Few things excite cinema fans more than the release of the new Star Wars film. For the last two years especially it seems that December, Christmas and Star Wars have been somewhat joined at the hip following the hugely successful reboot of JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens and last year’s release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The latest instalment, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released Nationwide on Thursday 14th December and we were in attendance at the European Press Conference to bring you the biggest news and stories from one of the biggest films of the year.
Set in the grand surroundings of The Corinthia Hotel and hosted by Edith Bowman, the event had everything you could have wished for. Storm Troopers guarded the entrances and the stage where the stars of the film; Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Benicio Del Toro, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Domnhall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie and Andy Serkis were joined by their visionary Director Rian Johnson. Johnson himself kicked it all off when asked how he felt by the positive reaction from fans towards his film.
Well obviously it feels really great to see people enjoy the movie. At this point, I think we all just can’t wait for it to be out in the World and for fans and crowds to be able to be there opening night and see it for the first time. I’ve got goosebumps, I’m very excited.
Kelly Marie Tan, who plays Rose in the film, spoke emotionally about having the chance to play one of the new characters in the franchise since the reboot. “Let me try not to cry, I’ve been crying enough! I’ve said before but I do think that I will be reliving the moments that we had on set for the rest of my life in my mind. I was this completely new person and it says so much about everyone sitting here that I felt at home on that set, because everyone was so welcoming and so open and I really felt a part of it”. Benicio Del Toro, who plays DJ also added “Basically…the same. Because for the first time I was the oldest one on set…” before being brilliantly interrupted by a baffled Mark Hamill. “On the closed set I was the oldest one so it was kind of interesting”. As another newbie to the franchise, Laura Dern was asked the same question. “Well I know we’ve been speaking a lot over the last two days about the environment that Rian created but it was so seamless because it felt like any other film family. It felt protected and safe and collaborative and even like a ‘small’ movie in some unusual way and then periodically you’d look up and then Chewbacca or R2D2 would pass and you were reminded about the environment you were in, but it was extraordinary”.
It’s crazy to think that it has been only two years since Daisy Ridley exploded onto our scenes as Rey in The Force Awakens and given that her character was spearheading the rebooted franchise and taking on the new empire, it felt like a victory for women everywhere that huge Hollywood studios were finally not just backing, but thrusting an incredibly strong female character into one of the biggest franchises in the history of cinema. When asked about what would a character like Rey have meant to herself growing up, she spoke about the strength she found from reading strong female characters in books and not necessarily in the movies. “I was always a book person, not a film person really, so all the heroes I needed were in books. Books have never discriminated quite in the way that films did. I have two sisters and grew up in a very loving household so for me, I had everything I needed right in my home. But obviously had I been more of a film person, it would have meant a great deal (growing up with a character like Rey) because I really didn’t and I think that is why I didn’t see the disparity so much because I just hadn’t had access to so many films but the way people have responded has been wonderful and I think that can only be a good thing”.
Oscar Isaac is returning in his role as skilled X-Wing fighter Poe and spoke about his relief and not being killed off in The Force Awakens at not just returning to the role but playing such an important part in The Last Jedi. “Well it’s definitely good to be alive!” he joked, “and I was really excited to see what Rian had created for Poe; the conflict that he has in a very brutal way, he took away the one thing that Poe knows how to do well, which is jump into an X-Wing and blow things up and so he had to deal with being grounded and I was really fortunate to have so many scenes with Laura and it did feel like it was an intimate set. I remember we were coming out on set in our jeans t-shirts, walking around and rehearsing, talking about different motivations and just to take that kind of time in such a huge movie was pretty special”.
“I feel really lucky I got even a bit of time to know her”
Rian Johnson on Carrie Fisher.
Rian Johnson becomes the third person to take on the newly rebooted franchise after both JJ Abrams and Gareth Edwards directed The Force Awakens and Rogue One respectively. As a Star Wars and George Lucas fan, he discussed how it felt to have had a positive review by Lucas himself. “He was very gracious. He said some very kind words and you know, I grew up not just loving Star Wars but also I went to the film school I went to because I read a book about George Lucas and saw that he went there, so to have a chat with him and for him to be so kind and gracious about the movie…it felt pretty good man, it felt pretty good”. Continuing on the rather nostalgic theme, Johnson was also asked about his relationship with the late Carrie Fisher, who died shortly after completing filming on The Last Jedi. “Well, Carrie, first and foremost she was a writer and that’s how we first really connected and we had a lot of lovely moments on set but the times I’m really going to remember her are when we were hanging out before the shoot and we were just at her house and she was digging out books that she wanted to talk about. She was writing The Princess Diaries when we were doing the shoot and she showed me all the old diaries she had, all the original books from the original shoots and talking about …words and….you know, just hanging out with her, man, I feel really lucky I got even a bit of time to know her”.
