The iconic actress who played Princess Leia may no longer be with us, but the new Star Wars movie has ensured that she is forever.
Star Wars legend Carrie Fisher may have passed away last year, much to the sorrow of generations of fans, but soon after her untimely death it was revealed that the actress’ role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi had already been completed. General Leia Organa would have one final go in her never-ending battle against the evil of the galaxy.
And yet, the question remained: How would Lucasfilm and director Rian Johnson deal with Fisher’s death? Would the film be modified in some way to kill off Leia or otherwise write her out of the action in preparation for her absence in Episode IX? Would the star’s passing be reflected onscreen in some way? As it turns out, Johnson found a way to deal with the situation in a remarkably moving and brilliant way.
Full spoilers follow for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The scene comes fairly early in the film, as Leia’s son Ben Solo/Kylo Ren makes his attack run on the fleeing Resistance cruiser which Leia is onboard. In a nice throwback to The Empire Strikes Back, we see Ben and Leia wordlessly connecting with one another though the Force, with Johnson using quick dissolves to link together successive close-ups of the two characters. As Ben prepares to blast the bridge of the cruiser to pieces, he pulls back at the last moment, perhaps moved by the brief link he shared with his mother. But the TIE Fighters flanking him carry out the attack anyway and bombard the bridge.
As the missiles fly, we see Leia brace herself for the impact in the instant before the hull of the ship is torn open and everyone on the bridge is violently pulled into the vacuum of space (RIP Admiral Ackbar). And just like that, Princess Leia is seemingly dead.
Here Johnson is playing with us and subverting our expectations. As we watch these events unfold, we are very aware that Fisher passed away last year, and we’ve all had the question looming in our heads ever since regarding how the filmmakers would handle the situation. For a brief time in The Last Jedi, we think we know the answer: Leia is gone now, just like Fisher. Only… she isn’t.
It’s emotional enough to think we’ve lost another classic character at this point, following on the heels of Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens. But as Johnson trains his camera on Leia’s body floating in space, something starts to happen… We realize that she isn’t dead. In fact, she’s using the Force to return to the relative safety of the ship. Leia, who was always a figure to be reckoned with, beats death itself in this moment. As the music swells, it becomes clear that Rian Johnson essentially just made Princess Leia — and by extension, Carrie Fisher — immortal. It’s one of the most thrilling, amazing, and moving scenes in the film.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing how Fisher’s absence will be explained away in the next film. Perhaps she’ll be killed offscreen between movies, though I think that’s unlikely. I’d bet that Leia, ironically enough, winds up being the only one of the main characters from the Original Trilogy to survive these new movies. When J.J. Abrams returns to direct the next installment, he can simply write her out of the proceedings with a few lines of dialogue and maybe a holo-message using archival footage. “General Leia is coordinating the operation from our base on New Alderaan.”
But no matter how it plays out, no one can take away from us that magical moment in The Last Jedi where Leia and Fisher both seemed to cheat death itself. That is forever. Now, thanks to that scene — and to quote the princess herself — we have everything we need.
For more on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, check out our review, discover all the Easter Eggs and references we caught in the film, enjoy our SPOILERCAST breaking down what we liked and disliked about Episode VIII, find out what our six biggest WTF questions were upon watching the film, and delve into our explainer piece analyzing the film’s dramatic ending.