When a beloved actress and writer like Carrie Fisher passes away, it is devastating in many ways. Her meaning to the Star Wars franchise was and is tremendous – while she was the only strong female character in the original trilogy, she also was the character, who didn't let her metal bikini and heavy chains to bother her when it was the time to do something for her own situation. Later Leia became a general and sources like CinemaBlend say that general Leia was going to be an important character in these three new Star Wars movies (episodes VII-IX) by Disney.
According to several entertainment sites, including ScreenRant, Carrie Fisher among the others had finished shooting for Star Wars VIII, so there is a strong possibility her role in this film stays intact. But sources also claim she was going to have a significant role in Star Wars IX, a film which is not ”canned” yet. A meeting about this issue will be held among the creators soon in this month. So, what are their options?
1. Replace the actress with another
The good old soap opera trick – when the actor or actress gets too old or tired into his or her role, another one replaces him or her and the soapy life continues. Yes, Star Wars is a space opera, and although in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we got to see at least two familiar charactersplayed by new faces, these were just small character roles. Just a glimpse to the social media can show us that for many viewers Carrie Fisher was Leia, one and only.
Leia is not DoctorWho, Superman or James Bond, a character, who could easily be accepted with a new face at this point. However, it isn't totally out of the question. In that case this could be the dream role for many older actresses, stars, who have waited for a big and interesting franchise role but haven't seen any, since movies like these usually don't offer such.
If the casting is done well, Fisher could be replaced with someone, who just surprises everybody positively. So, who should audition? Not Meryl Streep, because she is not the actress you're looking for (let the others have a chance). But how about Jessica Harper (Suspiria, Phantom of the Paradise)? A dark-haired cult actress from the 1970's and a music maker, whose latest role was a curious minor part in Spielberg's Minority Report. Yes, she is some years older than Fisher was, but she has youthful spirit in her and suitable charisma. Or if more rock'n'roll is needed, get Debbie Harry (Videodrome) there. She still has that something. She also has sense of humour for unusual hairdos.
2. Replace the actress with the help of CGI
Jurassic Park was awesome, and it still is, although the film was made in the early 1990's, while CGI was still not widely used. When The Crow came out in 1994, Brandon Lee's sudden death had to be covered with difficult CGI tricks. Since then the technology has taken large steps forward. Motion/performance capture acting is so great that most of the viewers of Avatar (2009) were very content with what they saw. Performance capture could be the key to keep Leia in action as it was planned.
But the problem with CGI is, if you are using even slighly less capable technology than somebody else or watch your creations so long that your eyes become blind to their possible faults, no matter how much time and effort was used with them, the end result will not please the hawk-eyed audience.
Also the publicity could be a problem; when it was published Rogue One has a familiar character created with the aid of CGI, the attention was suddenly drawn to that more than it probably should have been. The CGI Tarkin, or zombified Tarkin (as I like to call him – I will explain later why), could have been presented in the first place to the public not as a computer creation but as a character played by a new actor with pretty good hi-tech makeup. If the publicity had been handled a bit differently, I doubt we would have now much less talk about how ”everybody” knew right away that was CGI and how it ruined the whole movie from many.
Rogue One also has a CGI version of young Leia. Unlike with Tarkin, many seemed to have less problems with her appearance. To me she looked too polished and honestly also too happy. The character was in this situation, where she had to rush away with something very important, which had just caused a terribly amount of deaths. But if the director of that scene (read: not necessarily the director of the movie but for example the producer) wanted to show there a very naive person with a new toy, of course we couldn't then have there at least slightly worrying but still somehow relieved and strong-minded person instead.
It seems that the CGI Tarkin got a lot of backlash, because many think it would to be so very simple to take a person's appearance after the person's death.
Peter Cushing, the original Tarkin, died in 1994. Although the creators of this CGI Tarkin tried to explain the process in public, media had already brought up the negative side of it. The actor's family may have agreed with the company and given it a permission to use the late actor's appearance in this way, but there are still many, who can't see it like a CGI makeup on somebody living and breathing but rather like something totally unnatural and unreal.
I myself call this creation as zombified Tarkin, because to me he (not "it") is lacking too many emotions. Yes, Tarkin has a stiff upper lip. Yes, he is bad. Yes, he wants power. But if you look at Cushing's original performance, his Tarkin is not all that hard and one dimensional. He is calculating and wise. He is not afraid to walk into some important meeting with cozy slippers (although we don't see them, his attitude channels them – this is a man, who enjoys also something else than just blowing up things).
A CGI version of older Leia could be a possibility, if the family of the late actress is ok with the idea and there's enough time, money and patience to spend into not only realistic skin texture and that all but also into the recreation of the character's true spirit. After this it is most important to do the publicity well, remembering that fans love not just these characters but also their original actors – real human beings. It doesn't have to be overly sugared though – imagine, what Carrie Fisher would say, if she was still able to be there.
3. Replace Leia with
After Carrie Fisher passed away, we learned she was connected not only to Star Wars VIII but also to Star Wars IX. That means, Leia wasn't probably going to die in some horrible battle in Star Wars VIII. Because Star Wars VIII premieres in December 2017, at this point we don't yet know its plot. There are rumours and that is it.
The Empire is trying to get on its feet again in some form, so Leia will probably be left in Star Wars VIII on some dangerous ground. Her passing away could be written on the traditional opening crawl. You may say it's too simple and wrong for this important character. However, it wouldn't be the first time, when in Star Wars something that big was summed up in the yellow text that floats through the space: the whole Rogue One basically is the opening crawl of Star Wars IV (although in the 1970's George Lucas probably didn't even dream about prequel like Rogue One).
The opening crawl could also suggest that she has gone missing (in action). Luke, his brother, may sense her, they may try to search her, but there's probably too much going on on the battlefield and without Leia the other characters must find quickly courage to do what she would have done and keep the rebel spirit on. This is a great spot to develop the other characters. Maybe Billie Lourd's Connix is one of them? That would be nice fan service too, since she is Fisher's daughter.
When the battle is finally over, there may be no place to Leia to return. Maybe the dark side will win. But Leia may still be somewhere there - we could see somebody like her from the backside or from the distance but we could also see that she has found something with hope. This could be something ancient, something almost forgotten from the past of the Jedi. It would honour the character and its late actress to give Leia finally a chance to pursue herself to learn how to use the Force. Plus, it would keep the audience still hopeful after all those possible losses.
May the Force be with you.