By Rob Vaux
John Boyega first rose to prominence as a cockney British criminal fending off alien invaders in the 2011 sci-fi cult hit Attack the Block. Oscar Isaac found success in the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis and the Alex Garland AI thriller Ex Machina. Both of them shot into the stratosphere with their appearance in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Boyega as stormtrooper-turned-freedom-fighter Finn, Isaac as cocksure X-wing pilot Poe Dameron. They reprise their roles in the next chapter to the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi, which (as you may have heard) opens Friday. They talked about the project at a recent press day for the film.
Question: How would you say this film feels different from The Force Awakens? What sets it apart from that film?
Oscar Isaac: The second chapter in a story of three can be tricky, because the first one kind of sets the tone and the world, and introduces the new characters. In the second one, you don’t have to spend so much time doing that: you can really just delve into the story, into the conflict of each of the characters. I think what Rian Johnson’s done so incredibly well is challenge every single character, including the droids. He’s thrown the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced at them, and that’s how you’re able to really get to learn about them: on all sides of the spectrum, from light to dark. I think it’s really amazing what he’s done.
John Boyega: I just think the story’s moving forward. J.J. Abrams had a blueprint, a foundation of The Force Awakens that was pretty good. Now it’s about moving forward with the story and just challenging the characters, as Oscar said. Everyone has their own specific reckoning here, and it’s all different.
Q: Star Wars is probably the ultimate pop-culture icon: we wouldn’t have the MCU or any of these other franchises without it. At what point did you start owning your characters and the process as contributors instead of just fans?
JB: I’m still trying to get over it. I can’t lie. When we filmed The Force Awakens, it was about two years before we started on The Last Jedi, and we all obviously went to do other stuff. Then when you come back, it just feels like you’re back in school, and it’s fun. Every day was a new set. The practical effects, I think doubled in this movie. The sets were bigger. It’s always exciting and amazing.
Q: Obviously the death of Han Solo is a huge moment in The Force Awakens. Without spoiling anything, can you speak to your characters grappling with that here?
JB: I think we’re just keeping it moving, to be honest with you. The pressure’s on with this one, and there’s not a lot of time for these characters to reflect. I think that’s the one thing that’s unique to me about watching this movie: the commentary on war. I don’t think there’s been a Star Wars movie yet that has explored war as a concept than the way The Last Jedi does. It’s very messy: the categorizing of good and evil is all mixed together. In terms of Han, I’m sure Finn and Rey would feel profoundly about it if you sat them down and asked them, but their journey is continuing, and they simply have more pressing things to do.
OI: I think it’s reverberating but he’s right. It’s a dire situation, it’s critical. The Resistance is on its last legs. They’re trying to survive. The First Order’s right on top of us. It is like war, where you just keep moving to try to survive. I think this film captures the momentum of everything that happened in The Force Awakens, but focuses on just pushing and getting to a critical mass.
Q: This is one of the last projects of Carrie Fisher, and her final turn as Leia. How do you think the Star Wars films will continue her legacy?
OI: An interesting thing, going back to one of the things about the question about the strong women in it, because think as a guy I’d like to say that for me the most formative people in my life have been women. And so that has shaped my destiny so much and so to see that reflected in the film is really, really a beautiful thing, and it does, it is more true to real life and what’s happening now, but what’s always happened: they’re the ones that shape you. Carrie helped shape a lot of people with Princess Leia, and I think her performance here is going to remind people of that.