[This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker]
Just when Oscar winner Chris Terrio thought he was out of franchise filmmaking, J.J. Abrams pulled him back in to co-write Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the concluding episode in the nine-episode Skywalker saga. After working day and night for almost two-and-a-half years, the Argo and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice screenwriter is finally able to pull back the curtain on his Star Wars experience.
One of the many questions going into The Rise of Skywalker was how it would interact with the divisive previous installment, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Some Rise of Skywalker audience members have argued that Luke Skywalker's line — "A Jedi's weapon deserves more respect" — is a swipe at Johnson’s decision to have Luke toss his storied lightsaber aside in Last Jedi. Without hesitation, Terrio says otherwise.
“Those people who see it as a meta-argument between J.J. and Rian are missing the point, I think. At the end of The Last Jedi, Luke has changed,” Terrio tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think it would be a bad misreading to think that that was somehow me and J.J. having an argument with Rian. It was more like we were in dialogue with Rian by using what Luke did at the beginning of The Last Jedi to now say that history will not repeat itself and all these characters have grown.”
After the social media abuse that actor Kelly Marie Tran endured following The Last Jedi, fans wondered how Abrams and Terrio would incorporate her character, Rose Tico, into Episode IX’s narrative. Much to the regret of Terrio, a decent amount of Rose’s screen time fell on the cutting room floor. (Terrio has said elsewhere that the “standard of photorealism” involving Carrie Fisher's Leia was to blame in a couple instances.)
“There were a couple of scenes that we shot with Rose that I wish had made it to the final cut,” Terrio tells THR. “But it's the nature of the process that certain scenes fall out of the film, and I very much respect the difficulty of the decisions J.J. had to make — especially given that I know for a fact that J.J. adores and respects Kelly and would have loved to keep every second he shot with her in the film."
In a conversation with THR, Terrio also reveals that he and Abrams "debated endlessly" about the moment that reveals Luke and Leia together as Force Ghosts. He also discusses the Force power that Episode IX shares with The Mandalorian, Han and Kylo’s atonement scene and Rey’s trip to Tatooine as well as the big reveal that she is a Palpatine.
Once you got the call from J.J., how much time did you have to reacclimate yourself with all things Star Wars before putting pen to whiteboard with J.J.?
A couple months were spent just in pure research. I know the original trilogy really well, but at the time, I didn’t know the prequel trilogy as well. So, I had to catch up pretty fast. I also wanted to get more familiar with the extended universe, such as the television shows and novels, in order to try and understand the landscape of the galaxy in a way that only the most hardcore fans would understand it. So, yeah, a couple months were just researching, but we were on a pretty tight schedule. We inherited the project in the fall of 2017, and then we were shooting by August of 2018. So, it was a fairly quick schedule by standards of these movies because, of course, you have to build sets and design creatures, ships and costumes. It was quick but focused — very focused.
What was the first story point that you fervently pitched to J.J.?
Well, I wanted to see Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) together. I was really eager to see how they would play off each other. That was the thing I was really looking forward to after Episode VII, and then, of course, the story of Episode VIII — by necessity — kept them apart. So, I was eager to have the friends together and have them go on a classic adventure together. Rey had already gone through her middle act, which was to be alone with herself, really, and with Luke, but really alone with her thoughts on the island. Poe had already gone through hints of his first crisis of leadership with Leia, and Finn went off on a different adventure of his own in Episode VIII. So, we thought that having the three main characters together was super important.
Rey Palpatine. What were the ins and outs of that significant choice?
