On Sunday, December 3, 2017, a group of journalists from across the globe were brought together at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, where they’d be transported to a galaxy far, far away. Seated in a big auditorium, with the <em>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</em> logo at the front of the room, and John Williams’ familiar score filling the air, the excitement in the room was palpable. We were waiting for the cast of <em>The Last Jedi</em>, and the film’s director Rian Johnson, to grace us with their presence for an hour long Q&A delving into the newest film in the <em>Star Wasr</em> saga, the eighth film in the episodic saga, and the third under Kathleen Kennedy’s watchful eye since Luacsfilm’s merger with Disney. But more than that, this is the middle chapter of the series, which many see as the most important as it’s the one where the game normally changes in a big way for those in the story, and you could that everyone in the room was waiting with bated breath to get as many details about the new film that the cast would allow us. Then, suddenly, the red suited Praetorian guards from the new film filled the room, leading Mark Hamill, Rian Johnson, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isacc, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, and Andy Serkis down the middle of the room, keeping a watchful eye on us, as the cast made their way to the front.
What followed was an enlightening and fun back and forth with the cast as they broke down the new film without giving anything, no easy feat to be sure, but they managed to do it all the same. Now it’s my chance to take you farther into that day, as we dive deeper into what the cast discussed while they made <em>The Last Jedi</em>, and how it reflects in the movie.
Of course, as mentioned above, one of the biggest questions for director Rian Johnson came in the form of what Rian Johnson tried to do differently from both <em>The Force Awakens</em> and </em>The Empire Strikes Back</em>, while also talking about what he tried to do different with the film:
“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 and the thing is though for me I loved the tone of the original films and also that J.J. captured in The Force Awakens of fun, and that’s like 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, it’s funny. I don’t know, you’ve seen it.”
What Rian is alluding to definitely shows in <em>The Last Jedi</em>, as the movie is a bit more humorous as many might be expecting, but it’s also very properly a space opera first and foremost. The stakes certainly feel real, and Rian has clearly gone back to what made the original series so special to try and replicate it for a new generation here. But the comparisons to <em>The Empire Strikes Back</em> didn’t end there, as another reporter asked what visual cues Johnson may have pulled from when modeling the film in a way to the aforementioned film, and Johnson had this to say:
“Yeah. Well, I mean, my cinematographer Steve Yedlin who I’ve been best friends with since I was 18 years old, we met in film school, and so to be standing next to each other on the Star Wars set was pretty surreal. But I mean, I think Empire is, you know, I think it’s just the most beautiful – I mean all the films are beautiful – I think for my just tastes, 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, which was much more of kind of a formal, the camera didn’t move a ton and it was a much more formal type visual aesthetic, or I realized, you know,we’re going to take visual cues lighting wise and design wise from, you know, the previous movies, 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. So I kind of cut myself loose camera movement wise and shot wise from trying to imitate the past and just try to tell the story as excitingly as I could up on the screen.”
This was maybe the most important answer of the day in a lot of ways, because so many are convinced that this film is going to mirror <em>The Empire Strikes Back</em>, but Rian’s insistence on doing his own thing, even down to the look is definitely welcome. While the film does offer some visual nods to what’s come before, it also largely feels different from anything we’ve seen in the series before, which is incredibly exciting. This feels like a shifting point for the series, even down to the look, and Rian has gone all out with it.
One of the most exciting things about <em>The Force Awakens</em> was the fact that not only did we get what is arguably the most diverse cast the series had seen up to this point, but it also put Rey as the female lead in the series. When asked what it meant to the female cast members to be representing so many young girls with strong female heroines in the series, Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Gwendoline Christie opened up that:
Ridley: “I think like as a girl growing up in London, obviously I knew there was a disparity in films but I wasn’t so aware of it, like growing up in a liberal household. I was never really made to feel any one way. So when I got involved I didn’t really – like, I knew it was a big deal, but the response was so beyond anything I could have imagined, that I’m still like – it was only afterwards was like, oh, oh yeah. And it’s not like I ever took it for granted or anything but it 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, everyone’s just, it’s just greatc haracters that happily are falling into broader categories now, so I’m thrilled.Yeah.”
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 guys, the girls in this movie kick some butt. Every single one is so good, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it. Yeah.”
