Carrie Fisher The Force Awakens Carrie Fisher The Force Awakens How will the final chapter in the new 'Star Wars' trilogy address the passing of actress Carrie Fisher? (Photo: The Force Awakens)

How 'Star Wars' may use technology to bid farewell to Carrie Fisher

As previous films have shown, there are ways to fill the void left by an actor's passing. It's never easy, though.

Beloved by fans around the world for her grit, grace and unabashed sense of humor, Carrie Fisher's untimely passing at the age of 60 is a tragic loss. After a welcome return to the "Star Wars" franchise in 2015's "The Force Awakens," the American actress, writer and advocate was slated for an expanded role as General Leia Organa in the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode VIII" and "Star Wars: Episode IX."

According to reports, Fisher had already completed her work on "Episode VIII" and was written into the script for "Episode IX." The producers for both films, American Kathleen Kennedy and Israeli Ram Bergman, will now have the difficult job of addressing how best to have her character exit the franchise. Such a tragic situation is not without precedent, with several recent films addressing off-screen deaths in a variety of ways that both honor and progress their on-screen personas.

Below are just a few paths Bergman and Kennedy might decide to pursue to complete Princess Leia's arc in the "Star Wars" galaxy and give Carrie Fisher the final bow she so deserves.

1. Paul Walker in 'Furious 7'

Paul Walker CGISome of Paul Walker's scenes in 'Furious 7', such as the image above, were created using a body double and CGI facial mapping. (Photo: Fast and Furious 7)

When American actor Paul Walker died in a car crash in November 2013, he was about halfway through production on the seventh film in the "Fast and Furious" franchise. Instead of scrapping the production, Australian director James Wan decided to embrace a mix of body doubles (Walker's brothers, Cody and Caleb), CGI and outtakes from previous films to complete the actor's performance.

"It’s now almost like a cliche or a joke to say this, but the entire 'Fast and Furious' unit is a family unit, and everyone feels like Paul is a big part of their family," Wan told The Verge in 2015. "And everyone wanted to do the right thing by Paul, and send him off in the most sort of honorable way that we could, and to honor the legacy that he’s had in this franchise."

To create Walker's final performance, Wan leaned on the magicians at the New Zealand visual effects studio WETA. As FXGuide discovered in a December 2015 interview with senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, the process to recreate an actor's face and mannerisms was all-consuming. In the end, however, they achieved the result that honored Walker's memory and gave his character a proper send-off.

"It was lovely to be at the level where we could just sit and work with the director and get the performance that he really wanted for the film, confident that we were making it believable," said Letteri.


2. Leonard Nimoy in 'Star Trek Beyond'

Leonardo Nimoy Into DarknessLeonardo Nimoy in the 2013 film 'Star Trek Into Darkness.' (Photo: Star Trek Into Darkness)

American actor Leonard Nimoy, famous for playing the alien character Spock in the "Star Trek" franchise, was originally expected to cameo in the 2016 film "Star Trek Beyond." He later turned down the opportunity due to health reasons and sadly died in February 2015 at the age of 83. The producers chose to address his passing in the film with a tribute that takes the younger Spock, played by American actor Zachary Quinto, on a journey of self-discovery.

"(Quinto’s) Spock faces his own mortality with his own (future self) passing. It just seemed like such an incredibly Trekkie idea,” British actor Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the movie with American screenwriter Doug Jung, said in an interview. “We had become very close to Leonard and loved the idea of this becoming part of Zach’s Spock journey. It seemed cosmically right, a fitting tribute to one of 'Star Trek's' iconic faces."

According to Nimoy's son Adam, his father would have been appreciative of the manner in which the film addressed his passing.

"They’ve told me that in a way he was still there," he said of the cast and crew. "He had such an influence on them, on validating what they were doing and passing the torch to them because he participated in this reincarnation, these new installments, that they could still feel his spirit. He was very appreciative and respectful of the work they were doing, and I think they really felt that.”


3. Peter Cushing in 'Rogue One'

LucasfilmFrom left: The final digital creation of the late Peter Cushing mapped onto the body double of actor Guy Henry. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

Should Carrie Fisher's role in "Episode IX" prove to be one that can't be easily diminished or addressed off-screen, producers may choose to complete her character's arc as a digital performance. In what's now a heartbreaking scene, the solo Star Wars film "Rogue One" recently showed how this might be possible by recreating a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in "Rogue One."

"To deliver on that moment of hopefulness, that is really underscored by the fact that you do get to see her face,” American film producer Kiri Hart said of the digital Fisher. “That’s the best possible use of effects, to enhance the meaning and the emotion of the experience for the viewer."

While Leia made an extremely brief appearance lasting only a few seconds, another digital performance lasting several minutes was created for Grand Moff Tarkin. This legendary big bad in the Star Wars universe was played by the late great British actor Peter Cushing, who passed away in 1994. After receiving permission from Cushing's estate, the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light and Magic sculpted a digital recreation of the actor's face over an on-set body double.

“We’re transforming the actor’s appearance to look like another character, but just using digital technology,” American John Knoll, CCO of Industrial Light and Magic, told the New York Times. He added that while the end result is satisfying, it's still a very sensitive decision to pursue.

“It is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to do," he said. "I don’t imagine anybody engaging in this kind of thing in a casual manner. We’re not planning on doing this digital re-creation extensively from now on. It just made sense for this particular movie."

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