The Rise of Skywalker will conclude a saga within the Star Wars galaxy that revolves around the Skywalker family. J.J. Abrams is tasked with ending a story that started with George Lucas’s imagination, a pencil, and a pad nearly 45 years ago. The pressure on Abrams might be bigger than any filmmaker has ever had – and Star Wars fans should be thrilled that he is the one taking on the challenge.
Vanity Fair‘s ultimate preview of The Rise of Skywalker (report by Lev Grossman and photos by Annie Leibovitz) dives into many aspects of the final chapter in the “Skywalker saga”, one of which being the fact that J.J. Abrams appears to have his finger firmly on the pulse of how to honor the past while building something new to conclude this incredible story.
When J.J. Abrams was asked to bring Star Wars back after what many believed was a completed story, he never shied to express how much pressure he felt to honor a franchise this historic and make the best movie he could. Things are different now. Abrams is not only tasked with completing the story he began telling in this trilogy with The Force Awakens, he needs to end a saga that has in recent years been labeled “The Skywalker Saga”, nine movies of intergalactic Civil War revolving around one very powerful family to determine the fate of the galaxy. Abrams is completely cognizant of that fact:
“That’s the challenge of this movie. It wasn’t just to make one film that as a stand-alone experience would be thrilling, and scary, and emotional, and funny, but one that if you were to watch all nine of the films, you’d feel like, Well, of course—that!”
Honoring the past while respecting our new characters’ stories and arcs is a difficult balance. The marketing for this film early on has focused on our new heroes and villains. From leaked posters, to the mural at Star Wars Celebration, and the teaser/trailer itself, Abrams is making it clear this story is about Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren.
“This trilogy is about this young generation, this new generation, having to deal with all the debt that has come before. And it’s the sins of the father, and it’s the wisdom and the accomplishments of those who did great things, but it’s also those who committed atrocities, and the idea that this group is up against this unspeakable evil and are they prepared? Are they ready? What have they learned from before? It’s less about grandeur. It’s less about restoring an old age. It’s more about preserving a sense of freedom and not being one of the oppressed.”
What does Abrams compare the rise of The First Order to? (Which we will learn more about in The Rise of Skywalker)
“It was almost like if the Argentine Nazis had sort of got together and actually started to bring that back in some real form,” Abrams says.
Leading the charge of space-Nazis under Supreme Leader Kylo Ren will be familiar face General Hux and Richard E. Grant’s character, General Pryde. I imagine Pryde hopes he has more screen time than Captain Canady did in The Last Jedi, which was well under five bloody minutes.
In addition to the First Order, there is no more secret about the Knights of Ren. In what everybody expected, they are making their debut (or return, depending on how you want to look at it?) in The Rise of Skywalker, and it appears they will be on this new desert planet Pasaana. So, more sand planets. Good thing Anakin isn’t alive!
How has Abrams changed in how he is making a Star Wars movie since he was tasked with reviving the franchise with The Force Awakens?
“Working on nine, I found myself approaching it slightly differently—which is to say that, on seven, I felt beholden to Star Wars in a way that was interesting—I was doing what to the best of my ability I felt Star Wars should be…(This time) it felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, F**k it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.”
So we have the good guys, the bad guys, but Star Wars always needs that level of uncertainty too. Many speculated on who Keri Russell will play in the movie, with some hoping for her to be a Knight of Ren or dark side user, but it turns out she is a bit of a “masked scoundrel.” Russell plays Zorri Bliss, pictured below in the “Thieves’ Quarter of the snow-dusted world Kijimi.”
J.J. Abrams is no longer obligated (perhaps self-inflicted) to perpetually bow down to what has come before, and in my opinion, he is not handling that in an arrogant manner, but in a way in which he understands is necessary. In order for Star Wars to remain relevant and vital is to evolve, and Abrams gets that. This isn’t a Rolling Stones greatest hits reunion tour, this is Star Wars putting out what looks to be another incredible “album” to tour on.
“Having seen what Rian did made me approach this from a place of instinct and gut. I was making choices I knew I would not have made on VII, some story-wise, but more in terms of directing. I found myself feeling less like I’m going to try and do something that feels like it’s [only] true to the specifics of this franchise or the story.”
“The idea of the movie is kind of how I felt going into the movie as a filmmaker, which is to say that I’ve inherited all this stuff, great stuff, and good wisdom, and the good and the bad, and it’s all coming to this end, and the question is, do we have what it takes to succeed?”
HONORING CARRIE FISHER
How Carrie Fisher is being handled for The Rise of Skywalker has surprisingly been hidden in the weeds of the mystery of this film, but Abrams has made it a point to honor the actress while also making sure they do it right, and it honors the story, and saga. I have left in the entire excerpt from Vanity Fair for this bit, as it is all very important in complete context.
“It’s hard to even talk about it without sounding like I’m being some kind of cosmic spiritual goofball,” Abrams says, “but it felt like we suddenly had found the impossible answer to the impossible question.” He started to write scenes around the old footage, fitting Leia’s dialogue into new contexts. He re-created the lighting to match the way Fisher had been lit. Bit by bit, she found her place in the new movie. “It was a bizarre kind of left side/right side of the brain sort of Venn diagram thing, of figuring out how to create the puzzle based on the pieces we had.” Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, appears in the movies as a Resistance officer named Lieutenant Connix, and at first Abrams deliberately wrote her out of the scenes in case it was too painful—but Lourd said no, she wanted to be in them. “And so, there are moments where they’re talking; there are moments where they’re touching,” Abrams says. “There are moments in this movie where Carrie is there, and I really do feel there is an element of the uncanny, spiritual, you know, classic Carrie, that it would have happened this way, because somehow it worked. And I never thought it would.”
