In the wake of actress Carrie Fisher’s passing, Disney has decided to finish her role as Princess Leia in the new Star Wars trilogy by making use of repurposed footage.
This, I believe, is a very bad idea.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, just for fun, Fisher dressed up in her Leia costume and filmed herself saying and doing things that will seamlessly blend in with the plot of "Star Wars: Episode IX" and resolve the character arc that was hinted at in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But this strikes me as unlikely. The reality is that this approach has been tried a number of times, but never with any degree of success.
If you doubt me, you may want to watch 1982’s “The Trail of the Pink Panther,” the final film featuring Peter Sellers in the role of Inspector Clouseau, despite the fact that Sellers had died 18 months prior to the beginning of production.
“Trail” is the cinematic equivalent of a TV clip show as characters reminisce about Clouseau’s misadventures, providing a loose framework to show footage from the previous films in the series.
The movie bombed, but, not willing to leave well enough alone, the producers made another sequel, “The Curse of the Pink Panther,” which tried to introduce a new lead character who spends all his time looking for Clouseau, played this time by James Bond star Roger Moore, who performed the role as if he were Peter Sellers after extensive plastic surgery. Needless to say, that movie bombed, too, and deservedly so.
Perhaps the most notorious example of repurposed footage is the classic “Plan Nine from Outer Space,” widely regarded as the worst movie of all time. Over the years, director Ed Wood had filmed incidental footage of his friend Bela Lugosi picking flowers and doing other uneventful things, and, after his death, he shoehorned all of it into a cheesy sci-fi epic about alien grave robbers.
Lugosi gets top billing due to his “Dracula” fame, but Wood only had one shot with Lugosi in full vampire regalia, and he uses it in the film three different times. For most of the movie, Lugosi’s role is played by Wood’s chiropractor, who spends the entire movie with a black cape held up to cover his face so that, hopefully, the audience doesn’t realize he doesn’t look anything like Lugosi.
Filmmakers fare a little better when the repurposed footage is a deliberate choice rather than a stopgap measure. “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” which depicts Steve Martin interacting with stars like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant using clips from old film noir classics, is actually quite a lot of fun, mainly because the repurposed footage is part of the joke.
And “Forrest Gump” was somewhat effective in inserting Tom Hanks into news clips with dead presidents and pop stars, but you are never able to suspend disbelief long enough to think that these moments are anything more than a clever visual gimmick.
Perhaps the most successful use of repurposed footage can be found in the 2006 movie “Superman Returns,” where Marlon Brando makes another appearance as Superman’s father, Jor-El. It works because Brando was playing a character who had died long before he makes an appearance in the movie, and his performance was supposed to be a posthumous recording.
Princess Leia doesn’t have that luxury. She is still a vital part of the ongoing Star Wars story, and any attempt to cobble together a performance out of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage is bound to be disappointing. The best way to respect Fisher’s legacy is to recast her role to give her beloved character a proper sendoff.