HOLLYWOOD - It has been two years since I last sat down to speak with Daisy Ridley, the heroine in a new generation of “Star Wars” films. A lot has changed since then.
As an opener I casually mention that the name of her “Star Wars” character, Rey, is also the Spanish word for “king” and posit that may foretell the direction she takes in the latest film of the franchise, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” But the 25-year-old Ridley is good at this game now, she spills nothing in terms of plot and instead praises the franchise’s forward thinking.
“In older movies you wouldn’t have Rey as the protagonist,” she tells The Japan Times. “She’d be the girlfriend … or a princess.” Ridley then remembers the princess of her franchise. “There was Princess Leia in the original ‘Star Wars,’ but now she’s a general. Princesses have no real power — generals do.”
“The Last Jedi” is the sequel to 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and is the eighth chapter in a series that began 40 years earlier with episode four, “A New Hope.” “The Force Awakens” turned Ridley into a bona fide Hollywood star, but the main draw in “The Last Jedi” is shaping up to be the return of Luke Skywalker, the hero that 66-year-old actor Mark Hamill brought to life in that original “Star Wars” film four decades ago.
Though he has had a varied and successful career, Hamill is by far most identified by his character of Luke. This strong connection didn’t cause him to hesitate when it came to appearing in “The Force Awakens,” though, even if he did just show up for a few minutes. We’re all hoping he gets more screen time in “The Last Jedi.”
“I like the idea of sequels better than remakes,” Hamill says. “A sequel is like a new chapter or book. It means there’s more to the story … a new story. One movie shows one story, several points in time for the characters involved. But after that episode is done with, the characters still live on and they have new adventures.
“With a remake there’s the unavoidable comparison with the earlier version. Also, for the actor, there’s some resentment that somebody else is playing his role. And if it’s your signature role — let’s just say I wouldn’t be a happy camper if someone else played Luke, OK?”
Hamill didn’t have to worry on that front. When J.J. Abrams resurrected the “Star Wars” franchise in 2015 he brought back Hamill as well as Harrison Ford in the role of Han Solo and Carrie Fisher in the role of Luke’s twin sister, Leia Organa — the aforementioned princess … er, general. Fisher passed away a year ago after filming her parts for “The Last Jedi.”
“It was such a shock to all of us when we heard Carrie had died,” Ridley recalls. “Certainly Leia died with her … you couldn’t have anyone else playing that character, which Carrie created.”
“We had ups and downs and downs and ups, but overall we really loved each other,” Hamill says. “It won’t be the same working without Carrie.”
On the topic of Fisher, I ask Hamill a rather controversial question. Since Fisher played his twin sister, and the series is prone to revealing close family connections at very dramatic moments, we might be forgiven for thinking that Luke and Rey may have a closer-than-usual relationship. And since Leia proved to be a breakout role for Fisher, how do the two “Star Wars” heroines compare to each other as actresses?
“Oh no, no … you can’t do that!” Hamill says with an air of shock. “You mean then and now?”
Hamill takes a minute and thinks about the comparison, though.
“Carrie grew up to be very sophisticated and rather jaded,” he says. “She was wonderful, but she had her problems — two famous parents, what a surprise. I thought I had problems with my Dad thinking Richard Nixon was a righteous man and a decent president. It amazes me how some people can be bamboozled by someone totally unfit to be president who becomes president … and you know who I’m referring to now.” It’s worth pointing out that Hamill has also been the voice for The Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series.” He later mocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets by reading them aloud in the same voice.
“You’d have to compare Carrie in the 1970s with Daisy now,” he continues. “Both are talented, personable, fresh and with so much promise ahead. I think the difference is Daisy, not coming from a showbiz family, is more grounded. She has a huge career ahead of her. I would be envious, except,” he laughs, “we don’t compete for the same roles!”
Both Hamill and Ridley are also generous in their praise of “The Last Jedi” director and writer Rian Johnson, 43.
“During certain times on set,” notes Daisy, “he would sing to us — a capella!”
Johnson’s brother, Aaron, is a music producer, and the pair have a folk outfit called The Preserves in which Rian plays the banjo and sings. He also directed the 2012 film “Looper” and several episodes of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad,” among others.
“Getting the script right has to be the hardest thing of all, and I know something about that,” Hamill says of Johnson’s work. “Rian had to follow guidelines that the story, characters and fans insist on, yet deliver something fresh — and not just expensive set pieces and action. Relationships are what ground the story and they are remembered better than the fights and battles. (‘The Last Jedi’ has) all that, and I have to say an excellent cast. Not just the main three or four actors, but a supporting cast of what amounts to stars in their own right. I think Laura Dern, to name one, is excellent.”
Indeed, though not much has been revealed about their roles, Dern and Benicio del Toro, both award-winning actors, have key parts in the film.
“Not to mention the porgs,” Hamill snickers playfully, referring to the cute-looking aliens that are bound to please younger fans. “It’s an endlessly creative situation with ‘Star Wars.’ Characters, creatures … timeless and even classic myths and situations. I’m really proud to be part of it. I’m glad I didn’t have to stay in exile on some faraway planet for too long!”
Ridley concludes her interview by once again marveling at the luck she had in getting the part, though it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else as Rey at this point.
“A former schoolmate asked me how I got to become this extraordinary character,” she says. “She was very happy for me, but I don’t feel Rey is extraordinary. I think courage is extraordinary and it’s something any human being can display. I’m ordinary and so is Rey, and what is extraordinary is the circumstances in which she finds herself.
“What, really, is more extraordinary than the world, or galaxy, of ‘Star Wars’?”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opens in cinemas nationwide on Dec. 15. For more information, visit www.starwars.com.