I attended the ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Global Press event on December 4th. For anyone who wonders what this type of event is like I will give a brief explanation. Typically held in a convention center or other large exhibit space there is a big room with displays for the members of the press to gather in before and after the press conference. There is normally a merchandise display, a costume display (pictures of both of these are below) and some sort of “fun” activity for the press – for this event we got pictures taken with Chewbacca, BB-8 and D-O (the new droid in ‘Rise of the Skywalker’). At the appointed time all of us are herded into another room with a large stage for the talent and lots of chairs for the press. The press conference itself was about an hour long with most of the questions asked by the moderator (filmmaker Ava DuVernay, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’) and just a few from the audience. After the press conference some of the bigger media outlets got to have follow-on interviews and video with the talent, which is why you have probably seen a rush of interviews in print and video in the last week.
I am going to paraphrase the questions and answers that I think will be interesting for the average fan. First though, a general observation – the cast had all seen the final movie the night before (almost all of them for the first time) and they were still “flying high” over how good they thought the movie was. It is a good sign when the actors – who know all the behind-the-scenes magic – think a movie is good…and their appreciation of the final product seemed genuine. I know that newcomer Richard Grant (General Pryde) was so excited that he immediately gushed about the movie on Twitter…so much that he mentioned he was afraid that Disney was going to sue him.
J. J. Abrams (Writer/Director) was asked about what was different doing this movie from his first Star Wars movie (‘The Force Awakens’). He said that for this movie he already knew the cast and the great work they would do, as opposed to when they were all starting from scratch. On the first film he felt the pressure of starting the series up again but on this one he felt greater pressure because he was finishing the series.
He was asked about the writing process for this movie and said he had talked with the cast and Lucasfilm folks about what was happening in the bigger Star Wars universe while he was making the first movie, so he already had some ideas. One of his big goals was to have more of the cast working together in this movie vs how they were separated in ‘The Force Awakens.’ He also thought about what he really wanted to see on the screen (clearly an advantage of being the writer/director – you get to tell the story you want to see). Once they were on set, he tried as much as possible to ignore the pressure of fan and studio expectations and shoot the film as much like an “indie” as he could.
Abrams was asked about any meaning he was trying to impart with this movie. He said that “we live in a crazy world and Star Wars is about hope and community and the underdog and seeing all the oddballs in the family you make succeed”. He continued that “within the blockbuster wrapping – what matters is the characters and their heart and hope and unity.”
Abrams was also asked about his selection of Chris Terrio as his co-writer. He said that he needed a writing partner who was a huge fan and not from “inside.” He also said that he was together with Chris for almost every moment of the movie process and he was totally grateful for Chris as partner. Chris Terrio, for his part, was so excited to get the job offer from J.J. that he screamed into the phone. He described the writing process as taking place in a room filled with whiteboards at Bad Robot where they filled the whiteboards with ideas, that then became a 10 page outline, that then became 100 pages, and then the script. He noted that they “mourned” each time they typed a character name for the last time.
Finally, Abrams was asked about working Carie Fischer into the film. Abrams said he “knew that they had to have Leia but they would not do a digital version of her.” They looked and realized they did have enough scenes with her from the pervious film to create the scenes they needed. He admitted they would have been somewhat different if she was still alive, but he is happy with what they were able to do. He also mentioned that since they have been editing scenes with her for a year, “it seems like she is still alive.”
Daisy Ridley (Rey) – Over the course of the press conference it was noted a couple of times the emotionally and physically demanding performance Daisy gave as Rey and the hope that it is not obscured by the scope and action of the movie. Daisy was asked what was the most demanding – the physical scenes or the emotional scenes? She replied that for the physical stuff you train and train and then it is just habit and adrenaline when you act it out. She said that serious acting scenes are more tiring emotionally, but also noted that she had few light scenes and many that involved both physical and emotional challenges. One of the funnier parts of the press conference was when Daisy imitated the faces that J.J. would make at her when she didn’t give him what he wanted for a scene…and her response that “I know what you are asking for but I can’t quite give it to you yet”.
When asked about legacy from the role of Rey she replied that she hopes it is “one of representation and change…of being part of a team that is very diverse…and of hope.”
John Boyega (Finn) was asked if his character’s “bromance” with Poe is real or contrived and he replied that it was just there from the start between the two actors. When asked what does Finn “tell him”, he said Finn is about the importance of loyalty and proactive love – especially trying to support Rey in her really hard journey (so much power and responsibility). He said that having spent so much time as Finn helps make him a nicer person in real life.
Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) said that he and J.J. wanted “dirty up” his squeaky flyboy image in this movie. Since he spends most of his time not in space you get to see that he is more than just a “fly boy”. One of the things Oscar likes best about Poe is his relentless, almost hopeless, sense of optimism. Oscar also commented on the cinematography of the movie – especially the very long, very carefully choreographed complex shots that J.J. pulled off.
Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) was asked if his character is both Kylo Ren and Ben Solo and his answer was a brief “yes and no”. In an amplifying question, he was asked if there was any influence by Ben Solo in how he played Kylo Ren. He replied “not consciously, but when people are actively denying something in their life” it can’t help but influence them. He said that this was not something he and J.J. ever talked about. What they did discuss was Kylo’s journey and how he was unformed and confused… which especially in the first movie echoed Adam’s experience as a new cast member trying to understand his character.
Billie Dee WIlliams (Lando) was asked his approach to coming back to play Lando after so many years. His answer was that he didn’t do anything special to get ready, he just followed J.J.’s lead. Mr. Williams also noted how lucky he was to get to work with two men as “brilliant and crazy” as George and J.J. and what a “wonderful gift” it was to get to play Lando again.
Keri Russell plays the new character Zori Bliss who wears a mask for the whole movie. Keri was asked what that was like and she said “she loved it” – it gave her a sense of power and was like being in a dream. She and J.J. shared that Keri did not take mask off at all for first couple days – which drove J.J. crazy.
Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) mentioned the great camaraderie on set and how “it feels like family”.
Naomi Ackle plays another new character – the freedom fighter Jannah. Her approach to the role started with a focus on “physicality” and she did lots of physical training for the role. However, she also worked with J.J. to understand the balance between strength and vulnerability in the character.
Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca) – First he led us in a lesson on how to pronounce his name – it is Finnish so you pronounce every syllable. He also did his really great Chewie imitation for us. When asked about what makes Chewbacca such an enduring character he said “it is about Peter (Mayhew’s) unique physicality” and how Chewbacca moves not quite like a human, which he has tried to emulate.
Anthony Daniels (C3P0) was asked his thoughts on having been in the whole series and replied that he has “been so close to it that has taken talking to fans in the last few years to really get a perspective” on the impact of Star Wars.
Last but certainly not least, we learned that Kathleen Kennedy – the producer for this movie and pretty much the Godmother of all things Star Wars – started her career in entertainment as a camera operator on Monday Night Football. When asked what she learned on that job that still applies today she said “Never a job that is too small” and that she still “dresses” cables if they are out of place when she is on set. When asked “Why J.J.?” she said they met when he was 15 and she hired him to clean up Spielberg’s home movies. When Lucas was sold to Disney there was an edict that came down to make a big movie in a short period of time and J.J. was the first choice.
Here are some examples of the costumes that were on display – three each from the Dark Side and the Light Side to keep balance in the Force:
As with every new Star Wars movie, there is new merchandise being released with ‘The Rise of Skywalker’:
This was a fun and well-executed event and gets me even more excited, if that is possible, for the release of Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker in theaters on December 20th.