By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Studios generally screen their films for film journalists prior to press junkets so that journalists can come up with relevant questions for the actors and filmmakers. Such was not the case with Disney/LucasFilm’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which left reporters scrambling to ask general questions about the newest entry in the longrunning sci-fi franchise. The secrecy was designed to avoid spoilers about the highly anticipated film. It left the actors, some of whom hadn’t yet seen the finished film either, trying to answer questions without giving away the plot. Returning cast member Mark Hamill, who returns as Jedi hero Luke Skywalker, acknowledged how tricky it was to respond to even the simplest of queries. At the end of 2015’s blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” his character is seen on a remote island mountaintop, with co-star Daisy Ridley (as scrap trader turned Resistance fighter Rey) offering his old lightsaber weapon with outstretched arm. As Hamill puts it, “I have to be really careful. People ask, ‘Was it difficult to pick up and wield a lightsaber again,’ and I go, ‘Do I pick up a lightsaber?’”
Soon, moviegoers will be able to find out for themselves if he does or doesn’t, but what can be revealed is Hamill is back in this highly anticipated sequel, along with Ridley (reprising her heroic role), John Boyega (reprising his role as Stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter Finn), Oscar Isaac (reprising his role as ace pilot Poe Dameron) and Carrie Fisher (in her final role as General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance against the oppressive First Order). In addition, new heroes are introduced including Kelly Marie Tran (as a Resistance maintenance worker turned fighter Rose Tico) and Laura Dern (as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, Leia’s second-in-command).
The actors spoke—generally—about their roles, playing heroes and their fondness for their late co-star, who died soon after filming her scenes.
Q: How would you say this film is different from “The Force Awakens?”
John Boyega: The story’s moving forward. J.J. (Abrams) had a blueprint, a foundation of “The Force Awakens” that was pretty good and now it’s about “Hey, it was good,” and now it’s about moving forward with the story and just challenging the characters. All of the characters are under intense pressure, and so it’s a time in which everyone has their own specific reckoning, and it’s all different. There’s a lot going on. I’ve only watched it once and the first thing is that I want to watch it again because of the amount of information and the Easter eggs in there.
Oscar Isaac: 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, like John said, to the conflict of each of the characters.
What Rian’s (Johnson, the writer-director) done so incredibly well is that he’s challenged deeply every single character, including the droids, with 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 (him or her) as best as he can. It’s really amazing what he’s done.
Daisy Ridley: The biggest thing for me when I read the script, because, even though you’re trying to avoid what people are saying, it’s hard to, and because people responded well to John and me as a team, I was a big nervous about not being a team so much in this one. So, for me, personally, it was a challenge. The film was a challenge. I don’t know what it was like for anyone else, but to be in different combinations of people (was challenging). We’re in different situations. We’re with different people that we are learning about. We’re meeting (other characters) for the first time so, yeah, it felt pretty different for me.
Mark Hamill: I can promise you my part is twice as big as it was in “The Force Awakens.”
Q: There are a lot more female characters in this movie, certainly more than were in the first three movies. What does it mean to you?
Ridley: As a girl growing up in London, 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. So, when I got involved (in the “Star Wars” films), I knew it was a big deal, but the response was so beyond anything I could have imagined, that it was only afterwards that I was like, “Oh, oh yeah.” 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. Obviously, that’s a testament to (producers) Kathy (Kennedy), J.J. (Abrams), Michael (Arndt), Larry (Kasdan)—everyone who created the characters in the beginning, and what’s great about everyone is it’s not like, “She’s a girl,” or “This is a guy” or “This is anything,” it’s just great characters that happily are falling into broader categories now. So, I’m thrilled.
I never understood the structure of what the “Star Wars” was and what anyone was trying to fulfill, so just as me watching it, you really follow the story because you’re with every character. Everything you need to see is happening onscreen. Things aren’t happening off-screen. People asking questions onscreen. They’re getting answers onscreen. They’re having their adventure onscreen, so you’re with everyone every step of the way. It makes for compassionate viewing because you’re really understanding both sides, why people are doing the things they’re doing, how it’s being fed from everywhere, how things collide and the consequences of people’s actions and how they’re directly affecting other people.
