Interview With the People Behind Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

An Inside Look at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The cast and crew of the film look back on the film's enduring legacy.

by Chinggay Labrador
Dec 14, 2019

(SPOT.ph) For over 40 years, Star Wars has inspired generations of fans with its unique storytelling and stunning visual effects, both anchored by a strong, emotional core. The space opera starts with the first trilogy created by George Lucas (A New Hope in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, and The Return of the Jedi in 1983), which introduces us to characters that have become fixtures in pop culture as we know it: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Yoda, C3-PO, R2-D2, and more.

The second trilogy traces the origins of the Skywalker legend and explores the societal and political themes that spurred the action that took place in the “originals” (The Phantom Menace in 1999, Attack of the Clones in 2002, Revenge of the Sith in 2005). Two of the franchise’s most recent films, Solo (2018) and Rogue One (2016) attempt to bring fans even deeper into the reaches of space, giving more backstory to what took place in the original saga.

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The culminating trilogy takes Star Wars audiences to the future—past the destruction of the Death Star and the revelations that Luke Skywalker had to contend with. After decades of waiting, people will finally figure out how everything comes to a head, with The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017), and this year’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which is set to be the most important movie in the whole saga.

Cinematic History

Director J.J. Abrams and actor Oscar Isaac sharing laughs on set.
PHOTO BY Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney
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Director J.J. Abrams bookends the final trilogy, returning to work after The Force Awakens with producers Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan, and writer Chris Terrio. Wrapping up such a culturally significant sensation is no mean feat—it requires a strikingly emotive resolution, and a story that gives Star Wars fans—no matter what part of the saga they first fell into—a sense of completion and finality that works—and works well.

“It feels exciting as well as sad because Star Wars is something that started over 40 years ago—something George Lucas created and had no idea about how it would capture hearts and minds the way that it had,” says Kennedy. “With that, comes, as Yoda would say, huge responsibility. That—more than anything—has been what we, the ‘newbies,’ realized stepping into this. People do care. We have a responsibility for something that’s much bigger than all of us—something that’s part of cinematic history and that’s brought people together for so long. It was a real privilege for all of us to be part of this and find the completion to the Star Wars saga.”

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Fan Phenomenon

Katherine Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and Anthony Daniels with Stormtroopers, Kylo Ren, R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8 and D-O at the special fan event for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker PHOTO: Christopher Jue/Getty Images for Disney

Star Wars, through the years, has been known for the legions of fans that have taken to the canon so passionately, each film has become a spiritual experience. “Star Wars is something that’s been passed on from generation to generation and it’s important that we carry through with those feelings, values, and ideas that have been something that people have embraced so passionately for so long,” Kennedy says. “I’ve been involved in making a lot of movies over the years and it’s unusual when you have something [like this] that has touched so many generations for so long. You feel a tremendous responsibility to that level of passion of the community of fans.”

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Terrio says that throughout the process, the team has had their ear to the ground when it comes to what the fans say. As fans of the franchise too, he and Abrams pooled writing inspiration from the cast, particularly from Anthony Daniels.

Anthony Daniels plays C-3PO, the only character and actor to appear in all nine films in the Star Wars franchise.
PHOTO BY Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney
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“[Abrams] and I, are Star Wars fans. We’re in dialogue with each other as writers, but also as fans. All the time, we talked about different theories that we heard… but something I haven’t been able to say yet is that Anthony Daniels, who’s been the character in the saga all the way through, has truly been an inspiration for us,” Terrio says.

“I’ve been involved in making a lot of movies over the years and it’s unusual when you have something [like this] that has touched so many generations for so long.”

“The first film I ever saw was Return of the Jedi and his voice has been in my head ever since I could talk. One of the saddest things about ending this process is I don’t get to write ‘3PO’ and write some lines of dialogue under that anymore,” he adds. “I know that J.J. shares in that sentiment because Anthony Daniels is the heart and soul of Star Wars, and we’re so lucky to have worked with him.”

“Anthony Daniels is hidden—he’s in costume. But the truth is, it’s his physical performance, it’s his voice, him being the first character we ever met in Star Wars—that was the way into the story. He was the character that allowed us to laugh, that allowed us to know the tone instantly—and he did so with his face hidden, which is incredibly hard to do,” says Abrams. “I don’t think enough can be said about what it is that Anthony Daniels has brought and how we have probably taken it for granted because he’s so good.”

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Co-producer Rejwan says that everyone onboard is a fan. And amidst the numerous theories milling around, the responsibility they carry as storytellers is visceral. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to tell a great story, and I think that [Abrams] has done that beautifully here,” she says.

Creative Storytelling

Coupled with the film's plot, a large part of what makes the fantasy work is the effort to create a believable universe. PHOTO: Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney

The Rise of Skywalker’s success is down to how it is able to cap the three-part story Lucas first envisioned in a way that resonates with audiences then and now. “Ultimately, we do this by bringing in a filmmaker who has a strong point of view,” says Kennedy, who makes it a point to share how she’s seen the Philippine-produced Globe ad, “A Star Wars experience for all” and was absolutely moved.

