Chris Terrio, along with J.J. Abrams, co-wrote a movie coming out later this month called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. We spoke to Terrio by phone to ask him a whole bunch of questions, like when it was decided to bring back fan favorites Emperor Palpatine and Lando Calrissian. (Also, yes, we asked if another fan favorite, Wedge Antilles would be back. Terrio’s answer was, let’s say, cryptic.)
Terrio, who also wrote Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, is also being cryptic about the fabled Snyder Cut (Zack Snyder’s alleged version of Justice League), but we had to ask anyway.
Last week J.J. Abrams told us he was thinking about Palpatine as far back as The Force Awakens. But was there a moment writing the script for this where there was an “a-ha” moment of bringing back Palpatine?
Oh, geez, I should probably steer away from specifics on that stuff until after the film comes out. Then I’d love to talk to you about it in detail. I’m afraid anything I’d say about it would give away some plot stuff and I’m not as fleet of foot as J.J. at avoiding stuff. But, what I can say is we felt that this story, these nine films, were a family saga. We decided pretty early on that we wanted to really think of this as the Skywalker Saga. And from the beginning, the chess game has been between Palpatine/Sideous and the Jedi. Specifically, the Jedi as represented by Anakin and the Skywalkers. So, we were convinced someway or another Palpatine had to be a presence in this film.
Of course, the sacrifice of Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi and bringing balance to the Force, we still had to honor that and I think we do honor that in the film. We don’t take the end of Return of the Jedi lightly at all, because it is one of the most beautiful moments in any film, really — in seeing what Vader does for his son. Return of the Jedi was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, and I remember just being rocked by what I saw in that moment. Because it almost never had occurred to me as a kid that the bad guy could cease being a bad guy and be a good guy. That moment when Vader lifts Palpatine was a genuine shock to me and it’s full of truth and beauty. We had to be careful about that, but if you look at some of the lore of Palpatine and the Sith and the way that George has embedded ideas about the Sith into the mythology of Star Wars, there are ways the presence of that character can still cast its shadow in the future. I guess I’ll leave it at that.
See, that was a good answer.
[Laughs] Alright, we’re off. Here we go!
It’s funny Jedi was your first movie in a theater and you came out inspired. Mine was Empire and I walked out horrified and I’m not sure I ever recovered.
Well, I remember there was debate if my parents would allow me to see The Empire Strikes Back and they decided I couldn’t. But I did get some figures. Like, weird ones. I think I got Vader, but I also got Lobot because I guess no one else wanted him in stores, so he was left at Toys ‘r’ Us. So, I had a really weird collection and I had no idea what they actually did in the film, so I had to make up my own stories about who Lobot was.
Lobot was the champion of the Rebellion in your house.
Exactly. For all I knew Lobot was a Jedi.
I’m under the impression this movie will explain what the First Order is. In that this fringe group can afford a death planet that eats stars in The Force Awakens…
Well, already it’s established in the Expanded Universe and the novels, there are some things we know canonically about the First Order. Even in Episode 7, there was that idea of Nazis in Argentina…
Right, but it would be like Nazis in Argentina having their own laser ray gun satellite.
Right, right. So we will definitely get some more. I think you’ll find there are more answers in this movie about how all that came to be. Because they are an extremely formidable military power that sprung up relatively quickly. So that’s a thing that really interests me as a fan. Because I saw The Force Awakens just as a fan and I wondered all those things. So, I came to this with questions. I wanted to know these things. In some cases there were answers and in some cases there weren’t and we got to craft answers.
The Empire Strikes Back ends with a true cliffhanger and The Last Jedi doesn’t really. Did you feel you had more of a blank slate to work with, as opposed to, “here’s what we have to address.”
When you leave Empire, as you say, this information has been dropped on you with, “I am your father.” But also you have the cliffhanger about Han. You know he survives the carbonite process. So you have the three most important characters — Leia, Han and Luke — will have big questions we are asking about them. So, definitely there was a more natural narrative springboard going into Return of the Jedi than going from The Last Jedi into The Rise of Skywalker. But, that said, it caused us to have to be more creative about certain solutions. I feel if we hadn’t had some unexpected developments in The Last Jedi, we would not have come up with the solutions that we did for different things. Which, I hope, are more interesting than anything we would have done. As you say, I saw The Last Jedi as an audience member and, just like anyone, I thought, what’s going to happen next?!
And that’s you.
Yeah, right. And I did have the feeling at the end of The Last Jedi, I desperately need to know what comes next. Even though certain things felt settled, even with the epilogue that future generations would pick up the fight, even despite that there were many questions in play that we had to grapple with.
At what point was it decided to bring Lando back?
Well, one of the ideas that J.J. and I talked about early on was the idea of Rey and Finn and Poe having to live up to the greatest generation. And that feels like it’s anxiety, but also an opportunity that’s in the film right at the moment when Rey’s eyes light up when she hears about Luke Skywalker. You can see she has grown up with these ideas of great figures in her head. And so the question of this film is can this generation live up to the greatest generation? Can we do the kind of heroic things that they did? So when we began talking about that, the other surviving member of that generation is Lando. And he’s just someone beloved by both me and J.J. from our childhoods. And when Billy Dee was game to do it, we thought we’d be crazy not to work with him. And just the sheer thrill of sitting in your screenwriting program and writing the word “Lando” and then writing lines beneath it? That alone, as you can imagine, sends shivers up your spine. And also there’s the pressure and nervousness, how do you write the words of a legend? Because you can never write a character as though they are a legend.
Is there any chance you wrote the word “Wedge”?
I cannot answer that. Although, I’d love to speak to you after the film comes out about that very question. Unless you’re asking, “Can you wedge the ship between those other two ships”?
I can’t believe I’m asking this…
You wrote Justice League. I’m under the impression the Snyder Cut exists and it’s privately being shown, but it’s not what people think it is. In that there’s no effects or post-production.
The thing is, I can’t really speak to that at this moment. But I promise that I will talk to you about that very thing at some point after this film.
Well, we have a lot to talk about on a future date.
Yes, we do. We seriously do.
‘Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker’ opens December 20th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.