December 29, 2016 – Even before the sudden passing of Carrie Fisher earlier this week, the creative minds at Disney/Lucasfilm had gathered months ago to discuss the long-term future of Star Wars.
What direction will the movies and franchise take after Episode IX’s release in 2019? Are additional trilogies sustainable before fan fatigue sets in? Which characters and stories should be explored separately and receive their own “stand alone” treatments?
Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death this week has added a sense of urgency to the planning process. For starters, while filming for Episode VIII had already wrapped up in July, 2016 (the movie is due for release Dec. 15th, 2017), filming for Episode IX will not begin until next year.
The Problem of Leia
The most immediate question, of course, is how to handle General Leia’s role in Episode IX. The movie is scheduled for release on May 24, 2019, but delicate questions as to a final script and how to film all this are still up in the air.
A year from now, when Episode VIII hits the big screen, most fans will have advanced far enough in the grieving process that the sting in watching Carrie Fisher’s performance will not feel as sharp. Yes, it will be bittersweet to see her final Star Wars performance next December, but after shedding a tear, many of us will be deeply curious to see what happens next.
Plot details remain a closely guarded secret for the next installment. But as for the hopefully triumphant conclusion to the third trilogy, Disney and Lucasfilm face a daunting dilemma on how to handle the fate of the plucky princess.
Carrie Fisher was expected to play a key role in the ninth film of the saga. But don’t expect her to wield a lightsaber or pursue the Jedi path. Despite some wishful fan speculation, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams quashed that rumor a year ago.
When asked in a Dec. 2015 interview with IGN.com, Abrams said that even as the twin of a Master Jedi from the powerful Skywalker family, Leia chose to follow a different path.
“It was a great question, and one that we talked about quite a bit, even with Carrie [Fisher] … Why did she not take advantage of this natural Force strength that this character had. And one of the answers was that it was simply a choice that she made, that her decision to run the Rebellion, and ultimately this Resistance, and consider herself a General, as opposed to a Jedi. It was simply a choice that she took.”
Still, Leia is extremely Force sensitive, and persistent rumors hold that she will use her Force abilities in Ep. VIII to protect others from harm.
As for Ep. IX, there are at least three solutions to resolve the Carrie Fisher dilemma. One option is to kill off her character, either in the interregnum between VIII and IX (the opening title crawl in IX might reference her death) or during a glorious death scene in IX.
Alternatively, producers could simply explain her death via dialogue. This technique was used for the final Hunger Games film, Mockingjay: Part 2 when Philip Seymour Hoffman died suddenly during production.
Killing off a major character is no longer taboo. To our greatest shock, Han Solo was pierced and fell to his death in The Force Awakens. Qui-Gon Jinn met a similar fate early on, in The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan Kenobi was also saber-slashed in A New Hope, and the old Emperor gave new meaning to the term “thrown overboard” in Return of the Jedi.
But there seems something awfully insensitive and tacky about killing off everyone’s favorite Princess – more so when the beloved actress who protrayed her has been taken from us. Too close, too soon.
A second option involves CGI magic, which was used to great effect in bringing the late Peter Cushing’s character, Grand Moff Tarkin, back to life in Rogue One. The computer-generated imagery also allowed us to see a young Princess Leia again in Rogue One‘s final moments.
Rogue One‘s use of CGI, however, does not face the same potential challenges as Episode IX will. First, Cushing’s death in 1994 is far enough removed in time that the re-appearance of his likeness has not caused a commotion. Second, the portrayal of young Leia – played by Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila, enhanced with CGI – occurred before Carrie Fisher’s death. No controversy here.
By contrast, rendering Carrie Fisher’s mature character in CGI might cause a revolt and certainly a lot of controversy. As good as CGI is, it’s still not perfect enough to fool our eyes. Some might even call its use tacky and insensitive in light of Fisher’s recent death.
Further, John Knoll, the CCO of Industrial Light and Magic, advised The New York Times in a recent interview that Lucasfilm does not plan to regularly use CGI for deceased actors going forward. “It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do. I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner,” Knoll said. “We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for (Rogue One).”
A third option is to cast another actress to play General Leia. It’s been done before both on TV and the big screen. One example: The makers of Harry Potter recast headmaster Albus Dumbledore when Richard Harris died unexpectedly after filming the first two movies.
Whatever Disney and Lucasfilm decide, they will have to tread carefully in order to give Leia a proper send-off.
The Really Long-Term Future of Star Wars
When Lucas first began drafting “The Star Wars” on April 17, 1973, his grand vision was to write three trilogies – a middle, a beginning, and an end. But by the time Revenge of the Sith (2005) had concluded, Lucas had made it clear that that was it; no more Star Wars films to be produced. The story arc was completed, and all loose ends had been tied up.
Truth is, a mixture of creative fatigue and fan criticism over the prequels and his several remakes of the Original Trilogy had, in Lucas’s mind, closed the book on future productions. In a January, 2012, interview with The New York Times, he said, “I’m retiring. I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.”
When asked if there was any chance of him making a future Star Wars movie, he said, “Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
But by August, 2012, George Lucas had had a change of heart. While in Orlando, Florida, for the Star Wars Celebration VI convention, he had arranged a secret lunch meeting with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher to gauge their interest in future movies. And later that fall, after extensive discussions, The Walt Disney Co. purchased Lucasfilm, Ltd. for $4.05 billion in October, 2012. Lucas agreed to remain available as a creative consultant.
Disney is now looking at 2020 and beyond. Disney president Bob Iger said the company’s plans for Star Wars will take the franchise past their previously announced 2020 films and into “2021 and beyond.”
He and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy met in Sept. 2016 to discuss future projects: “We mapped out – well, we reviewed – the Star Wars plans that we have ’til 2020. We have movies in development for Star Wars ’til then, and we started talking about what we’re going to do in 2021 and beyond. So, she’s not just making a Star Wars movie, she’s making a Star Wars universe, of sorts.”
Kennedy has begun exploring not just movies but other entertainment platforms, including virtual reality and augmented reality down the line.
For now, the only concrete reality are these upcoming movies and dates as we continue to explore the Forever Franchise:
● Star Wars: Episode VIII (no official title yet) – Dec. 15, 2017
● Han Solo: A Star Wars Story – May 25, 2018
● Star Wars: Episode IX (no official title yet) – May 24, 2019
● Untitled 3rd Anthology – TBD 2020