– by Joseph Jammer Medina

No doubt about it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had gargantuan expectations going in. Not only was this the follow-up to the original Star Wars trilogy — a trilogy that shaped many a generation — but it followed a trilogy of underwhelming prequels. There was a hunger for a quality Star Wars movie — a hunger that Star Wars creator George Lucas was never able to feed after those first three films. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that final opportunity to make it possible, and unlike with the prequels, fans would be less likely to shrug off a bad movie. Luckily for fans, the film didn’t disappoint. It delivered the spirit of high adventure that the original trilogy brought, along with an emphasis on character over world-building and politics. Now that The Force Awakens is behind us, there is the new question: will Star Wars Episode VIII actually be able to live up to The Force Awakens?

The right chess pieces seem to be put in place: the cast is already stellar, the director (Rian Johnson) seems perfectly equipped to take on a more mature direction, and fans are more receptive than ever to a continuation of the story. But, of course, setting up the pieces properly is quite different from actually playing the game well, and there’s always that lingering fear that fans could be setting themselves up for disappointment.

Specific details regarding Star Wars Episode VIII have been very sparse. We’ve had a set photo here, a shooting location there, but not much else. Now that filming has wrapped for this sequel, and the actors are out promoting other films, it’s the perfect opportunity for the press to start poking around for extra details. This is exactly what the folks over at Collider did in a recent interview with Adam Driver, who played the big bad Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, and who will reprise his role in Episode VIII.

The outlet asked Driver what the experience was like working with director Rian Johnson, and Driver gave uswhat’s perhaps our best insight into the film yet:

“Maybe this is just me thinking of myself, but I’m surprised [because] in their shoes I’d be way more stressed out than [J.J. and Rian] seem to be. Rian is coming into something that we kind of set up and he just took it to the next level in a really great way. He wrote it, too, and Rian’s writing is so clear. I learned a lot of things about my character through his writing. Some things we talked about before and some things we didn’t. He was working on [the script] while we were still working on the first one. To understand what J.J. was doing and take ownership from there is kind of a remarkable thing. And he’s the most polite, unassuming guy and he was appropriately territorial about some things but would still be the first to admit when something’s not working. A lot of times you need to rise to understand what the script is, and perhaps I’m beginning to be unclear, but he’s a great person to work with.”

Of course, the script is one of the most important things to a film. Without a working script, it’s incredibly hard to make a worthwhile film. Given the strength of The Force Awakens’ script, how was Rian Johnson’s able to hold up — especially considering it couldn’t only match The Force Awakens in quality, it had to surpass it.

“It’s great. It’s similar to how The Empire Strikes Back has a different tone. For that people always go ‘oooh, it’s dark’ but I don’t know that it necessarily is. It’s just different in tone in a way that I think is great and necessary but also very clear. He trusts [that] his audience is ready for nuance and ambiguity. He’s not dumbing anything down for someone and that’s really fun to play.”

This is a refreshing take on the material. Oftentimes, people are very quick to point to “dark” as the overall tone, but it’s usually a reductive term. Regardless, this doesn’t make the pressure any less great. Driver went on to talk about how everyone was feeling the pressure from the success of The Force Awakens:

“The stakes are even higher, I think. No one’s relaxing. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t feel more relaxed as if we’d accomplished anything. It’s one more reason we have to redouble our efforts and just make it even more specific, but then you also have to let it all go and not think too much while you’re working on it. It’s the same thing you do when you’re working on something like Jim (Jarmusch’s) movie, too.
“I think I said something like this to you last year, but I remember being very overwhelmed by the idea of working on something [like this] where the scale was so big. I remember calling J.J. and saying, “I’m overwhelmed by the machine of it” and him basically saying that we’ll break it down into pieces and solve it in these little moments. One moment will lead to this moment and then that moment will lead to this moment and at the end of it hopefully we’ll have a movie. Of course, that’s like working with anything. The scale is bigger, and obviously the catering and the trailers are better when compared to a smaller independent movie, but that doesn’t matter. You’re not watching a movie thinking about how they had really great trailers, or about their catering, you’re trying to follow these moments and follow these characters. So working on it, even though the scale is different, the approach to making it is the exact same. And I feel like I’ve been lucky working with J.J. and Rian, who are two people who get that instinctually.
“It’s not my job to worry about the bigger picture or what it means or try to appease a certain group of people. It’s my job to read the script, be prepared, and be generous to the other people that I’m acting with in order to tell the best version of the story that Rian came up with. Then whatever it means and whatever meaning people attach to it, by that point it’s not my responsibility.”

What do you think of Driver’s comments? Does this get your more excited for Star Wars Episode VIII? Let us know in the comments down below!

Star Wars Episode VIII hits theaters on December 15, 2017.

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SOURCE: Collider

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.