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This force is strong

Dave Itzkoff, Dec 23 2017, 23:05 IST
From left: Andy Serkis, the director Rian Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran, all of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

From left: Andy Serkis, the director Rian Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran, all of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

While they tell tales of Death Stars and daddy issues, the Star Wars movies are also stories about duality: how goodness and evil can coexist - on the same planet or inside the same person - and what happens when they collide on an intergalactic scale. These themes are revisited once again in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the science-fiction saga that George Lucas started in 1977. The Last Jedi is the first to be written and directed by Rian Johnson. It follows the resounding success of The Force Awakens, directed by J J Abrams in 2015, about two young heroes, a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a renegade stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), caught up in the search for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Here, Johnson, Ridley, Boyega, Hamill, Driver, Serkis, Isaac, Christie, Gleeson, Tran and Dern discuss their work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and some of the questions it raises. These are edited excerpts from that conversation:

Audiences have a strong sense of what they think a 'Star Wars' film should look like. But Rian, you make films that are personal and idiosyncratic. How do
you do that in a 'Star Wars' movie?

RIAN JOHNSON: I don't think you try to. It would be bad news if you came into this saying, 'How do I make this mine?' You're just desperately trying to make a good Star Wars movie - to me that means that it's a balance between opera and bubble gum. It should make you come out of the theatre and feel like you're 10 years old, and want to grab your spaceships and start flying around. On top of everything else.

As you make your way through Star Wars High, there are actors you were paired with and worked with closely on the last film. What was it like to have those relationships scrambled and rearranged on 'The Last Jedi'?

OSCAR ISAAC: What Rian did so well was that he asked the really tough questions. Not only of the characters, but also about the themes that Star Wars brings up. What is it to be a Jedi? What is it to be a hero? What is it to be, in my case, a hotshot pilot? And then try to find the opposite of that - the hardest thing, the thing that's furthest away, and have that be what the character has to deal with. Even in pairing the characters, he's taking away what you know, and making you as uncomfortable as possible.

Was it bittersweet to have Finn and Rey, our heroes from 'The Force Awakens', split up?

JOHN BOYEGA: It was horrible when I read the script for the first time and I wasn't with her. We auditioned together. We went through this whole experience together. To be split apart was scary for me. But then I understood that is something that we could draw from - something that Finn really feels, and Rey really feels. And then I was like, 'Oh! Rian does know what he's doing.'

DAISY RIDLEY: I felt the same. When I read the script, I didn't cry right away. I was like, 'Wobble, wobble, wobble, I'm probably going to cry and I need to see Rian.' Then I went into Rian's office and I was crying my eyes out. I'm not great with new people. I think Mark can attest to that.

ADAM DRIVER: No one says, 'No, you're great!' Everyone else is like, 'Yeah.'

RIDLEY: I find it really difficult to relax. And then that's influencing someone else's performance. You don't want to be the thing that's holding something back, when there's me, going, 'So ... how'd you get into all this?' Mark and I were lucky enough to have proper rehearsal time, and then we could talk through everything with Rian.

We were just getting to see the relationship between Luke and Rey before the curtain came down on Episode VII. In Episode VIII, were you able to pick up where you left off?

MARK HAMILL: We had no relationship in VII. It's left up to the audience to decide if he knows who she is. They established earlier that I had a telepathic ability with my sister - would I know what's going on now? Would I know I lost my best friend? That's all left up to the audience, and that's in the great tradition of the cliffhangers that inspired George in the first place. 'Continued next week.' Two years, in this case. But don't worry, it's only five months until the next one. Great marketing there, Disney. What are they going to
do, fire me?

RIDLEY: To me, I was working with Mark, I wasn't working with Luke. I was nervous because I was working with a new person and I wanted to do my best, and I wanted the scenes to go well. Luke is regarded in this way, and Rey does understand that. We were able to pick up right where we left off, chronologically, and it worked very well.

Is it uniquely satisfying to play a villain in a 'Star Wars' movie, where you get to be especially villainous?

DOMHNALL GLEESON: It was a delightful surprise, having people come up to me after The Force Awakens and say, 'You were so bad in that movie.' It meant a lot to me.

GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: It's always exciting to be bad, isn't it? It's particularly resonant at the moment, the idea of, what is a better use of human energy: to serve the group or to serve the individual?

Andy, you play Supreme Leader Snoke, one of your many motion-capture characters, so there's a whole other layer to your performance.

ANDY SERKIS: There's a gold lamé layer. The Supreme Leader as Hugh Hefner, that's something that I particularly grabbed onto. The luxuriousness of it all. The thing about Snoke is, leaders are fearful people, because when you're in a position of maximum power, you can only lose power. And that fear drives nearly all decisions. It makes you want to destroy others. But when you're creating a villain character, it's about humanising - there's something important in the task of creating Snoke to find his vulnerability because that makes him even more dangerous and despicable.

This is the first 'Star Wars' movie for Kelly Marie Tran and Laura Dern. What is it like to be initiated into this franchise?

KELLY MARIE TRAN: It is both horrifying and amazing. Obviously, I was intimidated, but I never felt intimidated, personally, in Regina George fashion. Every single person sitting here was honest and open. I was allowed to go to set when I wasn't working and watch them perform. I felt like I was in this epic acting school that I didn't have to pay for.
Someone just gave me the key.

DERN: I have to discredit you, Daisy, with your comments about yourself. When my daughter came to set, she said, 'Oh my God, Mom, do you think we get to see Rey?' I was like, 'Oh, we don't want to bother people.' And then your trailer door opened, and you went, 'Laura Der-rrrr-rrn, Laura Der-rrrr-rrn.' My daughter was like, 'She's the most welcoming person.'

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