Carrie Fisher would have led next 'Star Wars' before her sudden death

LOS ANGELES, May 24 (Reuters) - Late actress Carrie Fisher was supposed to be the leading force of the ninth film in the "Star Wars" saga, plans derailed by her sudden death last year, Lucasfilm Ltd president Kathleen Kennedy said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Kennedy told Vanity Fair that Fisher, who died in December at age 60 after suffering a heart attack, had finished filming the forthcoming eighth film "The Last Jedi" and was hoping her character, General Leia Organa, would be the central figure of Episode IX.

"The minute she finished, she grabbed me and said, 'I'd better be at the forefront of IX!' because Harrison(Ford) was front and center on VII, and Mark (Hamill) is front and center on VIII. She thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been," Kennedy said.

Fisher rose to fame as Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars" franchise from 1977 to 1983, alongside Ford's roguish Han Solo and Hamill's Jedi fighter Luke Skywalker.

Ford bowed out of the series as his character was killed off in 2015's "The Force Awakens," that rebooted the "Star Wars" franchise with a new trilogy of films from Walt Disney Co.

While details of "The Last Jedi," due out on Dec. 15, have been kept secret, Vanity Fair said Fisher's role in the film was not affected by her death, other than making it "more poignant: the film farewell of both the actress and the character."

The yet-to-be-titled ninth film, due out in May 2019, has been reworked by Kennedy, director Colin Trevorrow and the Lucasfilm team, Vanity Fair said, and is due to start filming next year. Lucasfilm said earlier this year that it would not digitally recreate Fisher's likeness in future films.

Vanity Fair's feature celebrating the franchise's 40th anniversary, revealed details about new characters in "The Last Jedi" played by Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. It also provided tidbits from the set, such as a reported competition between Hamill and Fisher to see who could reach a million Twitter followers first.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Marla Dickerson)