SPOILERS are discussed ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
One of the most mind-blowing (and controversial) moments in Star Wars: The Last Jedi sees General Leia Organa fly back to her ship using the Force after having just been blown into space by a First Order attack.
Visually, the scene could have been better (insert your Mary Poppins comparisons here) but it represents one of the film’s best sudden turns, as it easily could have been the end for Leia given the real life death of Carrie Fisher. The scene also leaves viewers with a big question: has Leia learned how to use the Force in the years since learning her true identity in Return of the Jedi (1983)?
According to The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson, Leia has not learned to use the Force like her father and brother before her, but can tap into it instinctively when she most needs it. “This is a reflex action on her part,” Johnson told IGN of Leia’s life-saving maneuver. “It’s the equivalent in my head of when you hear about parents, toddlers are caught under cars, and they suddenly get Hulk strength and can lift it up. Or a drowning person climbing their way to the surface.”
“It’s instinctual, her use of it. It’s the opposite of when Luke Force-pulls the saber in Hoth. It isn’t like, ‘I’m going to try and do this.’ For her it’s just an instinctual thing of, ‘I’m not done yet. I’m not giving up. I’m pulling myself back in.’”
In other words, Leia probably wouldn’t have been picking up a lightsaber in Episode IX had Fisher not suddenly passed away in December 2016. Of course, we now know that Leia survives to the end of The Last Jedi, which means that there is a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the character and what her role will be in Episode IX.
According to Johnson, Fisher’s death led to a difficult conversation between himself and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy about how to handle her character in The Last Jedi. Ultimately, while letting Leia die in the vacuum of space would have given them the perfect out, Johnson says that this would have meant not being able to use the rest of Fisher’s footage, which is why it was decided to let Leia live.
“No. I mean, after we came back from New Year’s, Kathy [Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm] and I had a conversation and I felt really strongly that we had a beautiful performance from her,” Johnson said of the decision to not kill Leia off in The Last Jedi.
“Because if we did that [let Leia die], first of all that would feel like a very unsatisfying end to that character, because that moment of her getting blown out [into space] was not engineered to be an ending. And second, that would mean we would lose the scene with her and Luke, the scene with her and Rey at the end, the scene with her and Holdo [Laura Dern]. So much stuff that I feel I wanted to have from Carrie. I didn’t want to lose that.”
“So no, we talked about it briefly but it was something very quickly I decided I didn’t want to do,” Johnson concluded.
The fate of General Leia Organa most likely won’t be revealed until the release of Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019 but given the reverence everyone involved in the making of Star Wars has for both Carrie Fisher and her beloved character, our princess is sure to get a proper sendoff.