Leia's return for the new films was perhaps the most central to the plot
The last survivors of Star Wars, created by George Lucas 42 years ago, reunite on the big screen for a final time Friday in the nostalgic conclusion to the epic Skywalker saga -- led by a screen legend who has departed this galaxy.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker serves as a swansong to the genre-defining, nine-film series for stalwarts such as Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) and, in particular, the late Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia).
Thanks to some innovative repurposing of footage shot during the previous Star Wars installments, Fisher improbably remains at the center of a movie released three years after her death.
"The idea of continuing the story without Leia wasn't a possibility, and there was no way we were going to do a digital Leia," said director JJ Abrams at a news conference near Los Angeles.
"And there was no way, of course, we would ever recast it."
But of the original cast, Leia's return for the new films was perhaps the most central to the plot.
Her idealistic, scrappy young princess from the first films has become a wise mentor to the new generation of Resistance heroes such as Rey (Daisy Ridley) -- and the mother of the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Living cast members -- including her real-life daughter Billie Lourd -- shot scenes and dialogue that could be meshed with those featuring Fisher from the cutting-room floor.
"Ending these nine films, Carrie was such a big part of all that," said Kelly Marie Tran, 30, who plays plucky Resistance mechanic Rose Tico.
"So for me personally there was a lot of wanting to honor this thing and do right by this thing -- and I think that she's pretty effing incredible in this movie!"