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SYFY WIRE Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

ILM explores Carrie Fisher’s last Star Wars appearance in The Rise of Skywalker VFX reel

By Benjamin Bullard
Leia Organa and Rey share a hug in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As we enter the home stretch heading into this weekend’s Academy Awards ceremony, Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic is peeling back the mystery on The Rise of Skywalker’s Oscar-nominated visual effects. And of all the movie’s mind-blowing eye candy, none of the spectacular sights hit home with quite as much force as the late, great Carrie Fisher’s final appearance in the Skywalker saga.

Most fans know by now that director J.J. Abrams and the ILM effects wizards brought Princess Leia back into the story entirely through leftover footage and digital magic, in the wake of Fisher’s passing only a few months after filming wrapped on The Last Jedi. But ILM has just released a pre-Oscars VFX reel for The Rise of Skywalker that shows just how painstaking and thorough a process that actually was. 

Check out the clip below to scratch the surface of all that went into placing Fisher’s likeness into The Rise of Skywalker — both as the younger Return of the Jedi-era princess, as well as the older Resistance General Leia Organa, whose footage for the final Skywalker movie came from 2015’s The Force Awakens.

As the clip also shows, it wasn't only Fisher who got the digital face-grafting treatment. For those flashback Skywalker scenes that find a younger Luke and Leia practicing their lightsaber skills together, Mark Hamill’s earlier likeness also had to go through ILM’s effects-rendering process. A younger Hamill’s face, ILM explains, was lifted from moments in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to make Luke’s shared screen time beside his twin sister blend in seamlessly.

The VFX acrobatics don’t end there, as the highlight reel walks through tons more of the movie’s amazing moments. Be sure to stick around for behind-the-scenes glimpses at what makes Babu Frik tick, as well as the astounding digital effort that went into creating “a new CGI water system” for Rey and Kylo Ren’s showdown amid the wreckage in the ocean of Kef-Bir. The icing on all that sweet VFX cake, though, may be ILM’s insight into how it blended practical effects and green screen wizardry to pull off Rey’s Force-powered leap over Kylo’s TIE Fighter in the desert sand.

With The Rise of Skywalker nominated in three Oscar categories — Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Original Score — the wait’s almost over to see how it all shakes out. You can tune in to ABC for the 92nd Academy Awards, beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 9.

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