We also thought that Rey’s arc cannot be finished after Episode VIII. You can leave Episode VIII and say, “Well, now, Rey is content. She’s discovered her parents aren’t Skywalkers, or whatever, and that’s fine.” But so much of her personal story was about where she came from, what kept her on Jakku all those years and the trauma that shaped her. We see quite strongly in Episode VII that something mysterious and troubling happened to her. Although she did get some answers in Episode VIII, we didn’t feel that that story was over. We felt that there were still more questions in Rey’s head about where she came from and where she was going. So, that was the other big idea that we had to address in this film. Rian’s answer to, “What’s the worst news that Rey could receive?” was that she comes from junk traders, and that’s true. She does come from junk traders; we didn’t contradict that. But when J.J. and I spoke, he said, “Well, what’s an even worse answer or elaboration of that news?” And we thought the worst answer was that she descended from the family who are the enemies of her new family, her adoptive family. Leia is a mother figure to Rey in a way that no one has ever been since she lost her real mother (Jodie Comer). So, the idea was that Rey, who’s had inclinations towards the Dark Side, would learn in the course of this movie that Leia is training the descendant of her greatest enemy and that she has the Force strength of Leia’s greatest enemy. Discovering that you actually descended from your adoptive family’s greatest enemy, the same enemy who corrupted Anakin Skywalker and is responsible for the destruction of the Skywalker family in the first place, felt most devastating to us. Based on that, we were very moved by the idea that Leia would have known that from the very beginning, but since she still saw such hope, heart and spirit in Rey, she decided that she was going to take a chance on putting all the hope of the galaxy into the hands of a descendent of her greatest enemy. As Luke says, some things are stronger than blood. That felt like a really strong story point to us.
Therefore, at the end of the movie, when Rey declares herself a Skywalker, that felt like the end of that conversation, which is to say that you get to choose your family, and really, you get to choose your ancestry. Rey rejects the blood ancestry that she has inherited, and instead, she chooses the ancestry of the Jedi. When all the Jedi come to Rey at the end, one of the Jedi lightly says, “We are your ancestors now,” in the background, and I think that’s true. She chooses the spiritual ancestry of the Jedi instead of the blood ancestry of Palpatine.
Many fans, including myself, appreciated how The Last Jedi democratized the Force. While I understand the choice to connect Rey to a notable bloodline, does your film still recognize the existence of the galaxy’s broom boys and girls (i.e., Force users without famous ancestry)?
Of course. Hopefully, the film also suggests that Finn is discovering that he is a Force user and is Force strong. Finn feels the death of Rey, and in a crucial moment during the battle, Finn senses the command ship where the navigation signal was coming from. So, we wanted to begin to plant the idea that Finn is Force strong and that there are other people in the galaxy who are Force strong. Yes, of course, the galaxy is full of Force users, and you don’t have to be a Skywalker or a Palpatine in order to be strong with the Force. But Luke does say very explicitly in Return of the Jedi, “The Force is strong in my family,” and we know that there is an inherited element to Force power. So, considering that this was a story of the Palpatines and Skywalkers, at least these nine movies, we decided to focus on the family part. Rey descending from a Palpatine doesn’t negate the idea that kids with brooms, Finn and any other number of people in the galaxy can be strong with the Force. It just so happens that this young girl that we found in Episode VII — which really has the structure of a fairytale — is royalty of the Dark Side. What we discover in this movie, and hopefully in retrospect, is that she’s essentially a princess who’s being raised as an orphan. The idea that this royalty of the Dark Side would be found as a scavenger in the middle of nowhere, literally living off the ruins of the old war that was created by her ancestors, felt really strong to us. We couldn’t agree more with the debate about the democratization of the Force, but for purposes of this story, we thought that it was a more interesting and mythic answer if it turned out that Rey descended from one of the families that has been at the center of this whole saga the entire time. In the end, the film asserts that there are things stronger than blood because she chooses a different family for herself.
Presumably, Finn’s confession — which he never got the chance to make — is that he’s Force-sensitive?
Well, you can read that how you want to. There are some people who read it as Finn having feelings for Rey; there are some who read it as Finn trying to make that Force-related confession. What’s undeniable is that in the middle of the battle, when the source of the navigation signal is changed, Finn has a very strong sense of where it is, and that’s knowledge he couldn’t really have unless he was using the Force. So, the story is certainly pointing that way, and then, in the moment of Rey’s death… I shouldn’t use the word death because death is a complicated word there… But in the moment — it’s not a death per se — when the life is going out of Rey, Finn can feel her and her last breaths. He stops and feels Rey. Chewie and Jannah don’t understand it as they’re in the frame behind him. When Rey is breathing what seemed to be her last breaths and almost all of the life is drained out of her, Finn can feel it.
When Luke appeared on Crait in The Last Jedi, he apologized to Leia for turning his back on the fight, the Jedi Order and his legacy. He basically admitted that the guy who tossed his lightsaber aside on Ahch-To was wrong before sacrificing his life to save the Resistance and spread hope throughout the galaxy. However, I’ve already noticed that people are projecting the notion that Luke’s line — ”A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect” — was a swipe at Rian Johnson's first-act choice to have him throw the weapon away. However, I thought you were reaffirming the very conclusion that Rian arrived at for Luke and how Luke was wrong.
