How 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Pays Tribute to the Late Carrie Fisher

'Episode VIII' marks the actress' final appearance as Princess-turned-General Leia, and her unplanned send-off proves as moving as anticipated.

Spoilers below for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an emotional film, for many reasons, markedly because it is the last time the late Carrie Fisher will appear onscreen as Princess-cum-General Leia Organa. I made it to the end in one piece, though, a bit misty eyed perhaps and with the occasional ache of melancholy, until a dedication played midway through the credits: "In Loving Memory of Our Princess, Carrie Fisher."

Then everything came bubbling up and the theater chose that moment, as a truly unexpected amount of tears sprung forth, to flip on the house lights. And, of course, I wasn't alone. Looking around at the other damp, red eyes, the blotchy, streaked cheeks, it was and still is unfathomable to imagine what the next Star Wars episode will be like without Carrie as Leia, to think of how her absence will be explained away. (Episode IX was meant to be her showcase, as The Force Awakens was for Harrison Ford and The Last Jedi is for Mark Hamill, however Kathleen Kennedy has confirmed that Fisher will not make any posthumous appearances.) And so I won't. I'll leave that for another day, for other people.

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Instead, I want to highlight two of Fisher's final scenes as Leia, because as hard as it may be to watch her this time, knowing she's gone now, she is as great as she's even been in this role. The first is between Leia and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (played by franchise newcomer Laura Dern). Holdo pops up early on as Leia's second-in-command and apparent longtime mentee, one of those movie setups where we're supposed to assume she has been somewhere just off-screen all this time. But in the hands of Dern and Fisher, their dynamic feels lived in, their care for one another authentic. When Holdo announces her intention to go down with their doomed ship, to sacrifice herself for the betterment of her people, the women share a brief moment -- a goodbye that culminates with the well-worn line, "May the force be with you" -- that is so tender, so suddenly moving that, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it took my breath away.

"My favorite memory [of Carrie] is held in the experience of this performance," Dern told ET. "It's such a remarkable tribute to Leia and to the wisdom and the heart and sass and brilliance of Carrie. The fact that we have that is such a gift...Being part of this movie was a reminder of someone who really led the path of being shame-free about self and being everything that she was, and expecting that of everyone else. And that is an incredible gift."

The other scene I hinted at in my Last Jedi review, remarking on the thrill of seeing Hamill's Luke Skywalker reunited with certain other characters from the original trilogy. That applies to R2-D2 and the like, sure, but especially to Luke and Leia, reunited for the first time since 1983's Return of the Jedi. Force projection or not -- thank god Hamill and Fisher filmed together one last time before she left. The scene, as crafted by director Rian Johnson, is not as space operatic as might be expected. It is quiet, most of what's left to be said doesn't need to be in the end, and instead the two lightly banter, a spirited spark reignited, a fond warmth restored. Fisher, of course, gets the best lines, her gravely voice so full of life, from having lived so much life. If it ends up feeling like a moment more for Carrie and Mark than Leia and Luke, well, either way, it's special.

"We had such a passionate relationship," Hamill remembered. "We were mad for each other and then we were mad at each other and not speaking. In a way, it was odd because we were pretend space twins, but over the years we sort of nurtured that." Despite having real siblings of their own, he says, their relationship carried less baggage. "We reached a point in our lives where there was real comfort zone. She could relax around me because she knew who I was, she knew I hadn't changed in all those years...and as funny as she was, I could also make her laugh and she loved that."

"I always thought she's sort of like latter day Auntie Mame," Hamill added, "just living life to the fullest. Every moment is like your last." It's only appropriate that Fisher's last onscreen moments, no matter how unplanned, are a blazing, beautiful call to action, an enduring inspiration for the rest of us rebels in her resistance.