For devoted fans of Princess Leia Organa, nothing could be more bittersweet than the knowledge that Star Wars: Episode IX was supposed to be her movie. After Carrie Fisher finished shooting The Last Jedi in July 2016, she told producer Kathleen Kennedy that she wanted Leia to be “at the forefront” of the next film, just like her fellow Galactic Civil War veterans Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi and Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kennedy told Vanity Fair that she agreed: Leia deserved her own chapter of the trilogy. Five months later, Fisher died, and The Last Jedi suddenly became General Leia’s swan song. (Or porg song, as it were.) Fortunately, Fisher makes a hell of an exit, claiming some of the film’s most emotional and dramatic moments as her own. Still, her story is open-ended. At the end of The Last Jedi, Leia is not only alive; she’s the biggest celebrity the Resistance has to offer. It’s going to be difficult for Episode IX writer-director J.J. Abrams to explain Leia’s absence, let alone give her the sendoff she deserves. But maybe it’s not impossible.
The first thing to consider, when contemplating an ending for Leia, is that Rian Johnson gifted her with a near-complete story arc in The Last Jedi. As the leader of the Resistance, Leia begins the movie attempting to hold on to hope even as her numbers dwindle and her estranged son personally tries to blow up her ship. By the film’s conclusion, she has shown the next generation of leaders how to move the rebellion forward with the same ingenuity and compassion that led to their triumph in Return of the Jedi. Along the way, Leia gets a few scenes that are particularly gratifying for original trilogy fans. The princess who watched helplessly while Lando betrayed her friends in The Empire Strikes Back takes down the mutinous Poe with a blaster set on stun. The princess who spent years ignorant of her own Force powers uses them to dramatic effect, manipulating not just a lightsaber or pile of rocks but her own body through space. And finally, the twin sister of Luke Skywalker is reunited with her brother in a funny and touching scene that proves they’ve somehow managed to become a real family.