It has been less than a month since Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrived in theaters, but the discourse around the film has made it feel like eighty-four years. In what is the most divisive installment to the franchise yet, fans can’t seem to agree on anything: was Luke’s arc good or bad? Did Rey get pushed to the side or not? Was Canto Bight a world-opening excursion or a waste of a side plot? Are porgs friends or food? But throughout these fissures in the fandom, one topic has been danced around like Han Solo’s death was in The Force Awakens: What if The Last Jedi had killed Princess Leia?
Thanks to the cruel hand of reality, Carrie Fisher was stolen from us at the end of 2016. At the time, she’d already finished filming her scenes for The Last Jedi, and initial interviews suggested that TFA was Han’s movie, TLJ was Luke’s movie, and Episode IX would be Leia’s movie. But now that is impossible. It puts the franchise in an awkward place. Does Leia now die between episodes? Will she have a funeral in the next film? Does she simply get called away to the command the last of the Resistance/Rebels off-camera? Or will they find a way to splice Leia into the first act of Episode IX to give her an on-camera death? None of these options sounds appealing, much less a satisfying end to a legend who dedicated her life to galactic freedom.But what if Leia’s fake-out death scene had been the narrative conclusion for the iconic character? The moment the bridge blew apart, I was stunned. Lucasfilm had done it. They’d kept Leia’s death a secret for months. In my shocked grief, I forgot TV spots had shown her in costumes from later in the film. Logic surrendered to heartbreak. How would the Resistance go on without its biggest supporter? How would the new characters react to her loss? How would Luke react? These thoughts flitted across my mind chaotically, but, then it was over. Leia used the Force to save herself.
But what if? What if Leia had died in that moment? What would’ve been different? Just about everything.
1. KYLO REN’S STORY
The person who feels the most immediate ramifications would have been Leia’s son, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. Here is a man who has been relentless in his mantra to “Kill the past.” He has destroyed everything that ties him to his family history: his name, his Uncle’s Jedi temple, his father. Yet, when the moment comes for Ben to take out his mother, he simply can’t do it. Ben Solo loves his mother more than he hates everything. This is a huge leap forward in character development. In the moment the bridge exploded, he would have had to watch his mother die at the hands of his own minions. Now, Ben is not exactly a temperate man. I can only imagine him using the Force to slam the offending TIE Fighters together in rage.
Ben is already struggling between the Light and the Dark in The Last Jedi, and his mother’s death would complicate this. Who to blame? Snoke is an easy choice, but Ben’s rage at Luke could also increase. Luke could’ve saved her, but he didn’t. He chose passivity. His anger toward the status quo is already established in The Last Jedi, so does he simply blame the environment and stay the course on his inevitable, regrettable path? His ability to ever join Rey in finding balance is at once in serious jeopardy and one of his only options.
2. POE’S STORY
While Ben is Leia’s biological son, Poe Dameron is the surrogate. Her relationship with the brash pilot (remind you of anyone?) is parental though technically a mentorship. The Last Jedi spends the entire runtime teaching Poe that not every problem can be solved with a blaster or a bomb. His actions end with dozens, if not hundreds of casualties. Poe is the one in Leia’s hospital room after she Mary Poppins’ herself to safety and he is the one in sync with Leia’s plan to “Get out of range.” They clearly are very close.
Leia’s death would have sent Poe into a spiral of guilt and grief–his antics would have been partly responsible for her death. This kind of anguish could have fueled his irrational hostility toward Holdo in a fashion less steeped in sexism. Holdo’s long relationship with Leia would have resulted in even far less patience for Poe, whom she would see as the cause of her death. His mutiny would not have ended as amicably, and if he somehow survived that and escaped to Crait, he would have been in a reluctant, tenuous command. This would have ended with a gut-wrenching scene between Poe and Luke Skywalker.
3. LUKE’S STORY
This one hurts. Luke tried to restart the Jedi Order, and failed. He tried to teach his nephew how to control the Force, and failed. He sequestered himself from the galaxy in the hopes that a lack of Jedi would lead to more stability, and failed. Luke Skywalker ran away from his problems, his guilt, and (in his mind) the judgement of his family. But hiding doesn’t solve anything, and the First Order took advantage of that.
In The Last Jedi, Luke is allowed to atone for some of his mistakes. He reconciles with Leia before sacrificing himself to allow the Resistance to escape. But if Leia had died in the first act, Luke would have never seen his sister again, and one of the most tender moments of the film would have been tragically somber. Luke would have still sacrificed himself, but he would not have ever come close to forgiving himself. His final moments would be tinged with despair rather than hope.
4. REY’S STORY
We don’t know much about how Rey felt about Leia. They were rarely on-screen together. But an educated guess based on Rey’s quick and desperate loyalty to those she sees as parent figures indicates she would take Leia’s death hard. First, she lost Han; then Luke was a dissapointment. Couple that with the loss of the woman who sent her on afailed mission to Ahch-To, and Rey would likely waiver between despair that she couldn’t save her and rage at Luke and Ben for their roles in Leia’s demise. However, were she still able to ultimately achieve balance, Rey would have to learn acceptance.
5. THE RESISTANCE’S STORY
What is the Resistance with General Leia Organa? Without Admiral Ackbar? Without any of the leadership that has been guiding the ship for decades. Who steps into the void? Not Holdo, who sacrifices herself to save the many. Not Maz, who is obviously dealing with her own problems. Poe is certainly too green for the job. Maybe Lando, who is off doing who knows what? Maybe Mon Mothma, who is also MIA? The true strength of any military is what happens when the leaders are martyred. Do they fade away into the annals of history, or rise up and avenge their fallen leaders?
6. THE AUDIENCE
Think about your first viewing of The Last Jedi, and the moment Leia closed her eyes, drifting in space. Now imagine that feeling seeping into the very marrow of the film. While Luke is refusing to train Rey, we know Leia is dead. While Kylo Ren is throwing a rage tantrum in the elevator, we know Leia is dead. While Finn and Rose try to find the Codebreaker, Leia is dead. Her loss would have colored every action, the void where she should be reminding us of the stakes. You would have likely felt cheated by such an ignoble death for the icon, and the fantasy world of Star Wars would have felt uncomfortably close to actuality.
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