With Star Wars: The Last Jedi hitting theaters this weekend, the cast and creative team recently gathered in Los Angeles for a lengthy Q&A session with members of the press. During the event, the ensemble shared as much as they could about the film and working with one another, as well as paying homage to the legacy of the late great Carrie Fisher.
Director Rian Johnson on the responsibility that comes with tackling a Star Wars film:
Rian Johnson: It’s the second movie in the trilogy and I think we’ve been kind of trained to expect it’ll be a little darker. The thing is though, I loved the tone of the original films and – also that J.J. captured in The Force Awakens – of fun, and to me it’s a Star Wars movie, you know? 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, you know, and that’s a key ingredient to it. So we’re going to go to some intense places in the movie, but I hope also it’s fun.
Oscar Issac: I think the thing as well is that often with the second chapter in a story of three, because the first one kind of sets the tone and the world and the new characters, introduced them, 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, to the conflict of each of the characters. I think what Rian’s done so incredibly well is that he’s challenged deeply every single character, including the droids, you know, with like the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced, and that’s how you’re able to really get to learn about them, on all sides of the spectrum, from light to dark. It’s like he’s found a way to get to the central point of that character and try to challenge them as best as he can. I think it’s really amazing what he’s done.
Daisy Ridley on the changing relationship dynamics in this installment of the franchise:
Daisy Ridley: Because people responded well to John and I as a team, I was a bit nervous about not being a team so much in this one. So I think for me personally, the film was a challenge – I don’t know what it was like for anyone else, to be in different combinations of people. We’re in different situations, we’re with different people that we are learning about, we’re meeting for the first time, so yeah, it felt pretty different for me.
Andy Serkis on how Rian Johnson balances the stakes and tone in the film:
Andy Serkis: 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. I mean, I knew obviously that it was going to go that way, but it was very, very powerful and it touches you. What Rian’s done, incredibly, is make this dance tonally, 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, and you really caring [about them].
Laura Dern and Rian Johnson on their on-set relationship:
Rian Johnson: It’s a dream just to get to work with her, 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. And Laura, the moments on set where like suddenly you would 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.” And I think that feels really good… I don’t know. If Laura Dern’s telling you that, then you might be on the right track, I guess.
Laura Dern: It was shocking, and Oscar and I always talked about just how stunned we were that we were in such a massive environment and did feel like we were making an indie movie. You were always encouraging us to try things and explore character, and explore this duality of the light and the dark within characters, the movie speaks to so beautifully, not just that there are alternative universes but that [light and dark] lies within, which seems to be the place that George Lucas first started the mythology.
Rian Johnson on being inspired by the style of the original trilogy while making sure to bring his vision to the table:
Rian Johnson: My cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who I’ve been best friends with since I was 18 years old, we met in film school. To be standing next to each other on the Star Wars set was pretty surreal. I think the cinematography in Empire is the most gorgeous of the whole series. And so Steve and I looked at the lighting in that it’s also kind of the most – 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.
But then in terms of like an actual visual aesthetic I made a choice very early on that I thought, well, I can either try and kind of copy my idea of what the original movies did, but I need to just shoot this movie the way that I would shoot a movie. Because at the end of the day, if I’m not engaged with it, and I’m not trying to tell the story the way that really makes me excited, then it’s not going to be up there on the screen.
The women of Star Wars on their characters and how they’re proud of what they represent for women onscreen:
Daisy Ridley: As a girl growing up in London, obviously I knew there was a disparity in films but I wasn’t so aware of it, growing up in a liberal household. I was never really made to feel any one way. And it’s not like I ever took it for granted or anything but [the response to The Force Awakens] was just so monumental, the response and how people felt about it, and obviously that’s a testament to Kathy, J.J., Michael, Larry, everyone who created the characters in the beginning. And 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: Yeah, I agree. 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. Every single one is so good!
Laura Dern: In the case of the look of my character, I was moved by the fact that he really wanted her strength to first lead with a very deep femininity, and 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. I thought that was a really interesting choice to get to witness.
Gwendoline Christie: You get to see women that are not being strong just because they’re acting like men. They’re doing something else. And also you’re seeing a developed character, or at least a developing character, that’s showing some complex character traits, and I’m just delighted about that. I’m delighted that something as
legendary as Star Wars has decided to be modern and to reflect our society more as it is.
The cast on where the characters are after the events of The Force Awakens:
John Boyega: I think we’re just keeping it moving, to be honest with you. It’s true, the pressure’s on, there’s no time. 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.
Oscar Issac: I think it’s reverberating, but he’s right: 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 go to just keep moving to try to survive, and so 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: In the first [film] Rey 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. And then Han, without trying to, she seeks something from him because there’s an intimacy and there’s a sort of figure of something she’s never dreamed of for her, that gets snatched away. And she’s understanding everything’s new to her, so she’s understanding things in a different way, and then Rey’s trying to get to grips with everything going on. 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. And then she’s worried about Finn at home, so I would say she’s maybe a little more affected, at least emotionally on screen, than the others.
The women of Star Wars on Carrie Fisher’s impact on them, pop culture at large and women seeing themselves on screen for the first time 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. I watched TV and film obsessively from such a young age but it stayed with me throughout my formative years, of 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 fit into that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be, that there was inspiration there, 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.
So it was a big inspiration for me. And you know, to play a character as well from what we’ve seen in The Force Awakens, I was very excited when I was shown just the basic element of the costume, and here we were seeing a character whereby a woman wasn’t – 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: 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, and 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. And the privilege of watching how Rian has so beautifully captured all of that and her grace in this amazing, beautiful, pure performance. But also I think she found an equal irreverent subsurface and they had this dance that gives us this performance that I was just so moved by.
Daisy Ridley: I don’t think I can really follow that, except to just say Carrie’s daughter Billie is all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless, and I think Carrie bringing up a daughter who is all of those qualities and then some, in this world… if that’s what she did, just her being her, I think it speaks volumes to what she did.
Kelly Marie Tran: I think that something about Carrie that I really look up to is 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. And just like Daisy said, like Laura said, like Gwendoline said, I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie. What an example, you know? And I am so fortunate to have met her and I think that she will really live on forever.