The future of 'Star Wars' without Princess Leia

Carrie Fisher's death is complicating things for Disney

What's "Star Wars" without Princess Leia? Disney will have to sort that out.

While fans and the cast and crew of the beloved films mourn the death Carrie Fisher, questions have arisen about how the actress' passing will affect the sci-fi franchise going forward.

Fisher completed filming the yet unnamed "Star Wars: Episode VIII" back in July, taking on a larger role than that of her cameo appearance in "The Force Awakens," according to Deadline.

However, Disney and LucasFilm have not commented on how Fisher's death will affect the completion of "Episode VIII" or impact the script and filming of "Episode IX."

"The fact that we are talking about this shows how woven into the DNA of 'Star Wars' Carrie Fisher is," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, told CNBC. "This is no small thing."

With limited information about General Leia's story arc in the forthcoming films, fans and analysts can only speculate about how Disney will handle the loss of the iconic actress and character.

What will be the fate of Princess Leia?

Script doctors

Following the death of Paul Walker, a key player in the "Fast and Furious" films, writer Chris Morgan was tasked with rewriting the script of "Furious 7" to allow Walker's character to exit the series using footage that had already been shot during production.

Morgan rejiggered the script to account for Walker's absence and the production team used a combination of CGI and Walker's younger brothers as stand-ins to get the shots they needed to complete the film.

A similar fate could await future "Star Wars" films. While Fisher had finished her scenes for "Episode VIII," Disney could decide to alter the script to explain Leia's absence in future films. The film is slated to hit theaters in Dec. 2017.

Lionsgate, following the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2014, opted to diminish the actor's role in the final installment of the "Hunger Games" franchise instead of digitally recreating the actor for the scenes he had yet to film.

The writers used the footage they had of Hoffman to complete several scenes and gave some of his character's dialogue and actions to other characters.

It is unclear how integral the character of Leia is for "Episode IX" and if more script alterations will be necessary before its release in 2019.

Disney has already planned to release a standalone Han Solo film in 2018, which will give the production team time to make major alterations to the final film in the new trilogy, if that is the direction they decide to head in.

CGI General Leia

Audiences were treated to a familiar face while watching "Rogue One" in theaters this December. Instead of recasting the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, a character portrayed by the late Peter Cushing in the original trilogy, Director Gareth Edwards and the team at Industrial Light and Magic recreated him digitally.

Guy Henry, a British actor, was hired to preform the role of Tarkin during filming and was digitally altered in post-production to appear as Cushing.

This technique has raised some questions about the legal and ethical ramifications of portraying a deceased actor's likeness on film, but has set a precedent that could mean Fisher's Leia can still appear in "Episode IX" without altering the script.

Of course, Disney would likely have to receive permission from Fisher's estate to proceed with the digital replication, but since the production company holds copyright to her performance in "The Force Awakens" they may not have to.

"It's a somewhat novel area of law where, as a matter of best practice, they might seek out rights from the estate," Paul O'Brien, an associate attorney with Falcon, Jacobson & Gertler LLP, a New York law firm, told CNBC. "But if they had an agreement previously in place that allows them to create derivative works based on Carrie's prior performances they could be covered by that."

Disney was not immediately available for comment about this matter.

"Based on the divisive way that fans have reacted to the effects in 'Rogue One' and considering that her death will still be pretty fresh, I think they won't go the CGI route," Erik Davis, managing editor of Fandango, told CNBC. "Unless, it's to touch up a tiny bit, a fraction of a scene. Sort of the way 'Fast and Furious' did it with Paul Walker. I think that that would be the only case that they would use effects."

The opening crawl

If the production company decides to keep Fisher's performance in "Episode VIII" and make significant changes to the script for "Episode IX," fans could see Leia's absence explained in the opening crawl of the final film.

Disney could choose to kill the iconic character off screen or concoct a reason that Leia does not appear at the forefront of the narrative.

"If they want to keep 'Episode VIII' intact, if they are happy with the way it came out and they don't want to touch it, then yes, I think explaining where she is in the opening crawl in "Episode IX" makes sense," said Fandango's Davis. "However, it's Princess Leia, actually it's General Leia, I don't think you can really explain either the character's death or the character's disappearance from the franchise with words. I think you need to do something inside the story."

Davis expects that Disney will look to the Lucasfilm Story Group, a division of Lucasfilm responsible for determining all "Star Wars" canon, as well as "The Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams, "Episode VIII" director Rian Johnson and "Episode IX" director Colin Trevorrow to determine the best possible route for the both forwarding the franchise and honoring Fisher.

"You have the creative talent behind the 'Star Wars' movies that will deal with this in a very respectful and appropriate way," comScore's Dergarabedian said. "Somehow you will have to address it and be respectful to Carrie Fisher's family, the fans and 'Star Wars,' in that order."

Disclosure: CNBC's parent Comcast owns Fandango and Universal Pictures.

"Star Wars" icon Carrie Fisher dies at age 60