazing moments. So when you see in the movie, it’s her, she’s there. It’s not like there’s some crazy digital trickery. She’s just in the movie.

— Abrams, Entertainment Weekly

The use of CGI characters in place of deceased actors was criticized in Rogue One, when  Peter Cushing came back as Grand Moff Tarkin, but he died in 1994. So opting out of “crazy digital trickery” to portray such a beloved character like Leia was probably a good choice. 

Leia was meant to be the Last Jedi before Fisher’s death

More info was shared by Fisher’s brother, Todd Fisher, on Nov. 6 regarding original plans for General Leia Organa before Carrie Fisher’s death. In an interview with Yahoo, he said that Leia was meant to “be the big payoff in the final film.” 

Not just that, but instead of Luke being the “Last Jedi,” it was supposed to be Leia. “That’s cool right? People used to say to me, ‘Why is it that Carrie never gets a lightsaber and chops up some bad guys.’ Obi-Wan was in his prime when he was Carrie’s age!” 

Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, was also a part of these conversations. 

On Nov. 7, Billie Lourd’s essay about her mom and Princess Leia’s legacy was published on Time, and she also talks about how Fisher knew it was her time to shine in Episode IX. “One of the last times we spoke on the phone, she talked about how excited she was that the next movie in the trilogy was going to be Leia’s movie. Her movie,” Lourd wrote. 

Before Abrams used the eight minutes of footage, Lourd wrote that he called her in to discuss making the movie as much about Leia as possible. “We both agreed she was too important to be written off in the classic Star Wars introductory scroll.”

She revealed her reaction when she found out about the extra footage. “What I hadn’t known — and what J.J. told me that day — was that there was footage of my mom that they had collected over the years that hadn’t made it into the movies, footage that J.J. told me would be enough to write an entire movie around. It was like she had left us a gift that would allow Leia’s story to be completed. I was speechless. (Anyone who knows me knows that doesn’t happen very often.)”