Star Wars cast terrified of messing up

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will explore war in a way none of its predecessors has done, say its cast and director

Such is the spell cast by the Star Wars films that even if you are lucky enough to get to work on one, you never stop pinching yourself or worrying you are going to mess it up.

And this is true whether you are a newcomer to the space opera or franchise veteran Mark Hamill, who says he is still "intimidated and terrified" every time he becomes Luke Skywalker, the Jedi master he has played since the first movie in 1977.

"Everyone was just as equally terrified figuring out what we were doing," adds Adam Driver, the 34-year-old who plays Kylo Ren, one of the antagonists in the sequel trilogy that began with The Force Awakens (2015).

The cast and director of the second instalment of that trilogy, The Last Jedi, spoke to The Straits Times and other media at a recent Los Angeles press day.

The film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, continues the adventures of rebels Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) as they fight the sinister First Order alongside Luke and General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).

Director Rian Johnson, 43, is asked when he stopped feeling like an overawed fan and began to have creative ownership of this movie, his first Star Wars outing.

"Oh, I keep waiting for that moment to happen," he says, adding that when he first got to the set, he felt a bit out of place, "like the new boyfriend at a Thanksgiving dinner".

"Even standing up here and seeing the big Star Wars (logo) behind me, I'm, like, 'Do I belong here?'

"You're always feeling like you're a fan who sneaked in the back gate and who's getting away with something, which I think is probably a good thing," says the film-maker, who helmed the science-fiction thriller, Looper (2012).

Another new addition to the team is Kelly Marie Tran, cast as a resistance member named Rose Tico. The 28-year-old admits it was a struggle to maintain composure during the shoot.

"You have to find a way to just do the work and kind of block everything (else) out. But then, (the droid) C-3PO comes up and you're like, 'Oh.' You're constantly figuring out, 'How can I work in this environment', but also, 'This is awesome.' So, it's kind of a balance."

Boyega, on the other hand, had already worked on one of the biggest hits in the series, The Force Awakens. However, the 25-year-old - a Star Wars superfan since childhood - says he is "still trying to get over" landing the part of Finn, a stormtrooper who defects to the resistance.

Fans are speculating that this chapter will see key figures cross over to "the dark side" of the Force, the mystical energy that binds the galaxy.

But, in a departure for such press events, reporters have not been shown the film before their interviews and have to engage in a somewhat futile attempt to extract plot details from the actors.

They get the furthest with Boyega. "All the characters are under very intense pressure, everyone has his own specific reckoning and there's a lot going on.

"One thing that was unique (about this film) was the commentary on war," he says. "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 categorising of good and evil - it's all mixed together."

Ridley, 25, adds: "You're understanding both sides, why people are doing the things that they are doing and how it's being fed from everywhere. It makes for compassionate viewing."

Oscar Isaac, 38, who plays resistance pilot Poe Dameron, continues the trail of breadcrumbs.

"What Rian's done so well is he's deeply challenged every single character, including the droids (R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8 and BB-9E). The characters face their biggest challenges and that's how you get to learn about them on all sides of the spectrum - from light to dark."

Johnson says The Last Jedi "will be a little darker" than The Force Awakens, but promises it will not veer too far from the tone of the original trilogy (1977 to 1983), which many fans consider the best part of the series.

Like those stories, it draws from "the hero's-journey myth that Joseph Campbell wrote about".

"And the hero's journey is not about becoming a hero or Hercules. It's about the transition from childhood to adulthood and finding your place in the world.

"You have these new powers you're feeling inside yourself for the first time. You don't know what to do with them and you navigate tricky waters that we all have to navigate - that's why it's so universal."

At the same time, Johnson wants to re-create the child-like sense of wonder evoked by the early films.

He says: "To me, that means... that you have the intensity and you've got the opera, but it also makes you want to come out of the theatre and grab your spaceship toys and make them fly around. That's a key ingredient of it."

Yet, despite being a blockbuster movie with enormous sets and a sprawling cast, the actors spoke of feeling as if they were making an independent film, albeit one with a reported budget of US$250 million (S$338 million) and a projected global box-office haul in excess of US$1.5 billion.

Laura Dern, the 50-year-old actress who plays a new character, resistance leader Admiral Holdo, says this is because the story explores "the intimacy of each character's conflict".

Each actor was also encouraged to interpret the narrative and its themes for himself, says Driver, who notes that even veteran stars such as Hamill and Fisher "had to figure out what it means to them".

Moviegoers will have to do the same when they see it, Driver says, when asked what the message of the film is.

"I think that's a personal thing. Whatever your life is, you bring it to the theatre and the movie speaks to you in a different way."

• Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in Singapore tomorrow.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline Star Wars cast terrified of messing up. Subscribe