Fans already knew that Abrams plans toof Fisher in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which comes out in December, but the director spoke about the details at Disney's D23 fan expo Saturday in California.
"Carrie as Leia gets to be in the film," Abrams said. And he told a panel audience that he felt there was something fated about that fact. Abrams said that Fisher wrote a note giving "special thanks to J.J. Abrams for putting up with me twice," but at the time, he'd directed the actress only once. So it felt to him as if his work with the footage was inevitable.
Abrams later told Entertainment Tonight that he didn't feel the Skywalker saga could be ended by simply saying Leia had died, or pretending the character was simply somewhere else. Fisher could never have been recast, he said, so the existing footage was a natural solution.
"And still, maybe now more than ever, it's impossible to me that she's gone, because she's so alive in the film," he told ET. "We don't know how to do it without her, and so having her be part of the movie in a way that I think she'd be proud of is very meaningful."
John Boyega, who plays Finn, told ET that it was "so important" to have Fisher in the film, "for the story, for the hope for the Resistance, for ... leadership within that universe."
Boyega went on to say that "to not continue ... with Carrie's character in a way that's so respectful to her and her legacy and to Star Wars in itself would've been unfortunate."
Abrams hadn't expected to make another Star Wars film after directing 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
"So, every day on the set, every day I'm working on post, every day like this, where you go out and sort of present something, it is a very meaningful thing, especially knowing I won't be doing this with them again," he told ET. "So, I'm nothing but grateful to everyone involved."
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes to theaters on Dec. 20, 2019.
New, showing Daisy Ridley's Rey using a double-bladed red lightsaber, was revealed during D23, and might come to the internet on Monday.