Nothing less than an escort of Praetorian Guards could start the Star Wars The Last Jedi Press Junket Q&A! I'm just not sure if they were there to keep us, the press, in line, or to keep the cast from telling us anything that might resemble a spoiler. Hmm. Either way, this kind of moment is something that every Star Wars fan dreams of, sitting in the room with the entire main cast on stage. The only thing missing of course was Carrie Fisher, but as they pointed out she was there in spirit, giving the finger from the back of the room.
The Last Jedi is a sequel to The Force Awakens but also the 7th in a series of films. The cast shares what they think differentiates The Last Jedi from The Force Awakens and also The Empire Strikes Back as a second film in a trilogy.
Rian Johnson: It’s a second movie in the trilogy and I think we’ve been kind of trained to expect it’ll be a little darker and obviously it looks a little darker. I loved the tone of the original films and also The Force Awakens of fun. First and foremost we were trying to make it feel like a Star Wars movie. And that means you have the intensity and you’ve got the opera, but it also means that it makes you come out of the theater wanting to run in your backyard, grab your spaceship toys, and make them fly around. So we’re going to go to some intense places in the movie but I hope also it’s fun, it’s funny.
Mark Hamill: My answer will be in direct proportion to the amount of screen time I have. (Laughter)
John Boyega: I just think the story’s moving forward, challenging the characters. It’s a time which everyone has their own specific reckoning, and it’s all different.
Oscar Issac: The first one kind of sets the tone and the world and the new characters, in the second one you don’t have to spend so much time doing that, you can really just delve into the story, into what’s happening. I think what Rian’s done so incredibly well is that he’s challenged deeply every single character, including the droids, (Laughs) with the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced, and that’s how you’re able to really get to learn about them.
Daisy Ridley: (Laughs)
Adam Driver: I agree with her, yeah. (Laughter)
Andy Serkis: I mean, I was blown away when I saw the movie. I just was so caught up with it, not least because it was really intimate and very emotional and I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was very, very powerful and it touches you and what Rian’s done incredibly is make this tonally dance between these great kind of epic moments and hilarious antics, literally flipping on a dime and then going right into the heart of these beautiful characters.
Gwendoline Christie: Star Wars has always been our foundation story of good against evil, and where that balance is, and how we see elements of characters we’ve never seen before, things that can be unexpected. But there is something about this film and I think it’s because the world that we live in is a changing and evolving place, that it retains the simplicity of those elements, but it really resonates with what it is to follow your own human, dark, narcissistic tendencies, where that will take you, and I love that.
Domhnall Gleeson: I didn’t go to the screening so (Laughter) I wanted to wait and see it the way I saw The Force Awakens which was just with a load of people losing their minds. But then I heard these guys lost their minds, so I was kind of annoyed I didn’t go.
Rian Johnson on being the newcomer and is there a little bit of himself in Vice Admiral Holdo:
Rian Johnson: I’m like the new boyfriend at Thanksgiving dinner. (Laughter)
Laura Dern could represent any part of me in life, I would be thrilled. (Laughs) It’s a dream just to get to work with her (Laura Dern). And the character that she plays in all of its glorious purple-haired wonder, we were really able to dig in and do some really exciting, fun stuff. Laura, I know that like the moments on set where like suddenly you would like catch my eye and you would say, this feels like we’re making an independent film. Those were the moments that I was like, yeah, it kind of does. If Laura Dern’s telling you that, then you may be on the right track.
Is there any part of you that geeks out when you start working on a Star Wars film?
Laura Dern: Every part.
Kelly Marie Tran: Every part. I’m trying not to cry right now ‘cause this is so weird and different. You have to find a way to just do the work and kind of block everything out, but then C-3PO comes up and you’re like oh! (Laughs) So you’re constantly figuring out how to work but also this is awesome!
Laura Dern: Oscar and I always talked about just how stunned we were that we were in such a massive environment and it did feel like we were making an indie movie and you were always encouraging us to try things and explore character, and explore this duality of the light and the dark within characters. And a group of us sitting together watching it for the first time was amazing ‘cause it was like we were with 3,000 people. We were screaming, standing up, crying!
The relationship between Hux and Kylo Ren is really interesting, and it seems to be expanded on in this movie where Snoke sort of plays them against each other. They’re allies but not really. What is going on with them as we enter this film?