The ‘dark side of The Force’ has always been intriguing to every Star Wars fan. The originals watched the likes of Darth Vader and The Emperor dominating the screen as they planned to destroy the rebels and Jedi. In The Force Awakens, we were introduced to Supreme Leader Snoke and General Hux, played by Andy Serkis and Domnhall Gleeson respectively and they both spoke about their insights to playing characters on the dark side of The Force. “It was a real challenge” said Serkis. “I had such a brilliant time working with Rian and the way that he decided to take the character but with all characters that are representing ‘evil’ it’s very important to try and humanise them in some way. There’s a vulnerability that we tried to approach with Snoke that was born out of fear, actually, and I think fear that the First Order is in a pretty shoddy state and not being handled terribly well by Hux and the conflicted Kylo Ren”. Domhnall Gleeson added about Hux “Myself and Rian talked about the idea of a kicked dog because he’s kind of undermined in the film, but you don’t lose the capacity of causing some damage, so we kind of talked about the fact that a dog that gets kicked over and over and over again, eventually it will bite back pretty hard. So that was kind of what we looked at….the hilarious notion of a kicked dog”.
“There are so many incredibly talented female Directors and Directors of colour out there and so many that I would love to see play in this universe”
Johnson on the need for diversity behind the camera.
One of the things that Disney, LucasFilm and The Force Awakens were praised for when the film was released two years ago was the new and diverse characters that were telling the story. The diversity of the cast has continued with The Last Jedi starring actors and actresses of mixed ethnicity and people of colour. The panel were asked about the continuing diversity of the characters and when a female or person of colour will be given the chance to direct a new Star Wars film. “Hell yes it’s the right time!” said a defiant Rian Johnson. “My God there are so many incredibly talented female Directors and Directors of colour out there and so many that I would love to see play in this universe. Yes please, I’d love it to happen”.
Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill spent a lot of time together on set and they were asked about the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Rey. “I think Mark and I both talked about the unexpected reaction to reading The Last Jedi and what was very lucky was that we had a couple of weeks with Rian where we could just talk about everything, because when you’re working with a new person and working with a new Director it’s all ‘big stuff’. It certainly felt that we were going through something and I thought it was great because as our relationship was growing, their relationship was growing”. Talking about how protective he felt about his character and the franchise as a whole, Hamill opened up about the cast and how he felt about time moving on. “Well, first of all, the cast is spectacular. Each one of them is so talented in their own way but I felt a strong sense of nostalgia; I used to be the orphan discovery with hidden powers, now we’ve got this one (Ridley). I used to be the hot-shot, impulsive X-Wing fighter, now we have Oscar (Isaac). I used to be the one sneaking around enemy territory in disguise, now we have Rose and Finn (Tan and Boyega) so I had to fight the irrational urge of it’s a bunch of strangers rummaging in my old toy box playing with my toys! But now, basically at this age I am happy to let the kids do the heavy lifting”.
I think it’s fair to say that since taking on the role of Finn, John Boyega has become a household name and part of his charm is his open honesty and wonderful sense of humour. When asked whether his relationship with the rest of the cast was as close as his relationship with Harrison Ford (we all know the amazing story about taking Ford down the Old Kent Road for dinner) he replied brilliantly with “No that was just for Harrison to be honest. Sorry about that, but I have to be honest. It was much more of a chemistry thing… there were figures that I wanted him to sign but I paid for the bill too by the way before you guys think I’m cheap! When you take someone down Old Kent Road, you expect a millionaire pilot to pay for it but I did. I’m willing to take anybody out, I invited Daisy to my house party last night but she didn’t turn up”. “You did not! You said it’s happening but you didn’t invite me!” replied Daisy. “Oh yeah, that’s true” said a rather sheepish Boyega. I think one the most incredible things about being in something as huge as Star Wars is the chance to be immortalised as an action hero model. So how does John Boyega feel about this? “I’m still waiting for that cheque. That’s what it feels like!”.
The cast and crew of Star Wars: The Last Jedi clearly all have such a great relationship and chemistry between them. Their love for the films, both old and new and the environment that Rian Johnson has created for them in the latest outing was infectious and genuine and it was wonderful to be in their presence.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released Nationwide on Thursday 14th December by Walt Disney Studios. Watch the trailer here.