That’s exactly it. Those people who see it as a meta-argument between J.J. and Rian are missing the point, I think. At the end of The Last Jedi, Luke has changed. When people look at that, I feel that they misread the ending of The Last Jedi. Throughout The Last Jedi, Luke is stuck, just as so many of the characters in The Empire Strikes Back were stuck. The Falcon’s hyperdrive is literally stuck. The Last Jedi is a really strong middle act because it seems like everyone is spinning their wheels and stuck in certain ways — just as they are in The Empire Strikes Back. I mean that in the sense of everyone is trying to move forward, but as in any middle act, they can’t quite get there. When Luke says, “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect” in Episode IX, that’s Luke speaking. That’s his own character. He’s making fun of himself. He’s saying to Rey, “Please don’t make the same mistake that I did.” That’s another theme of the film. How do we learn from our ancestors? How do we learn from our parents? How do we learn from the previous generation? How do we learn from all the good things that they did but not repeat their mistakes? In that moment, it truly is a character moment because we quite deliberately set up the same situation of tossing a saber, but this time, Luke is there to save Rey from making a bad choice. I think it would be a bad misreading to think that that was somehow me and J.J. having an argument with Rian. It was more like we were in dialogue with Rian by using what Luke did at the beginning of The Last Jedi to now say that history will not repeat itself and all these characters have grown.
The film has a pivotal scene with Han (Harrison Ford) and Kylo (Adam Driver) that is reminiscent of your Clark and Jonathan Kent scene in Batman v Superman. Did you pitch this idea with that device in mind since you knew you couldn’t use Han as a Force Ghost?
Well, we had early talks about how this trilogy could not be resolved without some kind of atonement with the father. Atonement with the father is a very Joseph Campbell idea. In a way, the great family sin of Kylo Ren was parricide — he killed his father. He committed any of number of sins throughout the galaxy; he’s not an angel. He’s done many truly horrible things, but on a level of the family saga, as in any Greek myth, it was the killing of a parent that is the central sin that needs to be atoned for. In that scene, Han is not a Force Ghost as you say; he’s a memory. Ren needed to ask his father for forgiveness. Early in the movie, we hear Rey say, “You can’t stop seeing what you did to your father,” and even in the shared Force vision, Ren sees the death of Han. That is the only way that Han has been appearing to Ren — in his memory — in that moment of death. At this moment, after Rey’s act of mercy, the light starts to come back for him, and as soon as the light starts to come back, he can see his father as he really was in real life. They can now have a kind of intimacy that they haven’t had, really, since Ren turned to the Dark as seen in the events of Episode VIII. There is a similarity of Clark and his dad, but I think it goes much deeper than that. It’s a mythic archetype that has run through myth and literature from the beginning, which is coming face to face with the father and atonement with the father. It’s part of Hamlet; it’s part of so many great stories. After that reconciliation, we wanted to put Ren down the path of redemption, at least in his head. He can never take back what he did to Han; we can’t take back our actions or words said in anger or in hatred. But, Ren, at least in that moment, gets to have a replay of the scene in Episode VII — the way that he wished it had gone. In that moment, Ren gets to find a kind of peace — especially now that he knows he was manipulated — just like his father said. It wasn’t only Snoke that manipulated him; it was the enemy from the old wars that was manipulating him. He’s been every voice inside his head.
Before I went to my Dec. 17 screening, I watched The Mandalorian episode where Baby Yoda Force-heals Greef Karga (Carl Weathers). Since Episode IX also utilizes this Force power, was this a coordinated effort?
We had discussions within Lucasfilm about various Force powers, and Force-healing, which is something that’s been mentioned in various extended universe stories, was an idea that both Dave Filoni, Jon Favreau and we, over on the film side, thought was a really interesting thing to explore. It might not have been completely planned at the beginning, but once we realized that we were both coming upon this new expression of Force power, we then worked with that in mind, knowing that this was a thing that would be seen at different times in different parts of the galaxy at roughly the same time [of release].
I thought you did as well as you could possibly do in regard to the Leia material. I know you repurposed unused Episode VII footage, but did you pull audio of Carrie from other sources besides her Star Wars movies?