Adam Driver: I think it’s definitely there’s a competition and it’s maybe yet to be discovered where that comes from. I love playing those scenes, especially with Domhnall, ‘cause he’s a great actor. There’s nothing kind of taken for granted where, you know, oh, this happens and it moves on. If anything, Rian slows the pace and there’s not a moment that’s taken for granted. It’s always broken up into little pieces and the story in our mind comes first before an explosion.
Would you say they are more like rival coworkers or brothers?
Domhnall Gleeson: I think it’s funny, you know, there’s just such a huge amount of drama going on in that group of people (and) just a huge amount of b*tchy infighting as well. (Laughter) It's really fun to see them kind of really hurt each other from the inside as well as from the outside. The united front thing is difficult for them sometimes.
My favorite humorous answers from the press junket all came from Mark Hamill. He was not going to give up anything, not even a little bit. When asked about training Rey:
Mark Hamill: Well, you’re assuming that I train Rey.
Daisy Ridley: Exactly.
Mark Hamill: People say, was it difficult to pick up and wield a light saber again? And I go, do I pick up a light saber? (Laughter) I can promise you my part is twice as big as it was in The Force Awakens.
And when everyone kept trying to get them to reveal how The Last Jedi was going to be different from The Force Awakens:
Mark Hamill: It's longer. (Laughter)
Rian Johnson shared what about The Empire Strikes Back spoke to him as he filmed The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson: I think the cinematography in Empire is the most gorgeous of the whole series. Steve and I looked at the lighting, it’s pretty daring in terms of how dark they were willing to go with some of it – literally dark, and how gorgeous they went with some of the choices they made with the shaping of the lighting. In terms of like an actual visual aesthetic I made a choice very early on- I can either try and kind of copy my idea of what the original movies did, which was much more formal, the camera didn’t move a ton, or we’re going to take visual cues lighting wise and design wise from the previous movies, but I need to just shoot this movie the way that I would shoot a movie.
The Last Jedi features a lot of strong female characters. That is going to mean some to the little girls in the audience. I know it already inspires my daughter. Daisy, Kelly, Laura, and Gwendoline share what that means to them:
Daisy Ridley: The response was so beyond anything I could have imagined. Obviously that’s a testament to Kathy, J.J., Michael, Larry, everyone who created the characters in the beginning. I think what’s great about everyone is it’s not like she’s a girl, this is a guy, this is anything, it’s just great characters that happily are falling into broader categories now, so I’m thrilled.
Kelly Marie Tran: I think that it feels like both an honor and a responsibility at the same time. I feel like from the beginning when I initially found out I got this role, I just felt like I wanted to do the whole thing justice, and I’m so excited that the girls in this movie kick some butt! (Laughs)
Laura Dern: I was moved by the fact that he (Rian) really wanted her strength to first lead with a very deep femininity. To see a powerful female character also be feminine is something that moves away from a stereotype that’s sometimes perceived in strong female characters must be like the boys.
Gwendoline Christie: I wasn’t cast in the first Star Wars film yet when I heard about the casting, and I was utterly delighted to see that there was a more representative selection of actors that were going to be in these incredible Star Wars films. Everything that my amazing colleagues say is absolutely right. You get to see women that are not being strong just because they’re acting like men. I’m delighted that something as legendary as Star Wars has decided to be modern and to reflect our society more as it is.
Oscar Issac: As a guy I’d like to say that for me the most formative people in my life have been women. And so that has shaped my destiny so much and so to see that reflected in the film is really, really a beautiful thing. It is more true to real life and what’s happening now, but what’s always happened which is, you know, they’re the ones, that shape you.
Will we walk away from The Last Jedi having learned something?
Adam Driver: I think that’s a personal kind of thing, for some it will be nothing (Laughter). I’ve heard this said, and it’s the best way that I understand how seeing a movie in a dark room with people who are total strangers kind of works. No one lives the theater, everyone has lives outside. Well hopefully. (Laughter) There’s a kind of collective intelligence that happens in the room and what is rewarding about it is realizing that you all are having a different experience but at the same time the same experience. Whatever is happening in the movie, speaks to you in a different way than anybody else so it’s hard thing to kind of blanketly say, I think you’ll feel this, because again, we’re not you.
Rian Johnson: It’s about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and finding your place in the world, and you have these new powers that you’re feeling inside yourself for the first time, you don’t know what to do with them, you don’t know who it is you’re going to get help from, who’s going to be unreliable, who’s not. Navigating those very tricky waters that we all have to navigate, that’s why it’s so universal. So part of that is, you know, your relationship to heroes and people you thought were your heroes, people you don’t expect to become your heroes.