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“That beautiful ad is so touching. To me, that’s a perfect example where somebody took an interpretation of something that meant something to them and made this incredible emotional statement,” she says. “That could only have come from the point of view of a filmmaker.”

Abrams’ knack for writing impressive plotlines has helped him expand on Lucas’ original vision, and has finally helped him tie 42 years of storytelling together in a way that makes sense and is meaningful not just to the actors and the team, but to anyone who’s ever shared in the Star Wars experience.

“To finally have this movie out in the world is incredibly exciting,” says Abrams. “Personally, I can’t wait for you to see the work that the actors on stage have done. It’s extraordinary, as is the visual effects of the film. I think it’s the best work that [Industrial Light & Magic] has ever done, which is a considerable thing to say.”

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Thrill Ride

There's no shortage of action sequences and battles in the realm of Star Wars. PHOTO: Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney

At the end of the day—no matter how cult-like the Star Wars fanbase gets, it’s important to remember that the films are meant for people to enjoy. “I think it’s a shame when people get too angry or too worked up that they didn’t like this or that… It’s a story, it’s fun, it’s a joy, it’s a family experience,” points out Daniels—the only actor who has starred in all nine movies of the trilogy, playing droid C3-PO. “People will feel satisfied—I know I do. All the ends come together very, very well, and that’s a miracle [coming from Abrams and Terrio]. I know that this sounds stupid, but I found this movie very easy to follow. It’s told so clearly that people will just dive in.”

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In this movie, even C3-PO gets in on the action, riding around on speeders with the rest of the crew. “It was like a fairground ride with very complicated mechanics, which could go every which way. We were tied on to the speeders by the safety crew so we couldn’t fall off, but it felt like we could anytime. After three days of that, I couldn’t walk!”

The troupe of Star Wars actors who take the helm in this last trilogy is made up of John Boyega who plays Finn, Oscar Isaac who plays pilot Poe Dameron, and Daisy Ridley who plays Rey. With their skyrocketing rise to stardom over the last few years, they’ve all been exposed to the thrill-ride quality of living and breathing Star Wars.

Don't forget BB-8!
PHOTO BY Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney
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The fun and ruckus audiences see onscreen translate to the actors’ own experiences hopping into roles for many years in a franchise that they could have only dreamed of being a part of. After having mostly separate storylines over the last two films, Finn, Poe, and Rey finally come together in The Rise of the Skywalker, giving the movie an old-fashioned group-adventure feel reminiscent of Han, Leia, and Luke.

“The group dynamic brings a looseness—a real energy to the table. It’s funny,” says Isaac. “It feels a bit more like the ‘originals’ did, doing things as a trio.”

“There’s charisma there,” adds Boyega. “With us together, you’re reminded that these people are young—especially when they’re bickering and bantering. As actors, it definitely makes you feel more energetic when there’s a looseness in these scenes. It felt like we were ‘attacking’ them—handling them differently.”

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Invested Star Wars fans have picked up on the chemistry between Boyega and Isaac and have made it one of the more popular 'ships.' “That was a little bit unexpected to us because a lot of [that chemistry] in the first film was subtextual—as an actor, you never know how that comes across,” Isaac says.

“It’s funny that fans feel that maybe it was even part of the directing,” comments Boyega. “But no, it had nothing to do with that!”

“But I think that what the fans said did influence the next films. John and I weren’t afraid to show it more and more,” Isaac answers.

The Star Wars Family

Poe, Finn, and Rey now make up the Star Wars trio—reminiscent of the Luke-Leia-Han trifecta, but with their own nuances. PHOTO: Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney

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There is a clear bond between cast members, Abrams, and the rest of the Star Wars production. The relationships audiences pick up on when they watch these actors onscreen is just an echo of the strong emotional core that the movies are founded on.

“I think the thing that George Lucas hit upon and that we all relate to is the importance of family and family connections,” says Kennedy. “That’s what it represents—that they have formed a family, even though it’s made up of people that didn’t really have connections. That was very much the origin story of Star Wars to begin with. It’s the idea of those kind of connections inside a family. You care so deeply about the people that you’re protecting or that you’re in partnership with and I think that carries through.”

Carrie Fisher, who has been present since the first Star Wars film, has played in an integral part not only in the film, but bonds formed behind the camera.
PHOTO BY Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney
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One of the deepest connections made in and out of the filming of Star Wars through the years was between audiences, cast members, and crew with Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia. Fisher passed away in 2016 and her work on The Last Jedi came out posthumously. It was Fisher’s contribution to the film and to her Star Wars family that compelled Abrams to find a way to bring her back in The Rise of Skywalker through unused footage from the previous film.

