When The Rise of Skywalker writer Chris Terrio and SVP of live-action film development for Lucasfilm Michelle Rejwan sat down to craft the final film in the Skywalker Saga, they knew they had a legacy to uphold and a new generation to inspire.
It’s been mentioned several times by director JJ Abrams in previous interviews, and it’s no exaggeration when you look at where The Rise of Skywalker falls in the three-trilogy Skywalker Saga that Episode 9 has the complicated task of bringing this 40-year span of films over the finish line.
The anchor leg of a relay is the most crucial position, and it’s something the film’s creators have firmly in mind as they discuss the challenges of making this film and the many considerations they kept in mind over the 2 1/2 years they’ve spent making it.
For writer Chris Terrio, it’s about being a fan first and loving Star Wars. It’s where he gains inspiration, and it’s what he goes back to when he’s looking to center the story.
“It’s redemption. The idea of redemption is super important to Star Wars,” he told us. “The idea that there is such a thing as light, even in the darkest times. The idea of defiance always would get me when I would think about Leia standing up to Vader in that first scene or like she’s about four-foot eleven standing up against the almost literal Grim Reaper, and telling… off Vader in the first scene… So there’s a sense of defiance against tyranny, that we could always go back to in our hearts and minds.”
“And then, of course,” Terrio continued, “just the story of sacrifice… Vader sacrificing himself for his son…those themes or the separation of the twins… the tragedy of the separation of the twins and that this almost fairy tale idea that one would grow up as a princess and one would grow up as a farmer. Whenever we get lost in the vast scale of it we just go back and say those are the things that make Star Wars Star Wars.”
Another challenge The Rise of Skywalker faced was the untimely death of the legendary Carrie Fisher. Leia was such an important part of the Skywalker Saga, and JJ Abrams was determined to make sure General Leia was a part of the final installment. That meant Terrio and Rejwan had to find a way to write scenes for footage that had been previously shot and wasn’t used in The Force Awakens.
Terrio explained that those scenes were the first major challenge the writing team faced coming into the film.
“We had to sort of reverse engineer it… every scene with Carrie was written around Carrie, so we would take what we knew we had… the moments with her and… we would take the scenes with her and then just make everything worked around that… which is a really interesting exercise as a screenwriter, because… not only do you have to have the lines, sort of fit, but also carry intention as an actor.
“Billie [Lourd] spoke to her about this and about… the legacy of her mom and… we were really protective of making sure that all the scenes with Carrie didn’t feel shoehorned in… it took the first few months, that was our main focus, was how do we get Leia in the story, that was our only focus.”
Both Terrio and Rejwan went on to talk about how important they felt it was to give each character their own arcs and moments.
“The hardest challenge I would say for… JJ and Chris is balancing all of those arcs,” Rejwan explained. “You know the sort of larger Saga characters, some of which may or may not see in this movie… a new generation… the new characters we meet in this movie… the phenomenal amount of work these guys did to give each and every character human/creature/droid, I mean, a story, a real story. Having real meaning is one of the things I’m proudest of.”
Terrio went on to praise the actors and shared why he wanted to give each one their own special beats.
“You don’t want to look at Billy Dee Williams and say, ‘Oh well, you…don’t really have much to do but here you go.’ You don’t want to look any of these actors in the eye and say that you don’t… have much to play here, so that kept us going back to the drawing board to try to find more interesting stuff for everybody to do.
“I’m not even sure if the actors realized how much we would watch the dailies and lean forward and get ideas and think, ‘Oh my god this combination.’ It’s like doing a choreography thing where you know different dance partners come together at different times and you might see that these two seem to have real chemistry, and that would affect the ongoing writing of the script and we’d go back and…”
It was at this point that Rejwan picked up the thread in an example of exactly this choreography and finished the thought.
“If we have to give them another scene or make this change because of how good this is over here… that’s the thrilling part of making a movie… It’s a living process like that. And… JJ [in] particular… I think he’s very inspired by that feeling of discovery so we’re constantly in conversation about it.”
As fans wait for The Rise Of Skywalker to hit theaters, I think it’s safe to say that the creative team behind this movie have looked to craft a film that’s both true to Star Wars and will resonate with fans around the world.
December 20 can’t get here soon enough.