When you are a fan of the franchise, is there ever a mentality shift from fan to ownership- this is my film?
Rian Johnson: Oh, I keep waiting for that moment to happen. (Laughter) Even standing up here, I see the big Star Wars behind me and I’m like, well, do I belong under this? You’re always riding that line between feeling like you’re a fan who snuck in the back gate and is getting away with something, which I think is probably a good thing. I’d be curious to hear John, just because you’re the biggest fan I know in the world.
John Boyega: I’m still trying to get over it. I can’t lie. Every day was a new set. The practical effects I think like doubled in this movie, the sets were bigger and it’s always exciting and amazing. But as everybody has said, you still feel an intimacy when you’re doing these scenes, you know, an independent with a big budget.
Laura Dern: I love, Oscar, how you described yesterday all of us watching the roll at the top as the lights went down, and even though all of us feel giddy that we’re excited about being part of this, suddenly you’re an obsessed fan, regardless.
On the impact of Han Solo's death on the characters and the story moving forward:
John Boyega: I think we’re just keeping it moving, to be honest with you, man. (Laughter) It’s true, the pressure’s on man. I think that’s the one thing that’s unique to me about watching this movie was just the commentary on war. I think there hasn’t been a Star Wars movie yet that has explored war in the way The Last Jedi does. It’s very messy, the categorizing of good and evil is all mixed together. In terms of Han, I’m sure we all feel sentimental if someone was to sit Finn down or sit Rey down, but Rey’s off training, she’s got stuff to do. I’ve got back injury, I’ve got stuff to do. I can’t think about Han at the moment. (Laughter)
Oscar Issac: It’s a dire situation, it’s critical. The resistance is on its last legs, they’re trying to survive. First Order’s right on top of us. It is like war, where you gotta just keep moving to try to survive. You feel the momentum of everything that happened in The Force Awakens just pushing and getting to a critical mass in this film.
Daisy Ridley: I will interject there, and I think this is the beauty of having storylines that are sort of happening in tandem and affecting each other, ‘cause I would say that Rey at least is very much affected by it. Rey, as a character has been alone for a really long time and she’s really open to love and friendship, so Finn and BB-8 come along and it’s like this amazing adventure. She seeks something from (Han) and that gets snatched away. Everything’s moving forward but she has some time to ask questions and wonder what it is that would have led someone to do something like that, and also how that directly affects the world around her. I would say she’s maybe a little more affected, at least emotionally on screen, than the others.
Then we came to my favorite moment of the press conference, where the cast shared about the impact of Carrie Fisher on themselves as well as the generations who have grown up with Princess Leia.
Gwendoline Christie: Well, she was very significant because I was first shown A New Hope when I was six, and I remember thinking, wow, that character’s really different. She’s really interesting, she’s really smart, she’s really funny, she’s courageous, she’s bold, she doesn’t care what people think, and she isn’t prepared to be told what to do. And she doesn’t look the same as a sort of homogenized presentation of a woman that we had been used to seeing. So that was really instrumental to me as someone that didn’t feel like they fitted that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be, that you could be an individual and celebrate yourself and be successful without giving yourself over, without necessarily making some sort of terrible, huge compromise. I was very excited when I was shown just the basic element of the costume (for Phasma), and here we were seeing a character where her femininity was not delineated in terms of the shape of her body, in terms of her physical attractiveness. Those elements, that weird random group of elements which we’re born with in some kind of odd lottery and then we’re judged on in society. And I was just delighted to be able to have that opportunity.
Laura Dern: We always had with Carrie, not just Leia, her wisdom, and you know, people speak about people who are brave or fearless, but beyond that, I’ve known luckily a few people that would hold those descriptions, but not that they would be without shame. That’s what moved me the most about the icon she gave us, but also what she gave us individually and personally which is to Carrie, who she was so directly and to be without shame, and to share her story, and to expect nothing less from any of us.
Daisy Ridley: I don’t think I can really follow that, except to just say Carrie’s daughter Billie is I think all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless and wonderful.
Kelly Marie Tran: I think that something about Carrie that I really look up to is, and something I didn’t realize until recently, was just how much courage it takes to truly be yourself when you’re on a public platform or when possibly a lot of people will be looking at you. She was so unapologetic and so openly herself and that is something that I am really trying to do, and it’s hard. What an example, you know? And I am so fortunate to have met her and I think that she will really live on forever.
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Star Wars The Last Jedi is in theaters December 15th 2017!
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I was invited by Disney to share my experience of The Last Jedi with my readers. All opinions are my own.