“There was no way that we could tell the end of the Skywalker saga without Leia—it was too important and we could not ever consider recasting or using a digital character,” Abrams says. “We realized we had footage with Carrie we could write around. It was very emotional and a bit strange at first, doing these scenes without the most important person there. But we did them, knowing how important it was, not just for the character, but for the woman who played the character, who we all loved.”

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“There was no way that we could tell the end of the Skywalker saga without Leia—it was too important and we could not ever consider recasting or using a digital character.”

“I knew [Fisher] a little bit before we worked together for The Force Awakens, so losing her was heartbreaking. Using this footage allows us to give the audience the gift of seeing [Fisher] playing Leia one more time, we’d like to think. We all miss her very much and we wish more than anything she was with us today,” he adds.

What Comes Next

The possibilities are endless in the galaxy far, far away. PHOTO: Jonathan Olley/Courtesy of Disney

The Skywalker saga may have been our gateway into the Star Wars galaxy, but its coming to a close does not mean that the entire universe closes up shop. With the many spin-offs, TV series, books, new characters, and new worlds the Star Wars universe has spawned, it should come as no surprise that this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about Star Wars.

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With the very recent success of The Mandalorian (now available in the US with Disney’s streaming service, Disney+), more additions are to be expected. “We’re discussing our plans in a lot of detail right now because we can now move in just about any direction we want,” says Kennedy. “There are some opportunities that may come out of some of the stories that we’re doing in that part of the Universe. But we’re looking at future television series now because that’s a great opportunity for Star Wars to explore live-action television and longform storytelling,” she adds.

Leaving a Legacy

As fans begin to wonder about what’s next for Star Wars, everyone behind The Rise of Skywalker is focused on staying in the moment and enjoying the ride while it lasts.

The characters grew throughout the franchise, which everyone worked on for years.  
PHOTO BY Lucasfilm
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“Poe was the first time I was ever with a character for this amount of time. Often with a TV series, you live with the character and I’ve never done anything like that,” Isaac says. “To grow and watch how Poe’s been used in the different stories and films has been really interesting.

Right now, I’m almost feeling like I don’t want the movie to come out because then, I have to say goodbye to my friends. It does feel like we’ve been climbing this mountain for years now, and we’ve just made it to the top. There’s a feeling of exhilaration and disbelief for now, and I think those feelings of missing everything will come—when the dust settles and the movie’s out,” continues Boyega.

“This is the part when we release this movie to the world and it’s not even ours anymore. We’ve had such an incredible time working on it. I laughed through the entire production...I had such an amazing time especially in Jordan. It’s exciting and at the same time, it’s sad that I won’t have the consistency of [Isaac] or [Ridley] on the sets that I go to anymore. The last day of filming was very, very emotional. You’re leaving a bunch of people you worked with over years. You have personal relationships. What you guys don’t really get to see is how we’ve seen people grow, multiply, have kids… Star Wars has created a bond between everyone.

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“It feels really momentous to be part of this. It’s also a strange thing to divide Star Wars from our lives over six years—a big chunk of anyone’s lives.”

Also, we always knew this moment was going to come. I guess at the beginning of that, you’re not really thinking about three movies, or six, seven years. You just handle each film as it comes. But now, it being the end, it’s definitely bitter—it’s bittersweet.”

“Going into this, I would have never imagined what this could have been,” confesses Ridley. “It feels really momentous to be part of this. It’s also a strange thing to divide Star Wars from our lives over six years—a big chunk of anyone’s lives. Working in a place where you feel good and really safe to make mistakes, try again, laugh, cry, and everything is kept within a family is really wonderful and I’m really glad that I’ve had that experience with all these people in this amazing legacy.”

“It’s an incredibly humbling experience,” says Isaac. “Even bigger than cinema, Star Wars is a worldwide, cultural phenomenon. To have been a part of contributing to that story and to the closure of that saga is a source of great pride.”

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Fan Theories

A lot of questions still run in fans' heads, including Rey's abilities and mastery of the Force. PHOTO: Jonathan Olley

Through the years, many fans have speculated about how the Skywalker saga would come to a close. Popular theories pose questions on Rey’s heritage. “When we finished The Last Jedi, I was satisfied with what Rey learned in that film,” Ridley recounts. Her character, Rey, comes to terms with her parents being junk traders. The theories now hinge on her skill with the Force and what it could possibly mean about her family line. “Going into this film, I realized Rey had some frustration with what she had been told and still has answers she is searching for. She feels she needs to know what’s gone so she can move forward. So there is some searching, and there are some answers.”

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For now, fans have a few days left to ponder their hypotheses and make what they can from the Easter eggs hidden in The Rise of Skywalker’s trailer. If anything, people can be sure there will be heartfelt farewells throughout the film just as C3-PO does, “taking one last look… at my friends.”

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be shown in the Philippines from December 20 to 22 and January 8, 2020 onwards.

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