Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker's CGI-free Carrie Fisher is 'shockingly successful'

"She's beautiful in the film," promises Episode IX editor Maryann Brandon.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films | TV | Movies | Television | Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read
Enlarge Image

The late Carrie Fisher appears as General Leia in The Rise of Skywalker.


Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker is "breathtaking," promises one of the filmmakers currently putting the finishing touches to the climactic space adventure. And the movie's editor, Maryann Brandon, a frequent collaborator with director J.J. Abrams, also believes the film delivers a "respectful" and "shockingly successful" use of footage of the late Carrie Fisher.

Among the spectacular space action, Brandon singles out a water-based action scene in particular as being "just crazy breathtaking." But she promises more than just eye-popping effects: "I'm really excited for this film because it's emotional and mature," she says, admitting she fought back tears a few times while working on certain scenes. "It's taking Star Wars to a really proper ending for the saga."

The Rise of Skywalker opens in the UK and Australia on Dec. 19 and the US on Dec. 20.

One of the most emotional aspects of the film will no doubt be the appearance of General Leia following the death of actor Fisher's death in 2016. Brandon is quick to point out that Fisher has not been recreated with CG digital effects. Instead, Leia's part in the film was crafted by Abrams and writer Chris Terrio based around unused footage the editors pulled together from the filming of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

"We were very careful to be respectful and absolutely true to her," says Brandon. "She's beautiful in the film. It's shockingly successful."

Brandon edited the film with Stefan Grube, and began work on day one of filming. It was a tight schedule as the film was a couple of months behind following the departure of original director Colin Trevorrow.

Brandon only finished the bulk of her work the day before Thanksgiving. When we spoke on the phone a couple of days later she was still tinkering, although she concedes that's pretty typical for a movie with lots of CG visual effects created in post-production.

In the cut

Having begun her movie career in the mid-1980s, Brandon has worked with JJ Abrams since his action-packed TV show Alias. She edited Mission: Impossible III, the 2009 Star Trek reboot and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness before taking on a new Star Wars trilogy in The Force Awakens with fellow editor Mary Jo Markey.

Brandon describes editing as like telling a joke -- or rather, repeating a joke. "Retelling it, I'd add how I'd tell that joke," she says, "with the pauses and the breaths and the emphasis. It's how I see the story and what I want to let you know or what I want to to hold back."

Enlarge Image

The stars of Star Wars gather one last time.

Walt Disney Pictures

Editors work with directors to choose different takes or assemble certain lines and reactions from different takes. They decide which faces to focus on in a given moment -- for instance, do they show the character saying the line, or the character reacting to the line? And they make choices about how long to linger over each shot and let the audience feel the emotion of the moment before cutting to something or someone else.

An example of a tough editing job is the pivotal scene in The Force Awakens when bad guy Kylo Ren kills his father, the beloved Han Solo. "We were really careful about how to do it and whose point of view to see it through," Brandon says.

The scene is filled with tension as Kylo searches his feelings, depicted in intimate close-ups of actors Harrison Ford and Adam Driver mixed with quick reaction shots of Chewbacca and other characters observing at a distance. "We had to choose when to come in for the decision, to see the decision on Ren's face," remembers Brandon of the devastating moment when Ren silences his father's heartfelt pleas with a thrust of his lightsaber. They discussed "whether to have Han realize that Ren's really going to do it, or to make it a complete shocker. We decided if you make it a complete shock, then it's not as emotional."

 "The hardest thing in this scene was to make an audience understand that it was a painful choice for Kylo Ren -- and yet he had to be satisfied with what he did."

2019 movies to geek out over

See all photos
Watch this: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Official Trailer (2019)