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Carrie Fisher, Star Wars, and the Future of CGI

In 2012, at Coachella, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were on stage amazing an already amped up audience when, suddenly, they were joined by a long dead colleague. Tupac Shakur, brought to life by a $100,000 light show, was the talk of the internet for days. The impact of Tupac’s virtual resurrection had the potential to be massive. It wouldn’t just change music or live shows. It had the potential to impact all forms of entertainment.

The technology presented that day at Coachella opened the door to a world of possibility in the world of cinema. Media commentators around the world were curious about how this technology could transform the art of film making. Combining the newfound ability to pull archived footage to recreate a human being, voice and all, with the motion capture technology on show in Lord of the Rings or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it seemed it would only be a matter of time before a feature film was in theaters starring Marilyn Monroe alongside James Dean and George Clooney. The question was not if, but when we would see that movie.

In 2016, we got our answer. In Disney’s first Star Wars stand alone movie Rogue One, the ability to put long dead actors into motion pictures was put on show. But it wasn’t to bring back an actor particularly long dead nor greatly missed. It was for branding. Twelve years after his death, Peter Cushing was digitally brought back to life to revive the role of Governor Tarkin. The injection of Cushing’s likeness into the film was not seamless, but it also wasn’t all together horrid, leaving the door open for Disney, and other companies, to attempt similar maneuvers in the future.

The decision also was ultimately not without controversy. To many the use of Peter Cushing’s likeness, whatever the legal details surrounding it may be, was crass and thoughtless. It seemed that there was no way that a man who signed his likeness over in the 1970s for an action figure deal could ever have imagined a computer being used to put him into a movie 40 years later. There was a certain feeling that Disney was so busy thinking about if they could do it that they were too busy to stop and think about if they should do it.

Then, in the midst of these questions, the world was hit with the untimely and tragic passing of Carrie Fisher. Reports from Disney are that Ms. Fisher had time to film all of her scenes for The Last Jedi before she passed. But, even now, with almost a year until The Last Jedi hits theaters, there are already talks about what Ms. Fisher’s passing will mean for the future of the series. Initial reports suggest that a number of important scenes between Leia and other characters were planned for Episode IX. But through all this speculation, there have been no concrete announcements about what this will mean for the future of the franchise one way or the other.

The first option is that Rian Johnson and the Star Wars team could go back to the drawing board and rewrite Episode IX, possibly even recutting parts of Episode VIII in the process. This could end up costing time and money, and would force Disney to go against their original plans for the franchise. The other option would be to use the same technology that brought Peter Cushing back to the screen to try to digitally inject Carrie Fisher into the movie. This would give the Star Wars team the opportunity to build the skeleton of their original plan, with the biggest issue being filling in the blanks instead of having to rebuild the entire film.

As if Disney’s decision is not complicated enough- trying to decide if their obligation is to the film or the actor- there is another contributing factor: the fans. In that last few years, Carrie Fisher and Disney have endeared Princess Leia to fans more effectively than any other character in the Star Wars franchise. Since her passing, in the electoral aftermath, Fisher has become a go-to symbol for women who want to show power and resistance. Suddenly, a B-level character from a late 70s Sci-Fi movie has become one of the most dearly beloved characters in popular culture and a symbol of political strength.

So, given all these conflicting factors, there is an incredibly high amount of risk in what Disney chooses to do next. Fumbling on this maneuver and recreating an inauthentic Carrie Fisher into Episode IX could turn Princess Leia into the most hated CGI character since Jar Jar Binks. This would leave generations of future Star Wars fans wondering why their parents or grandparents had ever loved the character in the first place. On the other hand, a successful rendering of the character could be revolutionary for the film making industry as a whole, not just the Star Wars franchise. On top of that, Disney would also not find themselves in the awkward position of having to rewrite the plan that convinced them buying LucasFilms was worth $4 Billion.

Taking all of this into account, we absolutely urge Disney to find a way to write Leia out of Episode IX. No matter how reportedly pleased she was to see herself aged down 40 years in the ending of Rogue One, we cannot imagine the fiercely independent Fisher seeding any decision about her most iconic character to anyone else. To leave her out of the character entirely seems downright criminal. It will be deeply disappointing to know that our favorite princess will be permanently exiting the Star Wars universe. And while we will be heart broken to see our favorite star go out in the galaxy far, far away, it is the only way to do justice to Ms. Fisher and her legacy.

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