J.J. Abrams Says Carrie Fisher's Leia Is an 'Active Part' of 'Rise of Skywalker' (Exclusive)

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Carrie Fisher may be gone, but she'll play an integral role in Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

ET's Nischelle Turner spoke with the film's director, J.J. Abrams, on Saturday at D23 after the film's presentation, about the lofty task of taking unused footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens in order to ensure that the upcoming film includes Princess Leia.

"We couldn't figure out how to tell the end of the Skywalker Saga without Leia and, you know, saying that she had passed away, saying that she was somewhere else…there was no way," the 53-year-old filmmaker admitted. "And we realized we could never recast it and we didn't want to do a CG character, so we actually realized there was footage we could use, that we could literally write scenes around and suddenly have as an active part of this movie and she's great in the film. And still, maybe now more than ever, it's impossible to me that she's gone because she's so alive in the film."

"We don't know how to do it without her and so having be part of the movie in a way that I think she'd be proud of is very meaningful," Abrams added.

Fisher died on Dec. 27, 2016 from sleep apnea and "other undetermined causes." The L.A, County Medical Examiner's office later revealed that other conditions, including atherosclerotic heart disease and drug use, contributed to her death. She was 60.

On Saturday, Abrams also discussed the immense boost of energy and support he got from D23 as he's deep in the process of editing the film.

"The fans bring such an energy, especially when you're focused on trying to finish a movie in post-production, which can be a very lonely, cavernous kind of thing," he stated. "To come out to a room like this, with 7,000 people, excited and cheering about something you're working on, it's a shot in the arm we all need."

"I was not originally supposed to do this movie, so I didn't think I'd be on the stage with them again at all," he said while discussing getting an opportunity to make a second Star Wars film after The Force Awakens. "So, every day on the set, every day I'm working on post, every day like this, where you go out and sort of present something, it is a very meaningful thing, especially knowing I won't be doing this with them again. So, I'm nothing but grateful to everyone involved." 

Keri Russell, who worked with Abrams on Felicity, is also appearing in The Rise of Skywalker, marked a reunion for the duo.

"Keri is obviously one of my dearest friends and she obviously could not be more of a talented person basically did me a solid by agreeing to be in the movie, so I got to work with Keri again, which was something that I always love to do," he said.

The presentation featured appearances by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Russell and Billy Dee Williams, who's reprising Lando Calrissian. A new evocative poster for the film (shown above) and some new details, including info on Russell's character, were also revealed.

"I can't wait for you to meet Zorri. She's incredibly cool and a bit shady," Russell said of her mysterious character, revealing that her character is a "criminal" and an old friend of Poe's (Oscar Isaac).

Star Wars: IX -The Rise of Skywalker arrives on Friday, Dec. 20. 

Get more news from D23 by checking out the ET live updates. ET also spoke with Williams at the expo, check how the chat below.

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