As far as the audio goes, every word that she says in the movie she’s said as Leia in Star Wars. I’d have to talk to Skywalker Sound about which bits were usable exactly as they were and which bits were cobbled together with different audio tracks. We had all the audio that Leia says at our disposal, and of course, every word that she says on camera is really Carrie. We also had access to the dailies from the original trilogy, and in the flashback of Luke and Leia, that image of Carrie comes from Return of the Jedi. So, we had access to everything in the archive, which turned out to be super helpful. So, yeah, the original trilogy was on our table for the flashback and for audio. That said, Leia was a very different person in the new trilogy, and I’m not sure that we would’ve used any audio from the original trilogy. Her voice had changed, and obviously, she was older, wiser and had a different quality to her performance. So, I’m not sure we ended up using any audio from the original trilogy, and we tried to stay true to Carrie’s acting intentions as much as we could.
What was the rationale behind only showing Luke and Leia’s Force Ghosts on Tatooine and not including the remaining Skywalkers, Anakin and Ben?
We absolutely discussed who would be there at the end. It’s not as though those Force ghosts will never appear to Rey now that she really is the first of the new Jedi. I think she has all of those Jedi behind her. J.J. was pretty clear about the idea that he didn’t want to take away from the moment of Leia finally appearing as a Force ghost and the twins finally being together. This might be in the novelization, but we talked a lot about how Leia lost her home. Alderaan is gone. So, she could never take Luke to see where she grew up as a princess, but Luke could’ve taken Leia to see where he grew up as a farmer. But, the twins never got to Tatooine together (to visit Luke's childhood farm). So, the idea of seeing the twins together after the sabers are laid to rest felt like it was something that was very moving to me and J.J.
To circle back one of your earlier questions, besides the friends being together, I suppose our main goal of those first few weeks — because we were working largely with the Leia footage — was to fulfill the promise of “there is another” in this film. It has to put Leia into the Jedi pantheon. To do that without new footage of Leia was challenging, but that became the central story of Rey finishing the Jedi journey of Leia. That way, by the end of the film, Leia could join Luke as a Force Ghost and spiritually join her father and all the other Jedi. While you only see the twins in that moment, we thought that would give Leia more centrality, and you would really feel the strength of seeing Leia in the Jedi afterlife for the first time. Spiritually, it’s not a crazy idea that all the Jedi would be standing with them, but it might’ve been a bit of a visual shock to see all these new characters on Tatooine who weren’t part of the story of Leia, Luke and Rey. It’s a fair question from fans because it’s a question that we debated endlessly — about what the final shot of Force ghosts would be. We spent hours and hours talking about this and debating it, and we decided that the moment when the Jedi have to be there for Rey, when it dramatically counts, is when she hears their voices. So, seeing them all at the end would be a lovely grace note, but we thought that Rey seeing her two masters, two Skywalkers, was stronger. Rey was in the unique position of having been trained by two Skywalkers, which is what’s going on in the moment where she destroys the Emperor. It’s her, Luke and Leia standing together because she’s got the two Skywalker sabers in her hands.
At the end of The Last Jedi, Luke sacrificed his life to save the Resistance, inspire the next generation of heroes (broom boys/girls) and spark the rest of the galaxy to rise up and fight. A year later in The Rise of Skywalker, Poe mentions twice how the galaxy is still afraid and in need of hope. Why did Luke’s sacrifice fail to provide the hope that the galaxy needed to join the fight, something Lando ultimately pulled off in the third act?
I don't want to over-explain our intentions in the film, and I'd leave it to the audience to draw causal connections between events. But, I will say this: there's no reason to think that Luke's sacrifice wasn't what inspired the galaxy. Lando rounded up the allies, but clearly something has changed in the galaxy since the Battle of Crait. The galaxy answers the call this time. I can't speak for anyone except myself, but in The Last Jedi, we are given a privileged moment with the children on Canto Bight. The audience understands — though perhaps the Resistance does not yet understand — that something is changing in the galaxy at that moment. In my mind at least, the legend of Skywalker and of his sacrifice is taking root in the consciousness of the galaxy. Again, I won't presume to decode the film, but when the galaxy answers this time around, I sure as hell wouldn't contradict anyone who draws a connection between the sacrifice of Skywalker, the final scene in TLJ, and the galaxy coming when called at the climax of TROS. It's all one story.
