The original leading lady of “Star Wars” may no longer be with us, but the presence of Carrie Fisher promises to remain strong with the still-expanding franchise. While the first day of this year’s Star Wars Celebration was focused on the franchise’s past — bolstered by the George Lucas-led 40 Years of “Star Wars” anniversary panel, — Friday was all about moving forward.
The day’s festivities kicked off with the hot-ticket “The Last Jedi” panel, surprise-hosted by bonafide super-fan Josh Gad, who has notably spent much of his time filming “Murder on the Orient Express” badgering his co-star Daisy Ridley for scoops on Episode 8, then posting his decidedly poor results on social media.
Since her star-making debut as Rey in “The Force Awakens,” Ridley has happily taken up the mantle of powerful “Star Wars” heroine, and it appears that Episode 8 will only enhance that story.
Gad was joined by “Last Jedi” filmmaker Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to chat about the film, and Kennedy made it clear that Johnson is the right guy to helm a feature that hinges so much on Rey’s journey.
“He writes amazingly fierce and independent women,” Kennedy said, a note that was met to great cheers in the panel ballroom that held a sell-out crowd of more than 3,000.
Fisher remains the pinnacle of those fierce and independent women, and Kennedy and Johnson both spoke about their work with her on the franchise.
“Carrie is remarkable in the movie,” Kennedy said. “What Rian wrote and the performance she ended up giving, I think you guys will find that an amazing tribute to her talent.”
Johnson detailed some of his experiences writing with Fisher, whom he said he connected with first as a fellow writer, one always bent on shaping her signature characters. “I’d go to her house and we’d sit on her bed for hours and go through the script,” he said. “We’d have these sort of these stream-of -consciousness, jazz-poetry kind of ad-lib sessions.”
Ridley, though understandably tight-lipped about what we can expect of Rey in “The Last Jedi,” did promise, “We go deeper into Rey’s story,” one that includes time working alongside Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker during what sure looked like Jedi training.
While Rey is her own character, she fits into the growing category of powerful “Star Wars” women, a path carved by Fisher. As Johnson noted, “Obviously, she’s not Rey, she’s a great actor who is playing Rey, but so much of the stuff that people respond to in that character, and having gotten to know Daisy and gotten to work with her over the last few years, the tenacity and the bravery and the humor and the depth, so many of the things that make little kids want to be Rey, just like the things that people looked up to in Leia came from Carrie, those things are Daisy.”
Ridley won’t be alone when “The Last Jedi” rolls out, as she will be joined by another new female character. The panel also introduced fans to Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, who has the “biggest new part” in the film (per Johnson), a maintenance worker who joins the Resistance.
Fierce and independent. Sounds about right.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opens on December 15.
This year’s Star Wars Celebration runs April 13 – 17 in Orlando, Florida.