“For the first time, this movie is going to start where the last one left off,” said writer-director Rian Johnson at the “Future Filmmaker Discussion” Sunday at Star Wars Celebration Europe in London.
That’s appropriate, given the return to Irish isle Skellig Michael, aka Planet Ahch-To, where Rey found Luke Skywalker in self-exile at the end of Episode VII — The Force Awakens. Johnson announced the beginning of filming on Episode VIII with a set video highlighting the location and the continuation of the two characters’ encounter there.
Compared to J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which Johnson described as “an incredible explosion of adventure,” he said its sequel will challenge the characters and develop them more.
“The second film is where we start zooming in on the characters, getting to the heart of them,” Johnson said.
Johnson said some classic films he screened for the crew that inspired Episode VIII include Three Outlaw Samurai, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 12 O’Clock High, Letter Never Sent, Gunga Din and Sahara.
Johnson earned the Episode VIII reins by impressing Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy with his past repertoire: “Watching him on set, Rian moves the camera as well as Steven Spielberg,” she said. Bringing homemade ice cream to his meetings with the studio and its Story Group didn’t hurt, either.
He began working on VIII while VII was still in production, shaping the story with Lucasfilm while watching daily footage from The Force Awakens.
Returning star John Boyega, who plays ex-stormtrooper Finn, indicated that his character emerges from the coma in which he was last seen at the end of The Force Awakens, but he was coy about his condition after being nearly cut down by Kylo Ren. “The characters have been pushed in a new direction in a very, very cool way,” Boyega said. “It’s really, really fun. I’m having fun.”
The still-untitled Episode VIII adds Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran to the principal cast of Episode VII. Johnson said he can’t wait to see fans’ reaction to newcomer Tran’s role: “She’s really something special.”
Next year’s mid-July Star Wars Celebration in Orlando will be a showcase for Episode VIII — and will mark the 40th anniversary of the Saga.
Johnson said working with Star Wars icons like Chewbacca was incredible on many levels, and there was a “deep nostalgia” and “intense emotional reaction” that he had to work through to get things done.
“I have this memory of my dad putting me in the car to see Star Wars. I said, ‘Where are we going?’ He said, ‘We’re going to see the most amazing movie you’ve ever seen.’”
Writing and directing Episode VIII is sort of a full-circle moment for Johnson, who like many of his generation grew up playing with Star Wars action figures and vehicles against a backdrop of his own creation.
“More than the experience of the film, the first stories we were telling as kids were with those toys,” he said.