J.J. Abrams On Imbuing 'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' With Hope, And More Highlights From The Press Conference

On Wednesday, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, and the cast of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gathered together for the film's global press conference, fielding questions from moderator Ava DuVernay (Abrams' friend who gave him some advice about one of The Force Awakens' lightsaber fights) and a few from the audience of journalists as well. Here are some of the best moments, including a piece of trivia about Kennedy's early career that I bet you've never heard before.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Press Conference Highlights

Abrams, who talked about how important it was to keep a human element present amid the hugeness of the franchise machine, spoke about wanting to impart a specific message to the audience with this movie:

"The truth is that there's the movie that you know you're presenting to the world, and then there's the thing that you're doing not necessarily secretly, but meaningfully. We live in a crazy world. We live in a crazy time. Star Wars, for me, was about hope. And it was about community and the underdog, and it was about bringing people together and seeing all oddballs represented and the most unlikely friends in the most unlikely places, and the family that you make is really your family. To tell a story that is of course a giant spectacle [with] blockbuster wrapping, the thing that mattered to me most – more than all the spectacular, unbelievable, I would argue best work that ILM has ever done, all the departments going beyond expectations – the thing that matters most and only in the film is the people who are sitting here and what you're watching and the eyes of the characters and the heart of the characters.

For me, rather than give away themes that [co-writer] Chris [Terrio] and I talked about doing from the beginning and what our specifics are, I will say that it really is about hope. And it's about coming back to a sense of possibility, about unity, and if Star Wars can't do that for us, I don't know what can."

Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico evidently spends a lot of time with the Resistance in this movie, and specifically Carrie Fisher's General Leia. She talked about working with Carrie while also being in her absence:

"There is sort of this idea that J.J. has talked about: ending nine films. Carrie was such a big part of all of that. So I think for me personally, there was a lot of wanting to honor this thing and do right by this thing. I think that she's pretty effing incredible in this movie."

Richard E. Grant, who plays Allegiant General Pryde in the new film, broke the embargo by tweeting his reaction to the movie after seeing an early cast screening on Tuesday night. DuVernay asked him to expand on his thoughts on the film a bit:

"I thought that Disney would sue me, because I think that you're not supposed to say anything about it. But I didn't tweet any spoilers about it at all. Having seen the first one when I was a theater student when I was 20 years old, before any of the younger cast were even born, it's an extraordinarily emotional thing to see – just the passing of time that goes through all of these movies. It felt really like a combination of everything I read in the Bible, Greek mythology, The Wizard of Oz, all rolled into one, in this extraordinary summation of the whole story that delivers an emotional wallop at the end that I was totally unprepared for. I was wiped out and I barely slept."

Oscar Isaac, who says Poe Dameron's "squeaky flyboy image" is dirtied up a little in this film, is excited about participating in the action alongside a larger group of fellow cast members:

"I've been taken away from my little box in space and I get to join my friends this time. You really get to see the interaction with the three, and the hope that I think he, in particular, brings in this one. It's kind of a relentless, almost aggressive optimism that he has, and how that is tested and how he tries to be there for his friends, tries to push them along even when it seems quite hopeless."

He spoke about how the long, choreographed, continuous shots in the movie added vitality to it, and then called his bromance with John Boyega's Finn "juicy". Boyega recounted how their chemistry has been natural ever since their audition for The Force Awakens, but got serious when he spoke about Finn's loyalty to Rey.

"Proactive love is something Finn does on a day to day basis. Throughout the film, a lot of the time Rey is going off on this really hard journey as a character blessed with so much power, and Finn tries to support her in that journey. And sometimes it's hard. In my real life, if I've tried to get in contact with you three or four times and you're going off, I'm going to leave you alone. Finn's going to come for you and try and make it work regardless. That's some Jesus shit. (laughs) I'm not built like that."

Since the talent couldn't reveal much about the plot of the film – Adam Driver would only say "yes and no" when DuVernay asked if Kylo Ren has rejected his Ben Solo past – one of the most interesting moments was when DuVernay pointed out a piece of trivia that most of us in the room didn't know about: back in the 1970s, Kathleen Kennedy used to be a camera operator for Monday Night Football. Kennedy explained that there's some interesting footage of her out there online somewhere of her getting tackled on the sidelines:

"In addition to operating camera, I operated what's called a parabolic microphone...still today, you're the only person, along with a photographer, who can be right on the sideline. Your job is to pick up the noise on the bench, but also you need to be watching the play on the field. I used to sit and watch football with my dad on the weekends all the time, so I knew the game pretty well. I saw this pass play starting to materialize, and when you do the job if you see a pass play, you need to start running. So I've got these cables on me, I've got this huge dish, and I'm running down the sideline and I'm watching the pass. What I don't see is a Minnesota Viking linebacker who is running full speed toward me, and takes me out at the ankles and I am flying through the air. (laughs) It's a miracle I didn't get killed. I ended up on national television."

DuVernay immediately called upon the journalists in the room to track down that footage. I searched a bit and came up empty, but hopefully someone else has better searching skills than I do.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters on December 20, 2019.