FORCE FOR THOUGHT

PRO­DUCER RAM BERGMAN TELLS RICHARD ED­WARDS HOW THE LAST JEDI IS PUSH­ING THE BOUND­ARIES OF A STAR WARS MOVIE

SFX - - Features -

USU­ALLY when SFX speaks to a film­maker a cou­ple of months ahead of their block­buster’s re­lease, they’re hec­ti­cally run­ning around fid­dling with scores, sign­ing off the colour grad­ing, or mak­ing a last dash to fi­nalise ef­fects shots. so it’s some­thing of a sur­prise when The Last Jedi pro­ducer Ram Bergman tells SFX, “we fin­ished the movie, there’s just clean-ups here and there, work­ing on the DVD, press, things like that. But the film’s ba­si­cally done.”

we’re go­ing to take that as a big pos­i­tive ahead of Episode VIII’s ar­rival – along with the fact that all of the be­hind-the-scenes buzz around the project has been, well, good. we’re the first to ad­mit that big stu­dios aren’t gen­er­ally in the habit of spread­ing any­thing but mes­sages of har­mony and love ahead of their block­busters land­ing in cin­e­mas, but the re­booted Star Wars galaxy has had to deal with more than its fair share of back­stage shenani­gans since Dis­ney bought the keys to the mil­len­nium fal­con back in 2012. In­deed, from all the (not of­fi­cially con­firmed) ru­mours about Gareth ed­wards’s di­min­ished role on Rogue One to full-on di­rec­tor swaps on Episode IX and han’s solo movie Solo, it’s only JJ abrams on The Force Awak­ens and now The Last Jedi writer/di­rec­tor Rian John­son who’ve made it to the end in one piece.

“Rian wrote the script and peo­ple re­ally loved it,” Bergman re­calls. “that was as sim­ple as I can say. when Rian was hired, JJ was es­sen­tially just a month into film­ing, so there were not re­ally any guide­lines for us – we just had the script that JJ was film­ing and dailies of what they were do­ing. then at some point in the writ­ing process, we ba­si­cally told the stu­dio where it’s go­ing to go and ev­ery­body seemed to be on board. It was the month af­ter JJ fin­ished film­ing the movie when we de­liv­ered the script, and Kathy [Kennedy, Lu­cas­film head] and the stu­dio loved it. the first draft is prob­a­bly 90% of the movie that we ended up shoot­ing a year later.”

for any­one look­ing into that galaxy far, far away, that seems like a wise strat­egy. with high-school noir Brick and tricksy time-travel thriller Looper – two of the most mem­o­rable films of the 21st cen­tury – John­son proved him­self to be a quirky, idio­syn­cratic au­teur with a great ear for snappy dia­logue. why hire such an ex­cit­ing tal­ent – al­beit one who has no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of a mega-bud­get block­buster – and ask him to churn out an other stu­dio se­quel, un­less you’re des­per­ate to play safe? But was there ever a dan­ger that John­son might have pushed the story too far?

“there were some things where you say, ‘oh shit, they’re never go­ing to let us do this!’ but

they to­tally did, and I think ev­ery­body re­alised that it’s prob­a­bly what it needed,” says Bergman. “and ev­ery­body was like, ‘Don’t be safe.’ to the credit of Kathy, and Bob Iger and alan horn [Dis­ney Ceo and chair­man, re­spec­tively] and all those guys, they never tried to push us to­wards the safe. what­ever we pitched, what­ever Rian said he wanted to do, they com­pletely sup­ported, and I think they un­der­stood why it needed to be that way. so def­i­nitely, Rian had the vi­sion, but you have to give credit to the peo­ple on top; they had the vi­sion to ac­tu­ally say yes, we need to shake it up a bit.”

of course, that screw­ing with a for­mula in­cludes John­son’s much pub­li­cised ap­proach to Luke sky­walker, which fa­mously prompted star mark hamill to tell his di­rec­tor, “I pretty much fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with ev­ery choice you’ve made for this char­ac­ter.”

“I think when you watch the movie, you think this is not where I thought it was go­ing to go,” Bergman tells SFX. “that’s the beauty of it. I can­not get into the de­tails, but the script that Rian wrote was re­ally tak­ing it in a di­rec­tion you never re­ally ex­pected, and which kind of made it ex­cit­ing for ev­ery­one who was in­volved in the movie. But of course in the be­gin­ning it was hard for mark, es­pe­cially com­ing from

Episode VII [where he barely ap­peared], which also was a bit hard for him.”

