Lucasfilm delighted Star Wars fans Friday (Apr 12) with a glimpse of Carrie Fisher in sneak-peek footage of the hotly-anticipated final episode of the space opera – more than two years after her death.
Director JJ Abrams told the US Star Wars Celebration event the writers had agonised over giving Fisher's beloved General Leia Organa a fitting send-off in the ninth installment, revealed as Star Wars IX: The Rise Of Skywalker.
"Every day it hits me that she is not here but it's so surreal because we're working with her still... she's in scenes," Abrams told the rapt crowd at the five-day event in Chicago.
A world-first trailer released at the convention – and dropped on the internet – reintroduced the "next generation" characters from the final three films alongside old favorites from as far back as the 1977 original, Star Wars IV: A New Hope.
They included Lando Calrissian, portrayed by the original actor Billy Dee Williams, and the voice only of Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker himself – who appeared to die in the last film but was widely expected to have some role in the latest movie.
"No one's ever really gone," Skywalker says in voiceover, as Leia hugs apprentice Jedi Rey, played by English actress Daisy Ridley, who has top billing in the latest of the three trilogies that makes up the long-running saga.
Abrams said it would not continue the story exactly where the last one – 2017's "Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi" – left off.
Leia was still alive at the end of 2017's The Last Jedi but the actress herself died a year earlier, in December 2016.
Disney said last year Fisher's role would be gleaned from previously unreleased footage from The Force Awakens, with the blessing of her daughter, Billie Lourd.
Abrams described the "weird miracle" of being able to continue Leia's story by looking at old footage.
Speaking at a panel discussion moderated by comedian and late night television host Stephen Colbert, the director said the film was in post-production.
It is not the first time Fisher's likeness has featured in a Star Wars movie despite being absent from its filming.
Rogue One, a 2016 spin-off from the main series, directed by Gareth Edwards, had been in theaters for a couple of weeks when Fisher's death from a heart attack was announced.
A much younger version of Fisher as Leia appears in that movie, thanks to the controversial application of computer wizardry to animate her image.
Cast members returning with Ridley for the final episode include Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran and Joonas Suotamo.
Naomi Ackie as a character called Jannah and Richard E Grant are among the new faces, while old Star Wars hand Anthony Daniels returns as C-3PO and Ian McDiarmid reappears as the dastardly Emperor Palpatine.