We are now at a point where you can count on two hands the number of days until Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters. My level of Star Wars geekery is at its zenith in anticipation of the next saga installment, but my mind is still on the fact that this is the last time we will see Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. So when I got the chance to share the air with the cast and director of this upcoming blockbuster, I was most interested to hear stories about working with the legendary Ms. Fisher on her final film.
Laura Dern joins the cast as Amilyn Holdo, a Vice Admiral in General Leia’s resistance. “I’ll just speak to this present experience to say that we always had Carrie, not just Leia, her wisdom,” Laura explains. “People speak about people who were brave or fearless, but beyond that I’ve known, luckily, a few people that would hold those descriptions, but not that they would be without shame. And that’s what moved me the most about the icon she gave us, but also what she gave us individually and personally, which is to carry who she was so directly, and to be without shame, and share her story, and to expect nothing less from any of us. And the privilege of watching how Rian [Johnson] has so beautifully captured all of that, and her grace, and this amazing, beautiful, pure performance. But also I think she found an equal, irreverence, subversive, and they had this dance that gives up this performance that I was just so impressed with.”
Gwendoline Christie returns as Captain Phasma, but as a child the character of Princess Leia left a lasting impact. “I was six and I remember thinking, wow, that character is really different. I watched TV and film obsessively from such a young age and it stayed with me throughout my formative years. She’s really interesting, she’s really smart, she’s really funny, she’s courageous, she’s bold, she doesn’t care what people think and she isn’t prepared to be told what to do.”
At 6’3, Gwendoline also identified with the physical attributes of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. “She doesn’t look the same as a sort of modernized representation of a woman that we had been used to seeing. So what was really instrumental for me as someone who didn’t feel like they fit into that modernized view of what a woman was supposed to be, there was inspiration there. That you could be an individual and celebrate yourself and be successful without giving yourself over, without necessarily making some terrible compromise. She was a big inspiration to me and to play a character as well from what we’ve seen in The Force Awakens, I was very excited when I was shown just the best looking costume. Here we were seeing a character whereby a woman wasn’t… her femininity wasn’t delineated in terms of the shape of her body, in terms of her physical attractiveness.”
Kelly Marie Tran hit the Hollywood jackpot when she landed the role of Rose Tico, The Last Jedi is her first big film. As you would expect, she learned a lot from working with a seasoned actress and lively spirit like Fisher. “Something about Carrie that I really look up to, which I didn’t realize until recently, was just how much courage it takes to be yourself when you’re on another platform or when possibly a lot of other people will be looking at you. And she was so unapologetic and so openly herself and that is something that I’m really trying to do and it’s hard.”
To state the obvious, this new wave of Star Wars films provides a more balanced representation of gender and it all began with Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens. “I knew it was a big deal, but the response was so beyond anything that I could have imagined… and it’s not like I ever took it for granted or anything, but it was just so monumental, the response and how people felt about it, and honestly that’s a testament to Kathy [Kennedy], J.J. [Abrams] , Michael [Arndt], Larry [Kasdan], everyone who created the characters in the beginning.”
Gwendoline Christie reflects back on the days before her offer to be part of The Force Awakens. “I wasn’t cast yet in the first Star Wars film when I found out about the casting and I was utterly delighted to see that there was a more representative selection of actors that were going to be in these incredible Star Wars films and that has continued. And everything that my amazing colleagues say is absolutely right. You get to see women that are not big or strong just because they’re acting like men. They’re doing something else and also you’re seeing a developed character, or at least a developing character, that’s showing some complex character traits. And I’m just delighted about that, I’m delighted that something as legendary as Star Wars has decided to be modern and to reflect our society more as it is.”
Not only are there new cast members in the film, but Rian Johnson was also new to this cast when he came onboard as Writer and Director. “It was a dream just to get to work with [Laura Dern]. The character that she plays in all of its glorious purple haired wonder, we were really able to dig in and do some really exciting, fun stuff. And there were moments on set when suddenly [Laura] would catch my eye and say ‘This feels like we’re making an independent film.’”
“What [Rian] does so beautifully,” Laura Dern adds, “Is just the intimacy of discovering each character’s conflict. It’s just extraordinary given the enormity of the cast, that he gave us that in the experience of the workplace. It was shocking and we talked about how stunned we were that we were in such a massive environment and did feel like we were in an indie movie. [He] was always encouraging us to try things and explore character and explore this duality of the light and the dark within characters. And what he speaks to so beautifully, not just that there’re alternative universes, but that what lies within seems to be the place where George Lucas first started the mythology of that, it’s just so brilliant. And a group of us sitting together watching it for the first time was amazing because it was like we were with 3,000 people. We were screaming, standing up, crying.”
Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, reprises her role as Lieutenant Connix. Reflecting back on all of the wonderful things that made Carrie Fisher a one-of-a-kind human being, Daisy Ridley reflects on working with Billie. “Carrie’s daughter Billie is, I think, all of those qualities. She’s smart and funny and shameless and wonderful.” To that, Mark Hamill can’t help but add, “And always late.” Like mother like daughter I suppose, but Daisy ignores him and continues. “I think Carrie bringing up a daughter who is all of those qualities and then some in this world, if that’s what she did just her being her, I think it speaks volumes to what she did as her in the spotlight and to her as Leia.”
It’s clear that all of the heroines in Star Wars: The Last Jedi share a piece of Princess Leia’s spirit, the unique ability to be nurturing, brave, defensive, and brilliant all at the same time. To me, that’s one of the most special qualities about the Star Wars films and I think it’s part of the reason they’ve stood the test of time, remaining eternally relevant forty years after the original film debuted. Of all the quotes I walked away with, the one that stuck with me the most was what Kelly Marie Tran said. “I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie. What an example and I am so fortunate to have met her and I think that she will really live on forever.” We Star Wars fans were also lucky to have known her, through repeated viewings of the original trilogy or encountering her over-the-top personality at conventions, Carrie Fisher gave a piece of herself to all of us. With such diverse female characters leading the way in The Last Jedi and beyond, it’s clear that the impact of Princess Leia will never end and we will hold her in our hearts forever.
You can see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters starting December 15th.