*Mild spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker* I have not seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and have turned a blind eye to most of the discussion on it so if I get some plot points wrong here, please forgive me. I am not mad at the film, nor have I picked a side in the TeamJohnson/TeamAbrams debate, it is merely lack of interest in the movie on my part. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in Star Wars or its characters, many of whom hold a special place in my heart. Of course, one of my favorites is General Organa/Princess Leia played by Carrie Fischer. Carrie died after filming The Last Jedi (but before its release). When the ROS discussion began, folks wanted to know what they would do with Leia. We were assured that no one else would fill Carrie’s shoes in the role and that she would go out with dignity. Much was made of the fact that eight minutes of discarded Leia footage existed and that it could be digitally manipulated to complete her story in ROS, allowing the filmmakers to keep their word. Mostly. It turns out, there was one small but important bit that Abrams needed a stand-in for. He found the perfect person to do it: Carrie’s daughter Billie Lourd.
When Carrie Fisher passed away in December 2016, the current forces behind the Star Wars franchise made it clear that the actress wouldn’t be replaced by a new performer — Meryl Streep, for example — or a digital avatar for the final episode in the sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker. Instead, director J.J. Abrams used eight-minutes of extra material from his 2015 film, The Force Awakens, as well as Rian Johnson’s 2017 follow-up, The Last Jedi, to craft a send-off to Fisher’s signature alter ego, General Leia Organa. That said, there is one crucial sequence in the film where Leia is (briefly) portrayed by another actress. Midway through the movie, we jump back in time to the post-Return of the Jedi era, when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trains his Force-sensitive sister in the ways of the Jedi.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Patrick Tubach says that Hamill played the “young” Luke in that sequence, and had his youthful appearance restored thanks to the magic of de-aging technology. But they also needed an actress to perform Leia’s role, someone whose face would be digitally replaced by a younger version of Fisher in the finished film. When the time came to shoot that scene, Abrams decided to keep the part in the family by asking Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd — who also plays Resistance lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix in the sequel trilogy — to take on the mantle of Leia. “Billie was playing her mother,” Tubach reveals, confirming rumors that first surfaced online this past spring. “It was a poignant thing, and something that nobody took lightly — that she was willing to stand in for her mom.”
Lourd’s performance as Leia lasts mere seconds in terms of screentime, but Tubach and the rest of Rise of Skywalker’s visual effects team understood the drama of the moment. “It was an emotional thing for everybody to see her in that position. It felt great for us, too. If you’re going to have someone play [Fisher’s] part, it’s great that it’s [Billie] because there are a lot of similarities between them that we were able to draw from. The real challenge was just making the Leia footage we had to work with fit in that scene.”
[From Yahoo] *This link has Spoilers*
Even without having seen it, I’m sure this was the right decision. It sounds like it was an important scene and certainly a nostalgic one, so it probably added much to the story. And the sentimentality of having Billie fill the role adds to the movie’s promotion. In a franchise that has come to lean heavily on nostalgia and sentimentality, it was a brilliant move. This story warms my heart. I have to believe it meant the world to Billie. She was already a part of the franchise but to be able to both embody and honor her mother makes a nice Hollywood ending.
The article goes on to say that Billie’s part as Leia is just a few seconds. I’m relieved because some of the video recreations, especially in Rogue One, were shocking. I hope they superimposed Carrie’s face on to Billie with more success here. And I can’t help but think that with her wicked sense of humor, should Carrie commune with Billie from beyond, she’d start with, “nice job as Leia… but I’ve got notes.”
Photo credit: WENN Photos and Getty Images