Warning: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
When Carrie Fisher died last December, it wasn’t just the passing of a pop-culture icon; Fisher’s untimely death also threw plans for the new Star Wars trilogy into disarray. Though the actress had completed work on The Last Jedi at the time of her death, she was meant to play an integral part in the franchise’s unnamed ninth installment, with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy saying Episode IX would have been “her movie.” After much reshuffling, and some confusion — Fisher’s family publicly gave their permission for previously shot footage of the actress to appear in the ninth film, while Lucasfilm had to deny a rumor that she would be recreated digitally — Kennedy finally announced that Fisher would not appear in the new trilogy’s final installment at all. The Last Jedi would be Fisher’s, and Leia’s, final Star Wars film.
So, how does the movie handle the departure?
Quite subtly, for the most part. Fisher gets more to do in Last Jedi than she did in Force Awakens, but the movie basically treats her like she’s still a living actress. (The end credits do contain a touching dedication to her.) There are no moments of Leia pausing in a doorway, turning around and smiling, and the film doesn’t end with her pulling up next to Mark Hamill on a highway. This seems to have been by design: Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has said he didn’t tinker with any of Fisher’s scenes after her death, and after watching the film, it’s easy to take him at his word.
There is, however, one scene that plays very differently in the wake of Fisher’s death. It’s very spoiler-y, so I’m going to give you another chance to get out of here before I start talking about it for real. Go away!
Okay, here it is. If you haven’t heard, most of Last Jedi is basically the record of one single standoff between the Resistance and the First Order. (It seemingly takes place over the course of 24 hours; Aristotle would be proud, though not as proud as he would if the heroes didn’t go flying all across the Galaxy.) Near the beginning of the movie, Kylo Ren and the baddies are attacking the Resistance’s capital ship in their little TIE Fighter things. Kylo targets the ship’s bridge, where Leia is, but he hesitates — is he really going to blow up his mom, 15 minutes into the movie? (You see a bit of this moment in the trailer.) But before our tragic prince can decide on a course of action, one of his buddies decides they’ve had enough dilly-dallying and launches their own proton torpedoes at the bridge. Kaboom. There goes Leia. In the moment it seems a ruthlessly pragmatic solution to the “No more Carrie Fisher” problem, and you would be forgiven for wondering why the movie would be so heartless.
But it turns out that’s just a setup for one of the film’s biggest crowd-pleasers. A little while later, we cut to Leia’s body spinning through the emptiness of space. Turns out she’s not quite dead yet, and she uses her dying energy for one big Force push, which flies her all the way back to the ship’s airlock. (In a bit of pleasing corporate synergy, it’s a little reminiscent of Mary Poppins, who returns December 2018.) Onscreen at least, Carrie Fisher has come back from the dead. In my screening, the audience lost their freaking minds at this moment. It’s the purest form of cinematic wish-fulfillment I’ve seen all year, and it seemingly happened completely by accident.
I’ve spoiled enough, so I won’t tell you what Fisher gets up in the rest of the film except to say, she’s great. (As our David Edelstein says in his review, “It took 40 years, but she and Leia finally merged.”) In further proof Johnson wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t change a thing about Fisher’s scenes, Leia doesn’t get a big farewell scene, or even any kind of spotlight. She simply fades into the background in the film’s final minutes — the movie version of an Irish good-bye.
If this is truly the last we get of Leia in Star Wars, how will Episode IX handle her passing? We won’t know until that film comes out in 2019, but the ending of Last Jedi seems to hint that there’s going to be some sort of time jump between the two installments. If that’s the case, expect Leia to die (peacefully, I hope) offscreen, the same way Gilmore Girls handled Richard Herrman’s passing. May the Force be with her.