Since J.J. didn’t have enough screen time for actors he’s worked with for 20-plus years, I don’t believe Kelly Marie Tran’s diminished role was spiteful in any way. However, given the abuse that the actor/character has endured the last two years, people are, understandably, quite sensitive over the film’s treatment of Rose Tico. Additionally, in a couple of other interviews, I was told of some things that were cut out involving Rose. So, what ultimately happened, and were you and J.J. conscious of how her reduced role would be perceived by those who defended Rose and those who demeaned her?
As I've said elsewhere before, there were a couple of scenes that we shot with Rose that I wish had made it to the final cut. You'd be hard pressed to find a screenwriter who doesn't wish that all his scenes were treated as inspired gospel and ended up in the film exactly as written. But it's the nature of the process that certain scenes fall out of the film, and I very much respect the difficulty of the decisions J.J. had to make, wearing both his screenwriter hat and his director hat — especially given that I know for a fact that J.J. adores and respects Kelly and would have loved to keep every second he shot with her in the film. I do think that TROS shows Rose changing, growing, evolving. Rose begins her journey in TLJ as just about the lowest person on the Resistance totem pole. In TROS, Rose is at the right hand of the general, working on military plans and helping to call the shots. I think Kelly does a masterful job of showing us a young woman's evolution from starry-eyed admirer of Finn to Resistance leader and strategist who is very much his equal.
I should emphasize that any Leia-Rose scenes that fell out of the film did so because we felt that the scenes, as we had written them, weren't a good match between the Episode VII footage and the Episode IX story. It was not because the VFX weren't exceptional in every shot that ILM delivered. I would sometimes come and sit at the VFX reviews and my jaw would drop at seeing Leia live again. ILM pushed their technology beyond what had ever been done, so that the camera could move with, around, near her, while using Carrie's real performance. The VFX team gave us a kind of gift, to let us say goodbye to her.
During The Last Jedi press, Daisy Ridley said that the answer to Rey’s parentage hadn’t changed since J.J. first told her on the set of The Force Awakens. Instead of the narrative that J.J. retconned Rian’s answer of “nobody,” is it more accurate to say that J.J. retconned his own original answer — at least from your vantage point?
I don't think I can speak for J.J. on this, even to give my vantage point on his vantage point. I'd have to leave it to J.J.
Since the soundtrack on Tatooine is titled “A New Home,” is Rey now living on Tatooine even though it’s a return to the isolation she suffered on Jakku?
I can say with confidence that neither the screenplay nor the film suggest that Rey is going to live alone on Tatooine. The track names on the soundtrack were at the discretion of the master himself, John Williams. I can't presume to say what John meant when he titled the piece "A New Home," but I can say that Rey's arc over three films has to do with her finding the belonging she seeks with the new family she's found inside the Resistance. The very last thing Rey would do after all that is to go and live alone in a desert. In our thinking, Rey goes back to Tatooine as a pilgrimage in honor of her two Skywalker masters. Leia's childhood home, Alderaan, no longer exists, but Luke's childhood home, Tatooine, does. Rey brings the sabers there to honor the Skywalker twins by laying them to rest -- together, finally -- where it all began. The farthest planet from the bright center of the universe, but a beautiful and peaceful place to bury two sacred objects.
Did Luke and Leia discuss Rey’s ancestry after the Battle of Crait, once Luke had passed? Their interaction on Crait seemed like their first conversation in a really long time. Plus, Luke mentioned "Darth Sidious" during his “training” of Rey in VIII, and he didn’t seem to bat an eyelash over Palpatine's granddaughter standing right in front of him.
This one I have to leave to the imagination of the viewer. But, I don't think it would be wrong to assume that Luke's Force Ghost would seek out his Force-sensitive, Jedi-trained sister.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when Rey gazes at some green foliage on the Resistance base (Ajan Kloss). Poe asked her about what she was looking at, but she merely replied with "nothing." This beat echoes that moment in The Force Awakens where a fixated Rey says, “I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.” There's also a similar moment in The Last Jedi where she interacts with rain for the very first time. I presume you were conscious of these callbacks?
I am so grateful that you pointed out that moment with Rey. The stage direction in the screenplay for that Rey moment in TROS is “Rey stares at the jungle, as though trying to memorize its green color.” It's a callback to TFA, but it's also more than that, because Ajan Kloss is also the only real home she's ever known in her adult life — a place where she's loved. She doesn't want to leave because she knows nothing will ever be the same.