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UPDATE: It is with tremendous sorrow that we now report that Carrie Fisher has passed away following the heart attack she suffered at the end of last week. You can read more details about the recent developments here.
In the past three days, Star Wars fans the world over have put out their best thoughts and wishes for the health of Carrie Fisher. We were completely shocked when news came out this past Friday that the actress had suffered a heart attack, and just the idea of Princess Leia not being with us anymore has haunted us all. This is primarily because Fisher is a wonderful performer who has been entertaining us for decades, but also because her most iconic character is currently positioned to play a crucial role in the future of the Star Wars franchise.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was in development, we had no idea how sizable Princess Leia's role would be in the future of the saga. It turned out that she didn't end up having a lot of screen time in the J.J. Abrams film, but she is now set up to be at the very center of everything that goes down in Rian Johnson's Episode VIII, and potentially Colin Trevorrow's Episode IX. Why? Because no other character has as large a web of connections to key figures, not to mention plays as important a role within the politics of the larger universe.
To start with the broad strokes, Princess Leia Organa is now referred to as General Leia Organa because by the time we catch up with her in Star Wars: The Force Awakens she has become the leader of the entire Resistance. As we learn from her conversation with Han Solo, she could never fully leave the fight against totalitarian forces behind her, and returned to the world she knows best when her family fell apart. This led her to rise in the ranks, and by the time that 30 years had passed after the Battle of Endor, she was put in charge. Given that we expect the Resistance to continue to play a key role in the fight against the First Order in Episode VIII and Episode IX (duh), the woman calling all of the shots and making the critical decisions for the group is just a bit important.
Even if Leia's part as the leader of the Resistance does get minimized, however, (Mon Mothma wasn't exactly a main character in the original trilogy), what the future movies most definitely can't ignore are the ways in which she is linked to other vital individuals in the saga -- including the franchise's new central antagonist, Adam Driver's Kylo Ren a.k.a. Ben Solo. The fact that Leia is the mother of one of the most dangerous individuals in the universe is a notably big deal. If there is any part of the light side that still exists within the wannabe-Sith lord, she is surely one of the few people who might be able to bring it out.
Of course, a significant part of this is the fact that Leia also happens to be Kylo/Ben's only surviving parent as well -- the new villain killing his father, Han Solo, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This not only increases the importance of the relationship between Leia and her son, but also creates important emotional baggage for the character that Episode VIII will definitely need to address. Considering J.J. Abrams has spoken about his regret not handling Leia's grief properly in the seventh chapter of the sci-fi franchise, we hope that the direct sequel will adjust and fix that.
Last but far from least is the fact that Leia happens to be the sister of the legendary Luke Skywalker. The Force Awakens obviously didn't have to really address this because Luke was missing for 99 percent of the blockbuster, but that won't be the case in Episode VIII, as Rey will presumably be bringing him out of hiding. Because the big sibling reveal didn't happen until Return of the Jedi, fans have never really seen much of Leia and Luke spending sister-brother time together, and as a result it's one of more anticipated elements of the future Saga films.
While Rian Johnson completed principal photography on Star Wars: Episode VIII this past year, the secrecy surrounding the production means that we know next to nothing about what's actually happening in the movie. That being said, given everything we've gone over here, we expect that Princess/General Leia Organa will be playing a significant part in what happens in the Star Wars universe from this point forward.