Director J.J. Abrams spoke at length about Carrie Fisher during D23’s Walt Disney Studios panel on Saturday, saying that the late Princess Leia actress is “the heart of” the final installment in the Skywalker saga.

“The character of Leia is really, in a way, the heart of this story,” Abrams said. “We realized we could not possibly tell the end of these nine films without Leia. We realized that we had footage from Episode VII,’and we could use it in a new way.”

Fisher died on Dec. 27, 2016, at the age of 60, and had already completed filming on her role in “The Last Jedi.” It was announced last summer that Fisher’s family had approved previous footage of her being used for Episode IX, titled “The Rise of Skywalker.”

“As we, her family, as well as her extended family of fans around the world so believe, Carrie’s Princess Leia is forever entrenched in the franchise and her indelible presence is fundamental to the film,” Fisher’s brother Todd said in a statement at the time. “J.J. Abrams understood Carrie’s iconic role, and he has masterfully re-crafted this final entry to include this unused and very last footage of Carrie ever taken, without resorting to CGI or animatronics.”

The rest of the main cast from the new trilogy returns for “The Rise of Skywalker,” including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran and the long-awaited return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” hits theaters on Dec. 20.