Actors Take a Walk on the Dark Side in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. ©LucasFilm LTD. CR: Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Back in the days of the early “Star Wars” films, there were the good guys (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia) and a really really bad guy (Darth Vader). In the new chapters of this now iconic sci-fi franchise entering its fifth decade, good and bad—or, more accurately, light and dark—is a little murkier and some characters aren’t quite sure which way the Force is guiding them.

In “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Andy Serkis reprises Supreme Leader Snoke, his role as the evil leader of the oppressive First Order, who is determined to crush the uprising of freedom-loving resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher in her final role). Carrying out his orders are Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, reprising his role from 2015’s “The Force Awakens”) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, also reprising his role from that earlier film). Enforcing the brutal regime’s orders with zeal is Captain Phasma (another returnee Gwendoline Christie, completely done up in shiny armor). Of course, these baddies have their work cut out for them against the rag-tag but determined rebels under Leia’s leadership. There’s Rey, the young scrap trader from Jakku, who has traveled a long way to learn how to use the Force from none other than Skywalker (Mark Hamill, reprising his role), who has gone into seclusion after losing star pupil Kylo Ren (the estranged son of Han Solo and Leia) to the Dark Side, Finn (returning John Boyega), the former Storm Trooper tuned rebel sympathizer, rebel fighter pilot Poe Dameron (returning Oscar Isaac in a much-expanded role) as well as newcomers Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) and DJ (a hacker played by Benicio Del Toro).

At a press conference, the actors who play the dark characters in this highly anticipated outer-space adventure waxed philosophically about tackling their characters, the lessons extrapolated from the Rian Johnson written and directed installment and more.

Q: After seeing the complete film the first time, what were your thoughts on its tone and how it distinguished itself in the “Star Wars” canon?

Andy Serkis: 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. I know obviously that it was going to go that way, but it was very, very powerful and it touches you and what Rian’s (Johnson, the writer-director) done incredibly is make this dance between these great 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. That was my takeaway. It was just an extraordinary viewing.

Gwendoline Christie: I was delighted by the film. The reason why it’s resonated with us all so deeply is that it’s 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 also something about this film (that reflects) the world that we live in as a changing and evolving place. 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. I love that, and it’s done so beautifully aesthetically too.

Q: Hux and Kylo Ren had a really interesting rivalrous relationship in “The Force Awakens” which is expanded on in this movie, where Snoke sort of plays them against each other. They’re allies but not really. Could you talk about their bond, or lack thereof?

Adam Driver: Definitely there’s a competition and it’s maybe yet to be discovered where that comes from. If anything, I think that’s more of a testament to kind of what everyone has been saying of Rian’s inability to not mind a character in every moment, which seems like an obvious thing, but he doesn’t. He knows that spectacle, it won’t mean anything if you don’t care about anything that’s going on, which again, seems very obvious but it’s a really hard thing to balance with this many moving parts in the scale of something like this. So, I love playing those scenes, especially with Domhnall, because he’s a great actor and nothing is taken for granted. 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.

Q: Is there like a corollary in our world to the relationship that they have?

Domhnall Gleeson: That’s dangerous water.

Q: Are they like rival co-workers or brothers?

Gleeson: I don’t know. There’s just such a huge amount of drama going on in that group of people but then also just a huge amount of ****** infighting as well, which I think is 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.

Q: There are a lot more female characters in this movie, certainly more than were in the first three “Star Wars” movies. What does that means to you?

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 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. Also, you’re seeing a developed character or at least a developing character that’s showing some complex character traits. 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.

Serkis: Speaking as the leader of the First Order, I would say that Snoke is very unimpressed with the fact that there is such a huge female force that seems to be growing in the universe. (He laughs.) Its deeply threatening. It’s deeply undermining. It’s got to be stopped. It cannot go on. And this we see—without giving too much away—appears a little bit in this movie.

Q: In “The Force Awakens,” you were the newcomers to the franchise but you had Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill to set the tone and lead the way for you to step into these roles. You guys are now leading the way for the next generation of actors to come into the “Star Wars” world. Did that place an onus on you and give you a sense of responsibility in addition to that, inherent to your performances?

Driver: No, I don’t think so. The lesson that I learned from Mark, Carrie and Harrison on the first one was not so much telling what your experience is going to be because we’re all different and we see the world differently. That’s kind of an obvious thing, but kind of similar to almost the question before. It’s hard to impose an idea on someone that you don’t know. I would imagine it’s kind of for them to discover, and it’s almost more generous to give someone space, to make it personal to them. They would say even for them coming back to the movies, to this movie after so many years, that even they have to figure out what it means to them. So, they were kind of lead-by-example people. That’s kind of what I’m avoiding saying because it’s so cliche. It’s more powerful when you see it in action. None of us took it upon ourselves to tell people how it was going to be for them, because we’re not them. Everyone was just as equally terrified to figure out what we were doing and make sure we were looking at space.

Q: What will audiences learn from this film?

Driver: Again, I think that’s a personal thing. For some, it probably will be nothing.  No one lives in the theater; everyone has lives outside. Well, hopefully. 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 bring it to the theater, and whatever is happening in the movie, obviously, where you are in your life, speaks to you in a different way than anybody else, so it’s a hard thing to kind of blanket-ly say, “I think you’ll feel this,” because we’re not you.

Q: Gwendoline, what role did Princess Leia play in your life as a young “Star Wars” fan when you were growing up in England?

Christie: 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, really smart and really funny. She’s courageous, bold and doesn’t care what people think. She isn’t prepared to be told what to do. 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. 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.

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 her femininity was not delineated in terms of the shape of her body or 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. I was just delighted to be able to have that opportunity.