Part 5 of EW's 'Star Wars' cover story
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Live fearlessly, live boldly, and even after you’re gone that strength and inspiration burn on.
After Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death in December, The Last Jedi will mark her final performance as Leia Organa — the Star Wars character who went from orphan to princess, to spy, to senator, and finally general of the Resistance.
She remains a light that will never go out in the galaxy.
“Her character to some degree or another has been defined by loss through this whole saga, starting with the loss of her home planet. She’s just taken hit after hit, and she’s borne it, and she focuses on moving forward and the task at hand,” says writer-director Rian Johnson.
No matter what grief or trauma Leia faced, she never wavered in her commitment to fighting for freedom in the galaxy, and her battle continues in The Last Jedi. Leia remains in charge of the scattershot Resistance movement, cut off from the Republic, whose leadership and capitol was annihilated in The Force Awakens.
Anyone who expected the Resistance to fill that void and maintain order would be mistaken. “No, no, no. Not at all,” Johnson says. “They’re a small band that’s now cut off, on its own, and hunted when the Republic is shattered. When the First Order did that hit, the Resistance is isolated, and they’re very, very vulnerable. That’s where we pick them up.”
While the galaxy teeters on takeover by the First Order, Leia is also dealing with personal grief, mourning the death of Han Solo – murdered at the hands of their son, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The young man once known as Ben Solo has now fully fallen to the Dark Side, just as Darth Vader, Leia’s father, did a generation before.
“She’s suffered quite a bit,” Johnson adds. “While I was figuring out what her deal was going to be in this film, it’s one of the things I talked about with Carrie before I started writing: where the character would go.”
THE CUSTODIAN OF LEIA
That’s what Fisher often called herself. “She’s become me, and I’ve become her. Because it’s been a while,” Fisher told EW in 2015 before the release of The Force Awakens.
As she did in her own novels and memoirs, like Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking, Fisher’s wry and brash performance as Leia allowed the character to face her hardships with a blaster-proof sense of humor and whatever the galactic version of chutzpah would be.
Although she won’t complete the saga (Lucasfilm says Episode IX is being rewritten out of respect for her passing), Leia’s impact will continue to reverberate.
Despite the hardship, Leia always finds the hope in any given situation. This time, her story is entwined with Poe Dameron, the hotshot X-wing pilot played by Oscar Isaac. Their relationship is not just general and warrior.
And in Star Wars, the notion of family goes far beyond blood relations.
“Poe is in some ways a surrogate son for Leia,” Isaac tells EW. “But also I think she sees in him the potential for a truly great leader of the Resistance and beyond.”
In The Last Jedi, a torch is being passed. It’s about the peril of meeting your heroes, facing down disappointment, and rising to fight nonetheless. Just as Luke Skywalker – reluctantly – may be passing on his knowledge of the Force to Rey, Leia is guiding Poe, encouraging him to look beyond the crosshairs in his cockpit. There are other ways to fight, other ways to lead.
“Poe’s arc is one of evolving from a heroic soldier to a seasoned leader, to see beyond the single-mindedness of winning the battle to the larger picture of the future of the galaxy,” Isaac says. “I think Leia knows she won’t be around forever and she, with tough love, wants to push Poe to be more than the badass pilot, to temper his heroic impulses with wisdom and clarity.”
There are also rivalries and alliances within the movement. Johnson isn’t ready to reveal what Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo’s role is in the story, but as a fellow commander in the Resistance she is likely to have a history with Leia Organa. The nature of it will be for the movie to reveal.
“The secrecy does have a purpose in that part of the fun with Laura’s character, with Admiral Holdo, is figuring out what her relationship is to everybody as you go along through the movie,” Johnson says.
In a behind-the-scenes video for The Last Jedi, there was at least one shot of the two women facing each other. It doesn’t look hostile, but under the right circumstances even friendships can turn dark.
“I don’t want to tip the hat too much, but I will say that the heat is immediately turned up on the Resistance,” Johnson says. “Everybody is put in a pressure cooker right away, and relationships crack and strain under that pressure. That was really interesting to me, the notion of putting this small army under a lot of external pressure and showing some of the results within the Resistance itself.”
THE UNWANTED FAREWELL
The storyline wasn’t changed after Fisher’s death, but Johnson says he hopes it will still be satisfying to the legion of Leia fans who see the character as a source of true-life inspiration in our world.
“There’s no way that we could’ve known this would’ve been the last Star Wars movie she would be in, so it’s not like we made the film thinking that we were bringing closure to the character,” Johnson says. “But watching the film, there’s going to be a very emotional reaction to what she does in this movie.”
While Leia’s influence as a leader endures within the narrative of the Star Wars saga, Fisher also made a personal impact on the actors who will be carrying the franchise forward without her.
Everyone who worked on the film has a Carrie story, but the sweetest and most heartbreaking one belongs to Isaac:
“One of my favorite things that would happen from time to time on set would be when Carrie would sing old songs,” he says. “Whenever that would happen I would offer her my hand and we would waltz around the set – on a starship, in a Rebel base, on an alien planet, and she would sing and we would dance. So surreal and beautiful to think about now. For all of her delicious, wicked humor and fiery energy she also had such sweet grace. I miss her dearly.”
Part 1 – Luke and Rey
Part 2 – Finn and Rose
Part 3 – Porgs and Caretakers
Part 4 – Snoke and the Praetorian Guard
Part 5 – Leia and Poe
Part 6 – Benicio Del Toro’s DJ