Kelly Marie Tran: I agree. It feels like both an honor and a responsibility at the same time. 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 guys and the girls in this movie kick some butt. Every single one is so good, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Q: Mark, having played the young farm boy who becomes a hero and now returning to that character all these years later, what journey—what arc—is left for a guy who’s been through what Luke Skywalker has been through?
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.” 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 in my choices in sock wear. (He points to his Rian Johnson’s colorful striped socks.) I was so embarrassed. I looked at my drab black socks and I said, “Curse you, Rian Johnson. I’ll get my revenge.”
Q: How is “The Last Jedi” different than any of the other “Star Wars” movies?
Hamill: It’s longer.
Q: How else is it different?
Ridley: I was like real new to this all, and it was my first film and all that sort of stuff. I’ve done smaller films now, and I genuinely think it feels the same (as those). The sets tend to be smaller. We shot in Prague instead of London, but, genuinely, it’s like a family thing, so going into something could have been really scary and being surrounded by people that make it feel really comfortable for me is the only thing you can ask for, because you can only do what you can do. If you’re in a really safe environment, then you’re able to do more. Coming back (for “The Last Jedi”) was different, obviously, in some ways because the story’s different, the characters are being challenged in different ways, but the crew was similar. It’s just a really happy set. Everyone feels heard and respected. And so, just like in an acting sense, the same feeling was captured of love and of everyone trying to work together to make this thing that hopefully other people will love. So, to me, in a more emotional way, it did feel more similar than different.
Q: When did you feel your transition from fan or felt ownership as a filmmaker of the “Star Wars” movie that you were making?
Boyega: I’m still trying to get over it. I can’t lie. Because what we forget is that when we filmed “The Force Awakens,” it was about two years after that we started “The Last Jedi.” We went to do other stuff, and then when you come back it just feels like you’re back in school, and it’s fun. Every day was a new set. The practical doubled in this movie. The sets were bigger. It’s always exciting and amazing, but as everybody has said, you still feel an intimacy when you’re doing these scenes, like an independent (film) with a big budget.
Laura Dern: Oscar and I always talked about just how stunned we were that we were in such a massive environment and yet felt like we were, making an indie movie. (Rian was) 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 which lies within, which seems to be the place that (“Star Wars” creator) George Lucas first started the mythology of that, and it’s just so brilliant.
Q: The death of Han Solo was a huge moment in “The Force Awakens.” How impactful is that, without spoiling anything, to the characters who knew him in the last movie and the previous films?
Boyega: We’re just keeping it moving, to be honest with you. It’s true. The pressure’s on. There’s no time. 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. So, in terms of Han, I’m sure we’d all feel sentimental if someone were to sit Finn down or sit Rey down, but Rey’s off training, she’s got stuff to do, and (Finn’s) got a back injury and has stuff to do. I can’t think about Han at the moment.
Isaac: (In “The Last Jedi,” Han Solo’s death is) 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. The First Order’s right on top of us. It’s 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.
Ridley: This is the beauty of having storylines that are sort of happening in tandem and affecting each other. I would say that Rey is very much affected by it. As a character, she 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. Ha is this (father) figure of something she’s never dreamed of that gets snatched away. Everything’s new to her, so she’s understanding things in a different way and, luckily for me, because I was trying to get to grips with everything going on, and then Rey’s trying to get to grips with everything going on. So, for Rey at least there is some time. 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 she’s worried about Finn. So, I would say she’s maybe a little more affected, at least emotionally, than the others.
Isaac: Going back the question about the strong women in it, because, as a guy, I’d like to say that the most formative people in my life have been women. That has shaped my destiny so much. So, to see that reflected in the film is a really, really a beautiful thing, and it is truer to real life and what’s happening now, but also, they’re the ones that shape you.
Q: Your co-star, Gwendoline Christie, said she grew up watching Carrie Fisher and her dynamic performance as Princess Leia (and subsequently General Organa) and how it inspired her. Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd, has a larger role in this as one of the Resistance crew members. What can you say about having her onboard?
Ridley: Carrie’s daughter Billie is I think all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless and wonderful.
Hammill: (quips) Always late.
Ridley: Carrie bringing up a daughter with Bryan (Lourd, her ex-boyfriend), who is all of those qualities and then some, in this world, speaks volumes to what she did as her in the spotlight and also her as Leia.