Interviewing someone like Kathleen Kennedy isn’t like interviewing an actor or director. As the president of Lucasfilm, she isn’t just involved in what we see on screen, she’s involved in everything happening in Star Wars—from the marketing and publicity to the merchandising, theme parks and more. And while Gizmodo’s interview with Kennedy and fellow Rise of Skywalker producer Michelle Rejwan didn’t get into all of that, we did discuss some film matters beyond what you’ll see on screen.
Kennedy and Rejwan talked with us about why seemingly huge spoilers like Emperor Palpatine and “Dark Rey” were revealed in the marketing, the thought process behind releasing a full season of The Mandalorian alongside The Rise of Skywalker, the difficulty in choosing that title and more.
Gizmodo: Star Wars marketing is famously very secretive and yet I feel like that changed a bit with The Rise of Skywalker. Things like knowing the Emperor is back or a quick glimpse of “Dark Rey” seem like they could have been kept secret. So, would you say it’s a fair assessment that the marketing this time around has purposefully been more revealing—and if so, why go that route?
Kathleen Kennedy: I think that is a fair assessment. Because we’re bringing this to a conclusion, many of the characters that are playing a significant role in the story, the fans know. They don’t know how this story is going to unfold, but they know who they are. It’s not like Baby Yoda. [Laughs] We’re not revealing something significant like that. And I think that that is important to this story.
We’re not trying to be coy and unnecessarily clever. And we had a lot of conversation about that. We certainly tease Palpatine, but we arrived at a decision pretty early on, right around Celebration, that we were like, “Wait a minute. The fans are going to want that. We need to be somewhat more open than we would normally be because there isn’t something to hide here. There’s actually something to tantalise everybody with. To let speculation be a part of the conversation.” And that’s always been such a great thing about Star Wars, is that the fans get so engaged in that. And we felt that with this story that should be allowed to happen.
Gizmodo: After discussions that Solo may have come out too soon after The Last Jedi, I was surprised when I heard the entirety of The Mandalorian would be out before the end of the year, at the same time The Rise of Skywalker is in theatres. Was there ever any worry that having the show and movie come at the same time could cannibalise each other in any kind of way?
Kennedy: I don’t think there was a worry about that. And I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised. We’re going into television. We’ve never done [live-action] television for Star Wars. So, yes, there’s an unknown and I suppose you could say there was an underlying risk. But what we absolutely knew is that the two are very different in look and feel and were not in any way trying to do the same thing. So we arrived at a point of view pretty early that we thought the two could live comfortably side by side. And I actually think the fans are having fun with Mandalorian and I think it will only help The Rise of Skywalker.
Gizmodo: The Last Jedi is a title Rian Johnson had very early on, taken from the crawl of The Force Awakens. Was The Rise of Skywalker a more difficult title to come upon and how did that process go?
Kennedy: Yeah, it was.
Michelle Rejwan: It actually was.
Kennedy: Yeah. I mean, I think every Star Wars title is very important. And so we spend a lot of time thinking about it. It was interesting. We came to the title pretty late on this movie because I think all of us were so immersed in creating the story. And I’m a big believer, I think the author should fundamentally drive the title and Chris [Terrio] and J.J. [Abrams] writing the script, it was important to let them really spend time with understanding what this was and all the nuances of what the mysteries were that were being revealed. So I think you’ll find when you see the movie, it was a very apt title.
Gizmodo: Sticking with The Last Jedi, that film ends with a boy using the Force to grab a broom. We haven’t seen much of that idea in the trailer so I’m wondering, does The Rise of Skywalker deal with the idea of what the Force could come to be in the future of Star Wars?
Kennedy: What the Force means lying ahead, I think is Star Wars. It certainly is a part of what Episode IX is. But the Force is a huge part of the conversation about where we’re going and what is the future of Star Wars. And once we move on from Episode IX and we start telling new stories, the force is the foundation of Star Wars.
Rejwan: And its mystery and continued discovery is part of what makes it so special.
Gizmodo: How does Luke’s death in the last film weigh on this film, especially on Leia and Rey?
Rejwan: It’s interesting because part of what makes Episode IX unique to the trilogy is, for the first time, it really is on our new generation’s shoulders. The stakes have never been bigger and the question, thematically, was very important to Chris and J.J. of rising up to that challenge when you don’t have the mentors you once did and the guidance. It’s kind of the classic metaphor of coming of age and growing up and stepping out into that larger world on your own. Have you assimilated the knowledge, the lessons, your own values, and your own choices, that will inform that and not only inform who you are the stakes and fate of the galaxy as well? So that feels actually quite appropriate for this movie.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens December 19.