While it seems like it might take many Bothans to uncover the surprisingly still top-secret storyline of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” members of the film’s cast were at least willing to shed a little lightsaber glow on their behind-the-scenes experiences.
Assembling before a huge gathering of media outlets for one of two panels moderated by writer/actress Mindy Kaling, the saga’s iconic star Harrison Ford (Han Solo), newcomers John Boyega (Finn), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma) and Oscar Isaac (Po Dameron), and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy revealed some of the fascinating – and frequently funny – facts behind their tour of a galaxy far, far away.
Why Ford was gratified to return to the role that helped launch his superstardom, and how playing Han Solo feels today:
Ford: It’s because it’s what I do; it’s what I like to do. It’s what’s fun for me. And the chance to work with people that I really admire, doing something that I thought was going to be fun and which actually turned out to be fun. And to work with J.J., whose work I really admired and long known about, and it seemed like a good idea.
It’s gratifying to be asked to be part of this. There was an interesting story to tell through the character. It’s always nice to anticipate working in something that you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot; this is big casino. And it’s fun to play with these toys again. It’s been a great experience.
It seemed easy to come back to the character. Clothes make the man. I’ve walked more than a mile in those boots. I was interested in the described path of the character. I thought that it was an interesting bit of business for the character to do. And I’ve been having a real good time with J.J. Abrams talking about it and getting ready for the adventure of filming. So it was easy.
Kennedy: I can attest to the fact that for all of us that were there, the second he walked in, into the Millennium Falcon, and said his first line, Han Solo was back. It was pretty instantaneous.
Ford: What is the difference? I think it’s hard to say what the difference is. I can tell you how it feels. It feels familiar. It feels good. “It’s good to be home,” as Han says in the trailer, in the teaser trailer. I’m aware of the value that’s placed on these films by the audience, and I’m gratified that they’ve been passed on generationally through families.
On the now rapidly expanding “Star Wars” saga, and keeping the films consistent and connected:
Kennedy: We haven’t mapped out every single detail yet, but obviously, everybody’s talking to one another, working together. And that collaboration, I think, is what’s going to guarantee that everybody’s got a say in how we move forward with this. And so far, it’s going great. I mean, J.J. [Abrams] and Rian [Johnson] already talked at length, because Rian’s about to shoot shooting Episode VIII. [This cast is] getting ready to head over in January, and then Colin [Trevorrow] will start working with Rian and spending a lot of time on set with him.
On how a certain cast member’s trailer was the place to be:
Isaac: My uncle’s a huge “Star Wars” fan. I mean, he’s so obsessed with “Star Wars.” And I lost him. I couldn’t find him. And I heard all this laughter coming out of Carrie Fisher’s trailer. And I went in there and he was there just with Gary Fisher, her dog, just hanging out with him. I said, “Tio, what are you doing there? Get out of there!”
Ford’s advice to the new actors about becoming a part of the “Star Wars” pantheon:
Ford: I think my advice is pretty much limited to “Look both ways before you cross the street,” stuff like that. But I’m not going to tell them how to navigate this very personal space of trying to figure out the careers that they’ve chosen for themselves. It is bizarrely individual how you navigate the space between where they’re at now and the rest of your useful professional life. But they’re in for a big ride. And they know it, I think. I hope they know it.
Boyega: I don’t know if I’m ready for this whole thing. I just know that I’m just in it. It’s going to come out regardless. But it should but fine. [To Ford] You’ll let me sleep on your couch if I need to go AWOL, right?
Ford: [Shrugs] I hardly know you.
On the emergence of Captain Phasma as a breakout character even before the film’s release:
Christie: I was very surprised and heartened at the overwhelming response to the character of Captain Phasma. But we felt that what Kathleen and J.J. and everyone had created at “Star Wars” was – I think J.J. has been open about the fact that he wanted it to respect the origins of the films and celebrate them, but to bring them into the modern day.
And confirmation of that seemed to be, to me, in this amazing character of Captain Phasma, who is “Star Wars” first onscreen female villain – and more than that, this is a character who, so far, we have related to due to her choices, due to her character, and not due to the way she has been made in flesh – and conventionally, that is how we have related to female characters.
So this, to me, felt very progressive, and the response from the audience and the fans has been so celebratory, it makes me think that this is the kind of thing that people want to see. People want to see a more diverse reflection of society. And I feel incredibly privileged to play that part.
