Carrie Fisher, legendary actress behind the Star Wars saga's princess-turned-general Leia Organa, passed away in December 2016 at the age of 60 — leaving Leia's future in doubt.
By the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (spoiler warning) the seasoned Resistance leader lives on, lending guidance to a dwindling — yet renewing — rebellion. "We have everything we need," she tells Rey, one of the few remaining heroes packed tightly into the Millennium Falcon, which now hosts the entirety of the Resistance.
It was a hopeful moment, said writer-director Rian Johnson, that came after Leia's long-awaited reunion with her disillusioned twin brother Luke — who used the last of his energy to allow the Resistance to escape as he warded off Leia's turned son and his First Order army.
The Resistance has lit the spark that will ignite a new wave of hope across the galaxy — as evidenced by The Last Jedi's final moments — but Fisher has passed on, leaving the character of Leia Organa in limbo.
Fisher's death altered the course for Episode IX, releasing in December 2019, which was to feature Leia prominently as the last surviving member of the original trilogy's trio of heroes.
"I know they’re going to try and find a way to close her story in [Episode] 9 that gives her the respect she deserves, because [Han Solo] was more prominent in 7 [The Force Awakens], Luke’s a little more prominent in 8, and certainly Leia was meant to be more prominent in 9," Fisher's onscreen brother, Mark Hamill, revealed earlier this year.
In April, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said "Carrie will not be in nine," and Colin Trevorrow — at the time the director and co-writer of Episode IX — said in June Leia originally had a "major role" in the film.
Trevorrow was fired in September and replaced by The Force Awakens director and co-writer J.J. Abrams, who is returning to write and direct the finale of the sequel trilogy. Abrams made his pitch to Disney earlier this week.
Lucasfilm uncharacteristically released a statement in January directly addressing rumors that Fisher would be digitally inserted into Episode IX, assuring fans that the company "has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa."
Much has changed in the time since, most of all the major shakeup of the creative team with the ousting of Trevorrow and writing partner Derek Connolly, but Lucasfilm could hold true to their word — lest a possible request from Abrams requires the use of some form of Fisher, whether it be unused footage or CGI touchups and enhancements, to properly wrap up Leia's story.
Whether or not Episode IX sees an appearance from Leia remains to be seen, but the departed actress' family has already given their blessing for her character to continue.
"She’s as much a part of it as anything and I think her presence now is even more powerful than it was, like Obi-Wan — when the saber cuts him down he becomes more powerful," Fisher's brother Todd shared in April. "I feel like that's what's happened with Carrie. I think the legacy should continue.”
The Last Jedi sees Leia repeatedly defer to the younger generation of the Resistance — Leia is grooming hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to become a leader and not a hero, while Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) steps up as interim chief while Leia is temporarily indisposed — and Fisher's death will likely indicate a time jump for Episode IX.
In between movies, Leia could have assumed a seat of power in a reformed New Republic — the last one was obliterated by way of the Starkiller in The Force Awakens — lending a plausible reason for Leia's absence.
It would be a fitting position for Leia, whose mother was a politician in the Galactic Senate, and it would effectively write Leia out without killing her — she'd be dealing with the political side of reconstructing the Republic while the galaxy is at war, so it's reasonable she's not in the thick of the action as she was in The Last Jedi — allowing Leia to live on.
The currently untitled Episode IX begins filming in summer 2018.