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What really happened during Leia's final moments in The Rise of Skywalker - Exclusive

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker served as a final act for every character in the Skywalker saga, but it went above and beyond to honor Princess Leia and the actress who played her — the late, great Carrie Fisher. Fisher, who passed away in 2016, gets top billing in the film, as Leia is crucial to the Resistance's efforts to topple Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and the First Order.

And yet, because Fisher's appearance in The Rise of Skywalker was stitched together from unused footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi — and because The Rise of Skywalker is a crowded film that has a ton of plot to get through — not everyone has found Leia's big send-off perfectly clear. Looper recently spoke with The Rise of Skywalker editor Maryann Brandon to figure out exactly what went down during Leia's climactic moment. Here's what Brandon had to say.

Warning: Major Rise of Skywalker spoilers to follow.

Love conquers all in The Rise of Skywalker

Leia's final moments in the Skywalker saga come as Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren duel on the remains of the second Death Star, which crashed on the Endor moon Kef Bir. Summoning all of her strength, Leia reaches out to her son through the Force and utters a single word: Kylo's real name, Ben. Distracted, Kylo drops his lightsaber. Rey stabs him, and Leia passes away.

It's a moment that's caused some confusion among fans. Is Leia simply trying to distract Kylo, saving Rey's life and bringing about Kylo's downfall? Is she channeling the Force into the vision of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) that appears to Ben, as some rumors have suggested? Is it something else entirely? 

According to Brandon, the answer is a lot simpler than the fan theories would have you believe. She explained, "The important thing is that it took all her power to do the thing that [Leia] had been afraid to do, which was to reach out to stop [Kylo] from causing more pain and to come back to her."

That's it — Leia simply reaches out to Kylo to let him know that, despite everything he's done, he's still loved. That's enough to turn Ben back to the light.

Brandon then noted that the scene with Kylo's father Han Solo, which takes place a few minutes later, isn't directly connected to this one. Screenwriter Chris Terrio explained to The Hollywood Reporter that the Han scene is more of a dramatization of what's happening in Kylo's mind. In that moment, he confronts the memory of his father, and receives permission to forgive himself.

Viewed in that light, Leia's final moments are a lovely sendoff to the character, and help wrap up her arc over the Star Wars sequel trilogy. In The Force Awakens, Leia sends Han to retrieve Kylo, but doesn't go herself. In The Last Jedi, Leia says that her son is dead. In The Rise of Skywalker, she finally summons all of her courage and rescues Ben from the Emperor's clutches, even knowing that it's the last thing she'll ever do.

Don't hold out hope for a director's cut of The Rise of Skywalker

If you have a different interpretation of the scene, Brandon hopes you'll hang on to it. "Isn't that the beauty of it? That people can have all sorts of theories?" she said. "I love that people can think what they want to think."

In fact, Brandon said she does similar things while editing: "When I cut a film I'll try to do that too, like, think of a big theory and be like, can I cut it so it has this meaning? And oftentimes, that helps me find another meaning in something."

Just don't think that the rumored "J.J. cut" of The Rise of Skywalker will further explain Leia's final moments. According to Brandon, a director's cut of the film doesn't exist. Refuting rumors that Disney recut The Rise of Skywalker from 2 hours and 37 minutes to 2 hours and 22 minutes without J.J. Abrams' approval, Brandon stated, "[Abrams] was involved in every aspect of the movie. 100 percent involved." Regarding talk of a director's cut sitting unreleased in a Disney vault, Brandon added, "If there is one I had nothing to do with it. And I can't imagine there is because [J. J.] was with me the entire time."

Further, Brandon said that Disney brass didn't force her or Abrams to add or delete anything from the film in the cutting room, and that they were nothing but supportive. In fact, Brandon had such a good experience working with Disney and Lucasfilm that she said she'd jump at the opportunity to edit another Star Wars film, although she seems hesitant to come back to make a Rise of Skywalker: Special Edition. "I think we made the Special Edition [already]," she said. "There isn't one to do."

Brandon concluded, "I am a huge fan of Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm. Everyone who works there has been so great to me. [Between] Stefan Grube and Michelle Rejwan and Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, there was not one irresponsible moment that we had on this movie, not one moment where we weren't working to make the best movie.... I feel like we really did put out the best film we could."

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.