Decoding the bombshell Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IX news

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Sep 25, 2019, 12:51 PM EDT (Updated)

Lucasfilm made a bombshell announcement today, just a week after San Diego Comic-Con, that Star Wars: Episode IX would begin filming next week. There were lots of hints and tidbits within, but the most surprising bit of news might be the cast list they dropped. It had the usual suspects, but it also included Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Billy Dee Williams.

What can this possibly mean for the film they are billing as the final installment of the Skywalker saga? Well, why don’t we start with the returning cast we expected and who has been left out, before we get to the new additions and legacy cast. According to the release, we’re getting Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, and Billie Lourd.

This means Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is back for sure, and it looks like Lt. Connix (Billie Lourd) is getting a somewhat expanded role. She was barely an extra in The Force Awakens, and her role grew in The Last Jedi. Now she’s top-billed returning cast. We have all of the expected characters, too. Rey, Ben Solo, Finn, Hux, Maz Kanata, and Chewbacca. But who are we missing from the last installment?

The first character I noticed absent from the list is Benicio del Toro’s DJ. A lot of fans speculated that he would be back, but it looks like he took his payout and left. Captain Phasma and Snoke are also missing, two characters some fans held out hope would return. Phasma might live on eventually, much as Boba Fett is still alive in the hearts of fans beyond the sarlacc pit. As for Supreme Leader Snoke, I think our new Supreme Leader really is Kylo Ren. Long live Supreme Leader!

This is probably going to upset a small contingent of fans who wanted to know more about Snoke, about where he came from and what his deal was, but I would argue that it’s really not important to this stage of the Skywalker Saga any more than we needed Palpatine’s backstory as we watched Return of the Jedi unfold. Undoubtedly, we’ll get a lot of that material after the film comes out.

But the returning cast from previous films holds the most questions. First, what does it mean that Mark Hamill is coming back? Well, that means we’re definitely getting Luke Skywalker, and I think this can mean one of three things. First, it means we’re probably getting the obvious Luke Skywalker Force Ghost. Second, it could mean that we’re getting Luke in more flashbacks. Since Rian Johnson introduced that narrative technique into The Last Jedi, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it again to help flesh out some of Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side. The third possibility is that we get a combination of these two techniques. Anything is possible.

With Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian, there are quite a few options for him there, and we talked about them in this installment of SYFY WIRE’s Star Wars Weekly.

The biggest, most shocking news is definitely Carrie Fisher’s return as General Leia. Fisher passed away in 2016, well after filming was complete for The Last Jedi and while Episode IX was still in its embryonic stages. That version of the script had to be scrapped and a new strategy had to be developed for how to handle the loss of one of the most important characters in Star Wars. This news release gave us our answer.

From the announcement:

The role of Leia Organa will once again be played by Carrie Fisher, using previously unreleased footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “We desperately loved Carrie Fisher,” says Abrams. “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 honor Carrie’s legacy and role as Leia in Episode IX by using unseen footage we shot together in Episode VII.” 

There are quite a few deleted scenes that Carrie Fisher shot in The Force Awakens, and there was a break in shooting when Harrison Ford broke his leg that allowed J.J. Abrams to pull back and rewrite and reconfigure some parts of the movie, so there is plenty of discarded footage to work with. One notable scene in particular that hasn’t been released had to do with General Organa asking for more help from the Republic. This sort of dialogue would make sense in the context of Episode IX and where we left the Resistance in The Last Jedi. Between long shots (or shots with her back turned) where they could have a sound-alike give her a new voice, old footage that can be repurposed, and some other camera tricks they can pull, there’s a lot they can do with the character. I imagine that this might have been some part of what led to the removal of Colin Trevorrow. Writing a script around such a jigsaw puzzle could easily have proven too much for anyone, and Lucasfilm clearly felt Abrams and his co-writer Chris Terrio were up for the challenge.

I think this is probably the best solution Lucasfilm could have possibly come up with for dealing with Carrie Fisher’s loss. There will be no recasting, and fans won’t be able to direct their ire to a new actress; they won’t be using CGI, so fans can’t be mad at technical creatives like John Knoll; and they won’t simply kill the character, so fans can be happy that she'll get the ending she deserves. 

It makes me a little teary-eyed just thinking about it. 

Episode IX starts shooting on August 1, 2018, and adds two more members to the cast. First is relative newcomer Naomi Ackie, and second is Game of Thrones veteran Richard E. Grant. The film hits theaters everywhere on December 20, 2019.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.