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Carrie Fisher almost skipped the first ‘Star Wars’ premiere, if not for her brother. His farewell to Leia

Carrie Fisher made her debut as Princess Leia in George Lucas' 1977 movie, released by 20th Century Fox.
(20th Century Fox)

Carrie Fisher was nervously chainsmoking.

It was May 25, 1977, the night that “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” (then just “Star Wars”) opened to the public, and the Princess Leia actress was dreading going inside.

No theater even wanted to show the movie; it was released quietly on a Wednesday, on just a few dozen screens. Its distributor, 20th Century Fox, was positioning “The Other Side of Midnight” as its big summer hit.

But Todd Fisher was shrugging off the pressure, just focused on getting his big sister to sit down. She wasn’t making it easy.

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“This is the end of my career,” he remembers her telling him.

Attendees await the May 25, 1977, opening of the original "Star Wars" at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, one of very few theaters to initially screen it.
(Mann’s Chinese Theatre )

Todd Fisher recalled the pinnacle night to The Times at Monday’s world premiere of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the final episode of the nine-part saga. The movie opens nationwide Friday.

He continued, “I’m like, ‘Look we gotta go in. They’re starting the freaking movie. We gotta go in.’ ”

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The siblings were close, born two years apart and the children of the high-profile Hollywood couple Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

When Todd finally convinced Carrie to see herself onscreen, they were forced to sit in the front row of what was then called Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

Then, the lights dimmed.

The first battle started.

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Todd looked over at Carrie as she squeezed his hand. “I said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about your career. This is no B-movie.’ ”

Now, as the conclusion to the nine-film saga inspired by the original opens Friday, Todd Fisher reflects on what Carrie’s legacy as royalty in a galaxy far, far away has meant to the family, and how it feels to watch without his sister by his side. Carrie Fisher died at age 60 in 2016.

“The idea that Carrie has been and is part of it is magical to us,” he shared. “As Carrie’s brother, I can’t help but to love this moment. I was with her at all the other premieres. It’s a little bittersweet, but I’ll be OK.

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“I certainly feel like her presence is here, and I know that her heart and soul is so intertwined in this story that really makes her here,” he said as his wife, Catherine Hickland, stood beside him. She was wearing the diamond necklace of her mother-in-law, Reynolds, who died a day after Carrie.

Todd Fisher at the memorial for his mother, Debbie Reynolds, and sister Carrie Fisher at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles on March 25, 2017.
Todd Fisher at the memorial for his mother, Debbie Reynolds, and sister Carrie Fisher at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles in March 2017.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

How ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ team pulled off Leia’s return

Since Carrie Fisher died before filming of her “Star Wars” story was finished, “The Rise of Skywalker” filmmakers asked the family if they could use unused footage of her from 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

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Todd Fisher’s response was, “I’m in. All the way in. I knew Carrie would want it.”

Writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams reverse-engineered scenes of the actress for the final installment, instead of employing the controversial technique of using CGI to bring back stars after their deaths.

Abrams explained the decision to The Times: “I think the key to making it work was the performances of the other actors, because Carrie was great in the footage, but would it work? Would it feel like it was rhythmically happening? And I think it does.

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“It’s a testament to all sorts of stuff that was done, but mostly to the actors who did an incredible job,” he said on the blue carpet of Monday’s world premiere.

Film editor Maryann Brandon knew those repurposed scenes intimately because she edited them for the seventh movie, “The Force Awakens.” She was initially skeptical about using the footage and asked Abrams if they could write a different story.

“And he was like, ‘No, we can’t.’ And he was 100% right,” she said. Once on board, Brandon took the job seriously.

“I felt very obligated to Carrie because on [‘Force Awakens’], there were a few moments where we were alone together where she said, ‘Do I look OK? Make me look good.’

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“And I’d be like, ‘Carrie, it’s my job to make you look good. And I love you. I’m totally invested.’ It was a big commitment that I had made to her.”

Carrie Fisher and her daughter, Billie Lourd, attended the premiere of 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" together in Hollywood. Lourd acts in the final three movies of the nine-part saga.
Carrie Fisher and her daughter, Billie Lourd, attended the premiere of 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” together in Hollywood. Lourd acts in the final three movies of the nine-part saga.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Todd Fisher feels “CGI is obviously not the best solution to these things” and is grateful the filmmakers pulled it off. But seeing Carrie back on screen is bittersweet.

“I think the family in general is happy about that. We all have mixed feelings about this. I can’t speak for [Carrie’s daughter and ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ actress] Billie [Lourd], but I can tell you that for me, when I watch this, it’s hard.”

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In the moments before Todd would see Leia’s parting scenes, he gave a nod to the franchise’s message: “No one is ever really gone.”

“She is with us tonight. The Force — we believe in the spirit realm and she’s there. She’s looking down on all of us and to have her in the movie, I think is going to be magical.”


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