Do you think Ms. Kennedy was surprised you didn’t accept immediately?
She was slightly confused, I think. The next few days, I couldn’t sleep. I thought I was going to do a pros-and-cons list, but the truth is, it was more a decision from the heart. There was no way I could not do this.
How much of the story of “The Last Jedi” was dictated to you, either by events in “The Force Awakens” or by Lucasfilm?
I had figured there would be a big map on the wall with the whole story laid out, and it was not that at all. I was basically given the script for “Episode VII;” I got to watch dailies of what J. J. was doing. And it was like, where do we go from here? That was awesome.
So there’s no one telling you that your film has to contain certain plot points, or that certain things have to be achieved by its end?
Nothing like that. But it’s the second film in a trilogy. The first film got these characters here. This second movie has to dig into and challenge these characters. I wanted this to be a satisfying experience unto itself. I didn’t want it to end with a dot, dot, dot, question mark.
What inspiration did you draw from the raw footage of “The Force Awakens”?
Rey and Kylo are almost two halves of our protagonist. It’s not like Kylo is our Vader. In the original trilogy, Vader is the father — he’s the one you’re afraid of and who you want the approval of. Whereas Kylo represents anger and rebellion, the sometimes healthy — and sometimes not — desire to disconnect from the parents. It’s my favorite kind of quote-unquote bad guy, because you can genuinely see what their weakness is.
“The Force Awakens” left you with many significant unanswered questions: Who are Rey’s parents? Why did Luke flee? Who is the mysterious villain, Supreme Leader Snoke? To the extent that “The Last Jedi” answers any of them, did you feel obliged to consult with J. J.?
If I had questions — what did you think this was going to be? What were your ideas for this? — I could always ask him. But those questions only address what these characters want and how they get there.
Take the question of who Rey’s parents are: If you get the information — oh, it’s that! — who really cares? I know a lot of people care, but it’s interesting as opposed to impactful. Now, what is my place in the world? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? O.K., I understand what the weight of that is. We could play with those questions and their answers to have the biggest emotional impact on these characters.
You get to give Luke Skywalker his first lines of dialogue in this trilogy.
That was the first thing I had to figure out. Why is Luke on that island? And I didn’t have any answers. But it’s not like you can just pick anything you want out of the air. I grew up having a sense of who Luke Skywalker is. It guides you to a very specific path. I know he’s not hiding on the island. I know he’s not a coward. He must be there for a reason that he believes in. You’re finding a path forward, but there end up being fewer choices than you think.
Since you grew up a “Star Wars” fan, were you intimidated to work with longtime franchise stars like Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher?
It took a while before I could sit across the table with Mark and not, every three seconds, think, I’m talking to Luke Skywalker. With Carrie, I felt we connected as writers very quickly. She spoke her mind, man. They both did. Anyone whose life is that weirdly tied to a character like this, where you drop a script in their lap and say, “Now it’s this,” there’s no way it’s not a discussion. But they were both so engaged in the process, and trusting. The fact that both of them at some point said, “O.K., even if this isn’t what I was expecting, I’m going to trust you” — that was really touching.
Ms. Fisher died shortly after she finished filming. How did you absorb this tragedy? Did you feel as if you had to alter the movie?
When she passed away, we were pretty deep into postproduction. When we came back to the edit room after New Year’s, it was so hard. We went through all her scenes. I felt very strongly that we don’t try to change her performance. We don’t adjust what happens to her in this movie. Emotionally, you can’t help recontextualize it, now that she’s gone. It’s almost eerie how there are scenes that have an emotional resonance and a meaning, especially now. She gives a beautiful and complete performance in this film.
What is your working relationship with Colin Trevorrow? [Editor’s note: This interview took place before Lucasfilm parted ways with Mr. Trevorrow, who was to have directed “Star Wars: Episode IX.”]
It’s been very similar to J. J. and I. I’ve given it some trajectory forward, and now I get to see where another storyteller is going to take it. I’ve been available, and he’s shot me questions. But I’m pretty much sitting back and seeing how it’s all going to come together for him.
What does “The Last Jedi” mean?
It’s in the opening crawl of “The Force Awakens.” Luke Skywalker, right now, is the last Jedi. There’s always wiggle room in these movies — everything is from a certain point of view — but coming into our story, he is the actual last of the Jedi. And he’s removed himself and is alone on this island, for reasons unknown.
We hear a voice in the teaser trailer say, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” Is that Luke speaking?
That’s him. It sounds pretty dire. That’s something that we’re definitely going to dig into. The heart of the movie is Luke and Rey. It follows all the other characters, but its real essence is the development of the two of them. And it’s absolutely tied up in that question of, What is Luke’s attitude toward the Jedi?
And Han Solo returns as a Force ghost?
Han Solo as a Force ghost, obviously. And Jar Jar, he’s Snoke. Everything I’m dropping is gold, right here.
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