“The character of Leia is really, in a way, the heart of this story. When we were talking about this story we realized we could not possibly tell the end of these nine films without Leia,” Abrams said during the gathering in Anaheim.
Fisher died in December 2016 at age 60, after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.
Abrams revealed he still had unused footage of the beloved actress from The Force Awakens, and decided to use it in the finale of the original Skywalker saga.
“We realized we could use [it] in a new way so Carrie, as Leia, gets to be in the film,” he said.
Abrams noted that he wasn’t originally intended to direct the final film, but was inspired by something Fisher wrote about the future Star Wars project in her book The Princess Diarist, before she passed away.
“She was almost sort of supernaturally witty and magical in a way,” Abrams said.
He went on to recall that Fisher penned: “‘And special thanks to J.J. Abrams for putting up with me twice.’ Now, I had never worked with her before The Force Awakens and I wasn’t supposed to do this movie, so it was a classic Carrie thing to sort of write something like that and it could only mean one thing for me. And I could not be more excited to have you see her in her final performance.”
At D23, Abrams was joined by Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and nine stars from the film, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran and Billy Dee Williams, plus special appearances from R2-D2, BB-8 and the new droid D-O.
The movie’s official poster was also unveiled, and shows Rey and Kylo Ren facing off against the backdrop of an ominous electrical storm.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens domestically on Dec. 20, 2019.