Star Wars: The Last Jedi may take place in a galaxy far, far away, but the cast and director Rian Johnson gathered in Los Angeles to talk about the movie. Early last month it was announced Johnson will write and direct a new, original Star Wars trilogy for Disney, but first he has to finish his press obligations for The Last Jedi. Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams may be returning for the as of now unnamed Episode 9, but the cast had nothing but praise for the middle director.

“Rian pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Mark Hamill. “I’m grateful because you have to trust someone and he was the only Obi-Wan available to me.”

Newcomer Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Haldo, said “he was always encouraging us to try things and explore character and explore this surrounding of the light and dark within our character.” Dern, who’s worked on everything from Jurassic Park to Big Little Lies, compared it to being on an independent film.

“I just want to pay tribute to Rian for being one of the most brilliantly subversive filmmakers I’ve ever been able to bear witness to,” Dern said as she described how proud she was of her character’s strength.

“If Laura Dern is telling you that, you might be on the right track,” Johnson later said.

Even Poe Dameron himself, Oscar Issac, had nothing but love for Johnson’s script. While The Force Awakens had to take its time and introduce audiences to the new worlds and characters, Issac enjoys how this one “jumps right into the story” and keeps the momentum going.

“He’s challenged deeply every single character, including the droids, with the biggest challenges they’ve ever face,” said Issac. More than just some routine challenge though, each obstacle “gets to the central point of that character” as they are pushed outside their comfort zones and forced to grow.

Supreme Leader Snoke made a brief appearance in The Force Awakens, but Last Jedi utilizes the character more and gives Andy Serkis another opportunity to put his motion-capture skills to work. The veteran actor said he wasn’t expecting how touching and intimate it would be. Despite the emotional intensity Johnson put on the page, Serkis praises him for being able to keep everything moving without ever feeling tonally disconnected.

“[The movie] tonally dances between these great, epic moments and these hilarious antics, and you know, literally flip it on a dime.”

Despite all the support from his peers and the critics, Johnson, insists he’s still waiting for a “eureka moment” where this all feels real.

“I’m always riding that line between feeling like you’re a fan who snuck in the back gate and is getting away with something which I think is probably a good thing,” said the director who’s been making movies with the same cinematographer since they were 18.

Talk about a farm-boy to Jedi master moment.

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