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It’s a fleeting scene in a busy, busy film that as we learned yesterday was crafted using dailies from Return of the Jedi, but now we learn via ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Patrick Tubach that Mark Hamill and Billie Lourd were the on-set performers behind the scenes we see in the final film.

ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Patrick Tubach says that Hamill played the “young” Luke in that sequence, and had his youthful appearance restored thanks to the magic of de-aging technology. But they also needed an actress to perform Leia’s role, someone whose face would be digitally replaced by a younger version of Fisher in the finished film. When the time came to shoot that scene, Abrams decided to keep the part in the family by asking Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd — who also plays Resistance lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix in the sequel trilogy — to take on the mantle of Leia. “Billie was playing her mother,” Tubach reveals, confirming rumors that first surfaced online this past spring. “It was a poignant thing, and something that nobody took lightly — that she was willing to stand in for her mom.”

How beautifully fitting that not only does Hamill return to his Return of the Jedi era Luke, but that Billie plays a younger Leia. Tubach continues.

Lourd’s performance as Leia lasts mere seconds in terms of screentime, but Tubach and the rest of Rise of Skywalker’s visual effects team understood the drama of the moment. “It was an emotional thing for everybody to see her in that position. It felt great for us, too. If you’re going to have someone play [Fisher’s] part, it’s great that it’s [Billie] because there are a lot of similarities between them that we were able to draw from. The real challenge was just making the Leia footage we had to work with fit in that scene.”

The limitations of that archival footage also meant that the flashback scene had to be kept short and sweet. “What you see is what we developed,” says visual effects supervisor, Roger Guyett, shooting down speculation that there might be a longer version of Leia’s Jedi training. “The idea was to provide this great surprise where they take the helmets off, and you see Luke and Leia’s younger faces. We scoured outtakes from the original movies, and we took some pieces and then had to try and figure out the technical aspect of putting that shot together.” As to whether Leia’s likeness might ever be used again in a future Star Wars movie, Guyett suggests that’s up to the actress’s family, particularly Lourd. “The truth is that Carrie was a friend of J.J. and Billie is a friend of J.J. They talked a lot about that, and I think the heart of it is the utmost respect for Carrie and her memory and her performance.”

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The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition (Star Wars)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Carson, Rae (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 03/17/2020 (Publication Date) - Del Rey (Publisher)