FORCE FOR THOUGHT
PRODUCER RAM BERGMAN TELLS RICHARD EDWARDS HOW THE LAST JEDI IS PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF A STAR WARS MOVIE
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.”
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.