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In a discussion led by fan (and celebrated writer/director/producer) Ava DuVernay, and attended by SYFY WIRE, the cast and creators of Episode IX gathered at the Pasadena Convention Center in California on Wednesday to partake in a news conference, but it turned into a loving farewell to the end of the Skywalker era.
The esteemed attendees included director J.J. Abrams, screenwriter Chris Terrio, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and actors Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels, Richard E. Grant, and Lando himself, Billy Dee Williams. And while Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016, her presence was very much felt today.
While discussing using The Force Awakens footage so that Fisher could posthumously appear in ROS, Abrams brought up their use of lighting in that process, and just as he said the word “lighting,” perhaps Fisher's ears were ringing, because a side light inexplicably just turned off. To which Abrams stopped mid-thought, pointed to the light, and said, “Amazing!”
Then after unsuccessfully trying to get another light to turn off, said, “That was creepy. Hi Carrie! ... That’s so Carrie, by the way, to do that. Really weird.”
Abrams went on to explain how they updated the old footage: “We knew that we had an opportunity to use the footage to create scenes that Leia would be in. And of course, had Carrie been around — and it’s still impossible for me to believe that she isn’t, because we’ve been editing with her for about a year, and she’s been very much alive with us in every scene… if we had Carrie around, would we have done some different things here and there? Of course, we would have. But we had an opportunity to have Carrie in the movie. And working with all the actors, including Billie Lourd, her daughter who’s in scenes with her, we were able to do something, I think, that Carrie would be happy with. She’s great in the movie, of course. And it’s still emotional and moving to think of her, and how sad we all are that she’s not sitting with us here today."
Tran also spoke about Fisher’s enduring impact: "J.J. was talking about ending nine films, and Carrie was such a big part of all that. So I think for me, personally, there was a lot of wanting to honor this thing, and do right by this thing. ... And I think that she's pretty effing incredible in this movie."
Of course, the cast was also thinking about Peter Mayhew, who originally played Chewbacca and passed away in April.
"When Peter passed this last year, I was heartbroken," said Suotamo, who has played the Wookiee since The Force Awakens. "But I like to think that in this film, I attempted to do him justice."
Like Star Wars itself, the press conference didn’t focus solely on the sad parts, though. There were also plenty of laughs, like when Suotamo got the gathered press to correctly pronounce his last name out loud.
Or when Abrams revealed that Keri Russell really loved her Zorii Bliss mask. “Kerri loved the mask so much, that the first two days she worked as Zorii, the entire two days I never saw her face,” said Abrams. “She could have, like most people, taken the mask off between takes, or after a couple of hours, or after the whole day. ... I got to work with Kerri for a couple of days and never saw her.”
Apparently, Abrams mentioning the mask helped lure Russell to a galaxy far, far away. “He told me about the idea of the mask, and personally I love the mask. I mean, that’s my fantasy dream sequence that I can see everyone in this super-tough version of myself, my costume, and no one can see me ... that’s my dream! It’s a real power play because no one can see what you’re thinking but you can see everyone else.” (You can glimpse Zorii Bliss and get some insight into her character at about the 6:50 mark in the video below.)
Another funny moment was when DuVernay brought up that Kennedy got her start as a camera op on Monday Night Football, where she got taken out by a Minnesota Vikings linebacker on national TV to the point where she was “flying through the air like an airplane.”
Speaking of flying, when Terrio, a fan first, was initially presented with the daunting task of facing the blank page alongside Abrams (who very much wanted a co-writer with fresh Star Wars eyes), he screamed with glee for eight minutes or so, and then remembered thinking: “We have to land the biggest Star Destroyer in the world on the end of a needle."
DuVernay, who saw the film last night and knows a thing or two about writing a script, was duly impressed. “It’s the finale of this whole thing, it’s so beautifully done ... the dialogue, the act breaks, the arc of the script ... I have to applaud you, this is an epic feat.”
Ackie, who also saw the film last night, seemed to agree with DuVernay’s take. “We watched it yesterday, I'm not being funny ... I left it like my heart was beating so hard. It's the most visually beautiful thing I've ever seen. It makes you feel like a child. And there was an element of feeling like a child on the set."
If you’re excited to recapture a bit of your childish wonder again, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is coming in hot, landing on the end of needle on Dec. 20.