LAURA DERN: “I just want to pay tribute to Rian for being one of the most brilliantly subversive filmmakers I’ve ever been able to bear witness to, and 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 stereo type 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: “I was so delighted. 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, and that has continued. And you know,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. 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.”
Their words are certainly refreshing, as it shows just how far female representation has come, and how seriously Rian took it with the film. In the film itself, there are so many strong female characters, and it’s hard not to be excited to see that in a big studio blockbuster, especially one with <em>Star Wars</em> in the title.
But, of course, we can’t talk about the female characters in this film without talking about everyone’s favorite princess who we sadly lost last year, Carrie Fisher. The moderator asked the women on the panel about the impact that Carrie Fisher and Leia had on generations of girls and women, and how it spoke to them.
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 mea s someone that didn’t feel like they fitted that homogenized view of what a woman was supposed to be, that there was inspiration there, that you could bean 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 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: Well, endless thoughts and also you know, a profound impact that she made on me as a girl, and spoken so beautifully by Gwen, so I’ll just speak to this present experience, to say that as 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, 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 subservice 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 I think all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless and wonderful. And I think Carrie bringing up a daughter obviously with Brian,bringing up a daughter who is all of those qualities and then some, in this world, if that’s what she did, you know, just her being her, I think it speaks volumes to what she did as her in the spotlight and also her as Leia
Kelly Marie Tran: Yeah, I mean, I agree with everything that was said. 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, and 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, likeLaura 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
To see what Carrie met to so many is not only hugely heartwarming, it’s also incredibly eye opening in a way. The incredible thought of all the joy and all the inspiration she brought to so many generations already, and even more to come, it can’t be overlooked. Thankfully, Fisher also gives what is arguably her finest performance as Leia in <em>The Last Jedi</em>, and she says goodbye to the character in the best way. We were all lucky to get to enjoy Fisher on the big and small screen for many years, and its great to see her legacy will continue to live on.
When asked about the potential moral of the story that could be learned in <em>The Last Jedi</em>, Adam Driver opened up with a very interesting comment about everyone learns different things from the same movie:
Adam Driver: I think that’s a personal kind of thing, for probably some it will be nothing, for others. 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, whether that be a play or a movie. No one lives the theater, everyone has lives outside, well hopefully, then 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, and whatever your life is outside, whatever circumstances, whether there be death or drugs or birthdays, you know, you bring it to the theater, you know, and whatever is happening in the movie, obviously where you are in your life, I think, 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. You know, so that’s what I think. So may potentially nothing is what I’m trying to say.
This led to the conversation about Rian’s intention of using the theme about the idea of things not living up to your expectations, and why meeting your heroes may not always be for the best:
Rian Johnson: That’s definitely one of the things, yeah, in it. You know, I think these movies to some extent are always about, I don’t know, to really boil it down, you know, if you look back at Lucas kind of, you know, famously drawing from The Hero’s Journey myth that Joseph Campbell wrote about, and the hero’s journey is not about becoming a hero, it’s not about becoming Hercules, it’s about really adolescents, 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. And that’s definitely something that plays out in this film.
Those themes are very apparent throughout <em>The Last Jedi</em>, very much hardwired into the film’s skeleton. In a way, it also speaks to the fans of the series who are expecting it to go one way, only to go the complete opposite. Ryan has shifted and subverted around expectations in an incredible way, and that couldn’t be more true for Mark Hamill himself, who had this to add:
Mark Hamill: I don’t think any line in the script epitomized my reaction more than this is not going to go the way you think. And Rian pushed me out of my comfort zone, as if I weren’t as intimidated and terrified to begin with, but I’m grateful, because you have to trust someone and he was the only Obi-Wan available to me, not only in my choices as an actor, but my choices in sock wear. Because – well, I was so embarrassed. I looked at my drab black socks and I said, curse you, Rian Johnson, I’ll get my revenge.
As you can see, there’s so much to unpack from the things that the cast was talking about. It’s a truly wonderful thing to be a part of an event like this where you can sit and listen to those involved making a film gush about their experience, which couldn’t be more true here. A new <em>Star Wars</em> film always feels like a massive event, especially when it comes to the episodic chapters in the series. For my full thoughts on the film, you can check out my review here, on SoCalThrills!