On the underlying appeal at the core of the new film:
Boyega: This is a movie about human beings, about Wookiees, spaceships and TIE Fighters. And it has an undertone and a message of courage and a message of friendship and loyalty. And I think that’s something that is ultimately important. I watched the movie with Kathy just last week, and I really, really relate to Rey more than any of the characters, and to be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than you who you are, within yourself, is something that’s inspirational to me. And I think that people take that away. In terms of the kids, all they’re going to be concentrating on is BB-8.
On the efforts made to safeguard story elements and preserve the mystery of the film:
Kennedy: I think right from the beginning, we respected the fans. And the fans have really been the ones focused around making sure that everybody and anybody who watches this movie gets to be surprised. We have so little things that surprise us anymore. When you walk into see a movie, it’s all told in the trailers. It ends up online way in advance. And I think that’s something that, overwhelmingly, I even had people say to me, “I don’t want to read anything, at all,” so they can get into the theater and actually have a pleasant surprise. So that’s really all that’s driving it. And we respected that in all ways we can.
On entering the greater “Star Wars” universe:
Isaac: I think this has been one of the coolest things about working with J.J. on this and working on this film is that there’s been a real sense of collaboration with that kind of thing. There’s almost been a bit of a sand box element of it. We talk about those things, and there was an evolution of the character, even from the first meeting with J.J. and Kathy and Larry [Kasdan] to what ended up on screen.
For example, with me, after we started filming, I was talking a bit about just what Poe had been from. And the thing is, at the very end of “A New Hope,” Guatemala’s claim to fame was that last shot where the ships are leaving, where you see the temples, had been shot in Guatemala. And for me, the fact that I was born there, and that’s a Rebel base and I’m playing a Resistance fighter, I thought, “Maybe Poe was there. Maybe that’s where he’s from.” And then this comic book comes out called “Shattered Empire,” where Poe’s parents ended up going to Yavin IV and making sweet love. And I think that’s the first time where talking about where the character could’ve comes from ends up in a comic book. And it’s a beautiful thing. It feels like we’re creating these things together.
Boyega: I remember reading this [fan] theory that Finn is Mace Windu’s grandson, something like that, and I was at a party, and someone behind me just tapped me on the shoulder and was just like, “Yo. Black Jedi! “And I turned around and it’s Samuel L. Jackson!
Christie: I was about six when I saw the film, and I remember being so struck by the character of Princess Leia, and thinking, even then, in my infant mind, this seems different to the other women I see in films and feeling very, very inspired by that and inspired by a woman with such tenacity and being so strong minded. And I asked Carrie Fisher. I said, “It felt like watching your performance implanted a seed in my mind.” And Carrie said that she did plant a seed, actually, in my mind.
Ford: I thought you were talking about the scene in the snake bikini sitting in Jabba the Hutt’s lap.
Christie: Not that, no.
Ford: That’s my favorite.
On their fannish moments while making the film:
Boyega: Oh, I was very excited to use that [lightsaber], because I think blue suits me. And it was amazing for me to read the whole script and to find out all the things that Finn gets to do. And for me, it’s like, I feel like for some reason – did J.J. know what kind of fan I was when it came to “Star Wars” and write this role for me? Because I get to wear a Stormtrooper suit, and a Rebel jacket. I have a blaster. I use a lightsaber. I hang out with fricking Han Solo and Chewie!. It’s just fantastic!
I have to say, though, there was a moment on the Falcon where Harrison, you had the blaster in your hand, and you were trying to skillfully put it in the holster. And Harrison stood there: [mimes repeatedly missing the holster] “Damn it. Damn it!” And me and Daisy [Ridley] were just behind the camera like, “This is fricking insane! Harrison is fricking right there!” And we had to do a scene together and not freak out. It was like mesmerizing to see Harrison in this environment, in the movies that we absolutely loved. [To Ford] And it was good to see you with Chewie. We freaked out, but we didn’t show you nothing. We tried to keep it professional for you.
I remember during the audition, not in the original films, but during the audition, I had screen-tested. And I heard that I was going to be brought back one last time. And mind you, I had been auditioning for several months, and I just needed inspiration. And I went on YouTube, and I saw Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill’s original audition tape just on YouTube, and that really inspired me to tap into the “Star Wars”-esque energy, because I think that was something I was trying to gauge. And that really inspired me, and I booked it! Thanks, Harrison. You’re so great.
On how some things really never change, even if you’re playing Han Solo nearly 40 years after your first run:
Ford: My kids do not think I’m cool. Being in this movie is not going to convince them otherwise. No. They’re just glad to see their dad is still working.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens Dec. 18 across North America.
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