Opening weekend for Last Jedi could soar as fans pay their respects to Carrie Fisher

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Dec 1, 2017, 12:58 PM EST

It’s impossible to imagine what the Star Wars universe would look and feel like without Carrie Fisher. When Fisher passed away last December, legions of fans, spanning generations and places, didn’t simply feel they’d lost a gifted actor — they felt they’d lost one of the pillars supporting the massive weight of the created world they’d all learned to love, to argue about, and — most of all — to share.

With her final screen appearance in The Last Jedi releasing almost exactly a year after her death, Fisher is on the minds of moviegoers — so much so that the Princess Leia factor alone may actually bump the film’s opening box office over analysts’ initial projections.

Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, told USA Today he expects The Last Jedi to take in up to $220 million during its opening weekend — $20 million more than industry watchers had anticipated — thanks to a stronger turnout from reverential fans who view the experience as a way to pay their respects.

“What’s making the The Last Jedi special is that this is the final role for Carrie Fisher,” Bock said. “People will want to tip their hats.” He added, “There will be a Princess Leia bump for The Last Jedi.”

Fisher died on December 27 of last year at the age of 60, not long after shooting for her scenes in The Last Jedi had completed. Director Rian Johnson recently affirmed that all of Fisher’s scenes were complete at the time of her death, and that no part of Princess Leia’s role in the film had to be changed or retouched.

One of the singular experiences associated with going to the movies is the commonality of the experience: getting to share, with strangers, a story or a place — or, yes, even a bigger-than-life personality.

The opportunity to come together — not only to see a much-anticipated addition to the Star Wars canon, but to gather in one place to say goodbye — may indeed be enough to make the theater an even more crowded place when The Last Jedi releases on December 15.