Perhaps the ickiest aspect of speculating about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is wondering about how the epic space fantasy will deal with a real-world tragedy: the death of Carrie Fisher in 2016. I know one 11-year-old girl who insists the film should simply “open with a funeral” and swiftly move on. In terms of little-kid logic, this makes a modicum of sense. Still, Fisher’s General Leia Organa will be a big part of Rise of Skywalker, regardless of how much screen time the character actually has. But, based on new rumors, the question now is: Will J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm actually have the audacity (or bravery) to give Leia an on-screen death?
Here are three ways Leia can survive the events of The Rise of Skywalker, and one way she probably can’t.
Speculative spoilers ahead.
Several large plot “leaks” have emerged recently that strongly suggest Leia’s death with be a pivotal plot point in The Rise of Skywalker. Here’s how I feel about that: Even if there weren’t “leaks” right now, it’s a fairly reasonable thing to suspect Leia might not make it out of the movie “alive.” (Again, even some hip children think it should happen.) So, the more interesting question isn’t “Will Leia die?” but instead, “how could they get away with Leia not dying?” Here’s how.
3. Leia could go into hiding because of her controversial superweapon
By now, it’s fairly well-documented that some deleted scenes in The Force Awakens suggested Leia had developed a super-weapon for the good guys, which is why the legitimate government of the New Republic disowned her, thus creating the need for an underground Resistance. The idea that Abrams would resurface this idea for The Rise of Skywalker seems pretty likely, simply because we know that Carrie Fisher will appear in the film primarily via unused Force Awakens footage. If that footage focuses on Leia talking about a superweapon, the storyline begins to write itself. If Leia is behind the creation of a Death Star-esque gamechanger for the good guys, it could mean she goes into exile to protect everyone else. The conversation could go something like this:
Rey: Let us go with you. We have to protect you; you’re the last Skywalker.
Leia: My son is the last Skywalker, also he can read minds.
Rey: What do you mean?
Leia: I mean, it’s better if you don’t know where I’m going or where I’ve hidden my ridiculously-secret superweapon. My mind-reading goth son can’t find my superweapon if you guys don’t know where it is. Seriously. Let me go into hiding. I’ll launch my awesome superweapon when the time is right.
Rey: Okay, you’re the boss.
Leia: Damn straight.
2. Leia could be stranded in a weird part of space
One persistent Rise of Skywalker rumor claims a huge clutch of Imperial ships called the Sith Fleet has been chilling in a weird part of the galaxy that is a little bit “wild.” The massive number of Star Destroyers shown in the D23 trailer could corroborate this, too. So, what could this have to do with Leia? Well, Star Wars canon has recently messed-around with the idea that character can be hurtled into unknown regions of space; in the finale of Rebels this is what happens to both Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Essentially, Rebels took two very powerful characters off the table without killing them. (Basically, they had to do this, because you can’t have Ezra Bridger or Thrawn interfering with original trilogy canon.)
So, could Rise of Skywalker pull a similar stunt with Leia? Having her stranded in hyperspace or something else crazy could be an excellent way to “kill” the character in a way that’s respectful, but also hopeful. After all, if Leia is simply “lost” in the film, there’s no reason for a future comic, TV show or film to bring her back in some way, shape or form.
1. Leia could intentionally join the Force, become one of the Whills
Okay, so what if Leia “dies” but, like Luke in The Last Jedi, she does it intentionally and for a higher purpose? When Luke faded away in The Last Jedi it seemed like he was just pooped-out from using the Force too much. What if Leia joins the Force in a smarter way? For a long time, George Lucas has kicked around the idea that timeless beings called “The Whills” are the one’s telling the story of Star Wars. This idea was shelved as he developed A New Hope, but the concept has crept back into canon via Rogue One and maybe, just maybe, one of the books in Luke Skywalker’s library in The Last Jedi.
So, when you consider Luke is already part of the Force, if Leia joins him, the two Skywalker twins could become the fabled “Whills,” beings beyond physical form who tell the story of the Force for the rest of time? Basically, this would mean that Leia would end The Rise of Skywalker by turning into an angel, which seems pretty awesome.
Okay, but what if Leia dies?
I’ll never forget the gasp in the theater when I saw The Last Jedi and everybody thought Leia had been killed in that explosion. Another writer next to me hissed “That’s so disrespectful!” Of course, Leia didn’t die, but for that two minutes, it felt like Star Wars had flippantly blown-up the saga’s very first, and perhaps best, hero. Weirdly, two years later, Rise of Skywalker is in the same position; how to kill off Leia without it coming off as forced or in poor taste? Arguably, the franchise that handled this the best was Fast and the Furious. In Furious 7 there are several moments when you think Brian (Paul Walker) is going to die, but the movie ends with him retiring instead. This was classy. Like Carrie Fisher, nobody expected Paul Walker to die in real life, and letting his character ride off into the sunset was sweet. Best of all: it worked.
But, Star Wars isn’t the Furious franchise. It’s always been about life and death, and the epic mistakes of the most dysfunctional family in the universe. In some ways, this means Leia’s death could be unavoidable from a thematic and logistical perspective. If it happens, it will be deeply sad, but nowhere near as sad about thinking about the alternate dimension in which Fisher was still alive, and we didn’t have to worry about this.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out everywhere on December 20, 2019.