STAR LORE

while ev­ery pre­vi­ous Star Wars episode has been pre­ceded by an in-uni­verse gap of at least a year (any­thing from the 12 months or so be­tween The Em­pire Strikes Back and Re­turn Of

The Jedi, to the three decades sep­a­rat­ing Jedi and The Force Awak­ens), The Last Jedi breaks with tra­di­tion by pick­ing up ex­actly where its pre­de­ces­sor left off. It’s a move Bergman reck­ons was some­thing of a no-brainer.

“THE MOVIE WON’T BE WHAT YOU EX­PECT – THAT’S THE BEAUTY OF IT”

“there wasn’t any de­lib­er­a­tion,” he says. “Im­me­di­ately when you saw the end of The

Force Awak­ens, with the cliffhanger, you knew you wanted to know what hap­pens right af­ter that mo­ment. It wasn’t even a ques­tion.”

that de­ci­sion, how­ever, adds to a tricky dilemma – how do you ex­plain away 30-plus years of back­story, with­out play­ing around with Star Wars sto­ry­telling con­ven­tion by adding nu­mer­ous flash­backs? (the clos­est the saga has ever come is Rey’s vi­sion in Episode

VII, and that was ef­fec­tively a cheat be­cause it was driven by the force.)

It’s cer­tainly in­for­ma­tion that can’t be brushed un­der the car­pet. for starters, we need to know the iden­tity of Rey’s par­ents; how supreme Leader snoke came to run the first or­der; what made the for­mer Ben solo hook up with the Knights of Ren; and how maz Kanata got her hands on the lightsaber Luke lost at Be­spin. It would also be handy to learn why gi­gan­tic evil or­gan­i­sa­tions with galac­tic dom­i­na­tion on their minds keep on build­ing colos­sal bat­tle sta­tions with eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able fa­tal flaws.

“You def­i­nitely think about [how to sup­ply that in­for­ma­tion],” ad­mits Bergman. “again, I can’t tell you how, but I think when peo­ple see the movie they’ll ba­si­cally un­der­stand to a large de­gree what hap­pened in be­tween. But not ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be an­swered...”

REY OF LIGHT

Per­haps the other big­gest mis­sion for The Last

Jedi to ne­go­ti­ate is the sheer vol­ume of core char­ac­ters – the big­gest prin­ci­pal cast in Star

Wars movie his­tory. okay, the late han solo’s no longer a con­cern – or is he? we don’t know yet if har­ri­son ford’s been tempted to re­turn for a back-from-the-dead Corel­lian cameo – but Episode VIII not only has to ser­vice orig­i­nal stars Luke, Leia, Chew­bacca, R2-D2 and C-3Po, and The Force Awak­ens stars Rey, finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren and BB-8, but also new­com­ers Rose tico, DJ and Vice-ad­mi­ral am­i­lyn holdo. and there will prob­a­bly be more we don’t know about yet.

“It’s def­i­nitely a chal­lenge, be­cause this movie does have more char­ac­ters than pre­vi­ous movies,” says Bergman. “But at the end of the day you kind of fig­ure out who are the main char­ac­ters car­ry­ing the main story, and you make sure you give arcs to tell the story of other char­ac­ters. You don’t have 10 hours in a movie, you only have a lim­ited amount of time, so how you tell the story of all those char­ac­ters is the tricky part. I think Rian de­liv­ered.”

and then there’s the ban­tha in the room, the small mat­ter of a pre­vi­ous sec­ond in­stal­ment in a Star Wars tril­ogy that’s fre­quently held up among the best part twos of all time – and no, we’re not talk­ing about At­tack Of The Clones. The Em­pire Strikes Back got so much right that it must be tempt­ing to just use that as your template and be done with it – much as The

Force Awak­ens riffed heav­ily on A new hope. “You look at it, and you look at all the movies, but by the same to­ken you put it aside and you say let’s do what’s right for this movie,” Bergman coun­ters. “Let’s for­get about the ex­pec­ta­tion, let’s do what’s right for the struc­ture of this movie. You stop look­ing at the other movies as a ref­er­ence. You tell the story of this movie as it is. are there things that would be sim­i­lar? for sure, but by the same to­ken, it’s not. You’re not con­sciously say­ing you’re mak­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent or sim­i­lar – you’re just try­ing to tell the best story in the best way.” hope­fully the force re­ally is strong with this one.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cin­e­mas from 14 De­cem­ber.

BB-8 re­turns and is ready to hang out with R2-D2.

Rian John­son and Chewie con­tem­plate an arm wres­tle.

We’re so happy the new film is go­ing to have mo’ Dameron.

The Last Jedi will fea­ture Car­rie Fisher’s fi­nal per­for­mance.

So evil, yet so stylish. We’ll see more of Gen­eral Hux.

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