'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' felt like a party in a backyard

The cast of the acclaimed new Star Wars film say the huge shoot was surprisingly relaxed -- at least until a couple of princes showed up.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
4 min read

It might be the biggest movie of the year, but making "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" felt like a party in someone's backyard, according to the stars of the critically acclaimed new movie.

"It did feel like an intimate set," said Oscar Isaac. "We got on set in our jeans and t-shirts and walked around and rehearsed. To have that kind of time in such a big movie was great." Laura Dern, a newcomer to the Star Wars saga, felt accepted straight away. "It felt like any other film family," she said. "It felt protected and safe and collaborative -- almost like a small movie in a way, but then you'd look up and see Chewbacca!"

Dern described the production as "the greatest dance and party I've ever been invited to". Fellow newcomer, Kelly Marie Tran, said the production "felt like hanging out in someone's backyard making a movie."

The cast gathered for a press conference in London on Wednesday to give a last glimpse into "Last Jedi" before it opens to the public in a matter of hours. "Last Jedi" has received widespread critical acclaim, adding up to a Metacritic score of 85. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, this latest episode of the Star Wars saga continues the adventures of Rey, Finn and Poe fighting alongside Luke Skywalker against the dark side's emissaries Kylo Ren and the villainous First Order. 

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The film also features the final performance from the late Carrie Fisher. Johnson says he treasures his memories of working with her. "She was first and foremost a writer, so thats how we connected," he said. "I'll always remember when we were at her house, digging out books, talking about words and hanging out ... I feel lucky to have had that".

The cast credit Johnson for creating such a relaxed atmosphere on the vast production. Dern praised the writer and director's "outrageous irreverence", while Oscar Isaac described him as "laid-back like a West Coast jazz musician. He's mellow in all the craziness. There was a real looseness within all the wildness."

There were some complaints about the director, of course. "Rian has the worst playlist on his phone," lamented John Boyega, before Johnson revealed his listening choices were often aimed at the young British star. "I would find songs that you loved and then find the Bluegrass covers of them," he said. And Mark Hamill, the saga's longest-serving star, has some thoughts on his character's retreat from the cosmic spotlight. "I still say a Jedi would never give up!"

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Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran joins John Boyega on the relaxed "Last Jedi" set.

David James

Hamill also felt ambivalent about passing the torch to a new generation. "I used to be the Force apprentice, the hotshot pilot or the one sneaking around," he said of the new characters. "I had to fight the urge that it's a bunch of strangers rummaging through my toybox playing with my toys!" Fortunately that feeling passed. "Now I'm happy to let the younger generation do the heavy lifting." 

Things weren't so relaxed when a couple of guests turned up on set: Princes William and Harry. "I'm not great at small talk so I found it a bit awkward!" admitted Daisy Ridley, who gave the royal pair a tour of the production. "We're just on the poster but there are thousands of people who have worked far harder and far longer than us," she said, "so for the people who aren't always recognised for their work to have received that, felt pretty cool."

William and Harry are rumoured to appear in the film, but Johnson wouldn't be drawn on if or when they appear in the finished film.

Hamill meanwhile invited William and Harry to settle a question of intergalactic etiquette. "I used the opportunity to try and solve something that's been bothering me since 'Return of the Jedi'", he said. "If Luke is Princess Leia's brother doesn't that make me royalty? I would ask Carrie and she always said no..."

And the answer? Prince Harry wasn't sure, but William at least said yes.

With Rey journeying to Luke Skywalker's remote hideout, Ridley and Hamill spent time preparing for their scenes together before arriving on location on the storm-lashed island of Skellig Michael. "What we didn't expect was they dropped tons of ice cold water on you!" recalls Hamill.

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Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill, with several tons of icy water just out of shot.

Jonathan Olley

Discussing the villains of the piece, Domhnall Gleeson said his character, the snarling First Order General Hux, was "like a kicked dog ... eventually he'll bite back." And Andy Serkis, who plays Supreme Leader Snoke via high-tech performance capture technology, identified the weakness behind the galactic dictator's fearsome facade. "He's like the Wizard of Oz," says Serkis. "Behind the curtains he's fearful of a very powerful feminine energy coming to get him."

With production finished and the film opening imminently, the cast now see themselves immortalised on screen -- and in toy shops around the world. "I enjoy the sheer joy of being a pez dispenser!" said Hamill of the galaxy of toys and merchandise bearing his face. "I want to be on a pair of underoos!" And John Boyega's take? "Still waiting on that cheque..." he joked.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is in theatres around the world on 14 December. 

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