“Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
In case you missed it, that’s the title for our next cinematic visit to that galaxy far, far away. And for what it’s worth, I like it. Presumably, Luke Skywalker is going to do more this time around than just stand on a hill and give Rey soulful looks for 30 seconds. Word is that Mark Hamill got paid seven figures for that cameo appearance. Nice work if you can get it.
There’s very little we know about this next sequel, but what we do know is that both Hamill and Carrie Fisher have much larger roles this time around. That’s bittersweet, as the movie had completed principal photography before Fisher’s untimely passing at the end of last year. The plot is not likely to reflect this tragic loss, and Leia will probably be alive and well at the end of the film. Indeed, the rumor is that she was supposed to play an even bigger role in “Star Wars: Episode IX,” and the curators of the Star Wars legacy are wrestling with the appropriate way to move the franchise forward.
The most obvious approach would be to have art imitate life and retire the character in the absence of the iconic actress who played her. The problem is that the narrative was very clearly building a character arc that would have required a climactic confrontation between Leia and Kylo Ren. With Han Solo slain at the hands of his villainous son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s tragic demise and/or redemption in “Episode IX” will ring hollow if his mother were to die off-screen between movies.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” digitally brought the late Peter Cushing back to life to play Grand Moff Tarkin one more time, and there have been some who think “Episode IX” could do the same thing with Leia. And there is precedent, as a digitally de-aged Fisher shows up in the final scene of “Rogue One.”
That’s a bad idea for any number of reasons. The first is that it’s extraordinarily disrespectful to the memory of Fisher. But bad taste aside, the technology just isn’t there to pull it off. Both Tarkin and Leia looked unnatural in “Rogue One,” like characters out of a video game. And, combined, they only had about five minutes of total screen time. It would be way too creepy to give a starring role to a digital replica of the deceased.
The best option, I think, is to simply recast the role. Many insist this is heresy because nobody but Fisher can be Leia, and, under normal circumstances, I’d agree. But Fisher is no longer with us, and Leia’s story has not yet been finished. I see this as something akin to recasting Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films after Richard Harris died. I never quite warmed up to Michael Gambon as the Hogwarts headmaster, but there was no way to tell that story by writing Dumbledore out of the narrative. I think Leia deserves to have her full story told, and I think Fisher would want Leia to get a proper send-off.
The only other option is to somehow bring Han Solo back from the dead and have him fill the spot in the story that had previously been reserved for Leia. Don’t laugh — they did it with Spock in that other space opera franchise, and they could do it with Han. I hereby offer my services to rewrite the “Episode IX” screenplay to make it happen. I’d be willing to do it for less than half of what they paid Hamill to stand on a hilltop last time around.