Here are all of the quotes from Kathleen Kennedy and the actors of The Rise of Skywalker featured in Vanity Fair‘s coverage:
“We’ve passed on all we know..”
Our original heroes are still here to help the new generation in the final fight, all out war, for the fate of the galaxy.
Did you hear that? He had trouble with his first line!
“My first line would not go in my head! The line that I couldn’t say was two words: ‘common emblem.’ Common emblem, common emblem—I would say them thousands of times. My wife would say it back. I just couldn’t say them!”
BILLY DEE WILLIAMS, on defending Lando all these years even after he helped defeat the Empire:
“He’s a survivor. It’s expediency for him. You know, he was thrown into a situation which he didn’t look for and he had to try to figure out how to deal with an entity which is more than just a human.”
Oh and one more reminder, as he previously said during the Episode IX panel at Celebration:
JOONAS SUOTAMO, on becoming Chewbacca and honoring the legacy of the character, having now played the character in almost as many films as Peter Mayhew has (his four to Mayhew’s five):
“When I first met [Mayhew] he told me I was a wee bit too skinny. But we also had a Wookiee boot camp, which lasted for a week. He told me all kinds of things about the moves that Chewbacca does, how they came to be and his reasoning behind them. It’s very much like silent-era film, with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. He’s a mime character and that’s what he does, and I guess in that minimalism comes the beauty of the character.”
…but this is your fight.”
The new generation enter their third act, it is their time now.
OSCAR ISAAC, on making the film in authentic unpredictable environments:
“It’s the things that you can’t anticipate—the imperfections. It’s very difficult to design imperfection, and the imperfections that you have in these environments immediately create a sense of authenticity. You just believe it more.”
On the group (Rey, Finn, Poe) being together, with The Rise of Skywalker taking place one year after The Last Jedi:
“There has been a bit of shared history that you haven’t seen. Whereas in the other films, Poe is this kind of lone wolf, now he’s really part of a group. They’re going out and going on missions and have a much more familiar dynamic now.”
JOHN BOYEGA, on Finn finally knowing where he belongs after two movies of questions and uncertainty:
“I think he’s just an active member of the Resistance now. Episode Eight, he couldn’t decide what team he was fighting for. But since then he’s made a clear decision.”
NAOMI ACKIE, playing Jannah, making her debut in The Rise of Skywalker, on what makes Star Wars feel different than other movies it may be lumped in with in terms of genre:
“It feels very grounded. There’s the kind of spectacular-ness, and the supernatural move-things-with-your-mind magic stuff, but then there’s also this really grounded, rugged nature where everything is distressed and old and kind of worn out and lived-in. And I think playing with those two ideas means that you get this feeling that it could almost be real. Like, in a galaxy far away, it could almost be the case that you could have this.”
ADAM DRIVER, on the uncertainty surrounding the Force connection between Kylo Ren and Rey at this point, a year after the events of The Last Jedi:
“And then he had been forging this maybe-bond with Rey, and it kind of ends with the question in the air: is he going to pursue that relationship, or when the door of her ship goes up, does that also close that camaraderie that they were maybe forming?”
On Kylo Ren growing up in the shadow of two extremely important people, Han and Leia, who had their own agendas and perhaps weren’t the most hands-on time-devoted parents, while living in the their shadow as legends if the rebellion against the Empire:
“How do you form friendships out of that? How do you understand the weight of that? And if there’s no one around you guiding you, or articulating things the right way … it can easily go awry.”
DAISY RIDLEY, on where Rey is a year after The Last Jedi. Way more established in her abilities and confidence, as shown immediately in the first shots of the teaser for The Rise of Skywalker:
“It’s nice having that shot at the beginning of the teaser, because I think it’s quite a good visual representation of where she is now: confident, calm, less fearful.… It’s still sort of overwhelming, but in a different way. It feels more right—less like inevitable and more like there’s a focus to the journey.”
KATHLEEN KENNEDY, the Lucasfilm boss stresses the understanding that Star Wars is special. It is more than just a popcorn blockbuster movie franchise, it is our current mythology that transcends movies:
“I think there is a larger expectation that Disney has. On the other hand, though, I think that Disney is very respectful of what this is, and right from the beginning we talked about the fragility of this form of storytelling. Because it’s something that means so much to fans that you can’t turn this into some kind of factory approach. You can’t even do what Marvel does, necessarily, where you pick characters and build new franchises around those characters. This needs to evolve differently.”
Why Star Wars can’t be made the way it was over 40 years ago, and the importance of evolving with its audience:
“There’s a loss of innocence, a sense of innocence that existed in the 70s that I don’t think to any extent exists today. I think that has to permeate the storytelling and the reaction to the stories and how they’re set up. It has to feel differently because we’re different.”
The Vanity Fair preview has provided us with so much new information about the film. We have new planets, the sandy Pasaana, where it appears all of our heroes and villains will be facing off at some point in the film, and snow-dusted Kijimi.
We also have new characters, rebel Jannah, masked-scoundrel Zorri, and First Order General Pryde.
We are less than seven months away from seeing the final chapter in the “Skywalker saga”. I have been told by several different people, that this movie will be loaded with fan service, including “everything AND the kitchen sink”, so I fully expect we’ll see more nostalgic Easter eggs, cameos, and delights, in addition to all of this incredible newness presented here in this preview.
That all makes a lot of sense, because as I said in the open, J.J. Abrams has his finger on the pulse. He knows that he needs to honor the past while moving us forward, and at the same time, closing out this chapter in the Star Wars franchise, the story that revolves around this one family, the Skywalkers. I wouldn’t be more confident with any other filmmaker at the helm. I believe J.J. Abrams and crew will deliver one of the most unique, satistying, and stunning Star Wars films of all time. I can not wait for December!