An important reminder: actors are not always right about what should happen to their characters

John Boyega has once again been in the news recently for his comments about Star Wars, with him saying that he won’t return to the franchise and that he can’t read Colin Trevorrow’s Episode IX script because it would break his heart.

Boyega has not been shy about his opinions on how the sequel trilogy handled his character. He has blamed The Last Jedi on changing some of the threads that seemed to be set up, like Finn being Force sensitive or Finn starting a stormtrooper rebellion (never mind that some of those issues really trace back to The Force Awakens, but we won’t let that get in the way of a good narrative). And he has, more recently, wished that the direction even in The Rise of Skywalker would have gone a different direction.

There are legitimate reasons for wishing that Finn’s story would have taken some different directions in the sequel trilogy, and I could totally get behind both of those storylines that Boyega seems to think were being set up. He’s a great actor, and I’m glad he was in the sequel trilogy. So this article isn’t so much geared at him but inspired by his recent comments, since he’s the most outspoken actor criticizing the franchise in recent years.

But here’s my point, one that I think is very important for fans to keep in mind when approaching a movie: contrary to popular opinion, an actor does not always know best about his character.

Harrison Ford wanted them to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. Mark Hamill thought Luke Skywalker should turn to the dark side. John Boyega thought the main characters should have all been together in The Last Jedi. And so on and so forth. The history of the Star Wars franchise is filled with actors who had certain ideas for their characters that were rejected, and rightly so.

But what has happened recently is a belief that the actors are always right. That’s why, when Mark Hamill voices his disagreements on how Luke was handled in The Last Jedi, for example, there’s a group of fans that use that as definitive proof that it was the wrong decision. But that’s only a valid line of argument if we assume that the actor is always right, and I don’t think the fans who had issues with The Last Jedi would have been any happier with Luke turning to the dark side (and if they were, they’d be hypocrites).

The other reason I bring this up now is because of a recent interview Empire did with Rian Johnson, who directed The Last Jedi. In a rarity for the industry, Johnson has been remarkably transparent about even disagreements on the film, as highlighted in the documentary The Director and the Jedi. And in this interview, reflecting on the five-year anniversary of the film, Johnson shared his thoughts on how he dealt with Hamill’s disagreements:

“I mean… [Pause] It was also ultimately… [Another pause] To the point where I… [Another pause] I’m choosing my words carefully, not to be diplomatic, but I don’t want to frame Mark’s experience of this through my lens because there’s no possible way I can ever put myself in the shoes of Mark, or Carrie [Fisher], having lived their entire lives being known as these characters. And what it’s like to play them first in their twenties, and then come back and play them in these movies and have a script handed to you saying ‘Well, it’s this now…’ I can never fathom what that experience is like. It’s impossible.

If Mark Hamill is talking to me about Luke Skywalker, I’m gonna listen to him, and I gotta think about that and argue with him and go back and forth. And genuinely plumb the depths of my soul and what I wrote and figure out if this seems right. Also, though, remembering that, obviously, he created the characer on screen, but he’s Mark Hamill, he’s not literally Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywlalker lives as a creation on that screen. He’s a myth. And as such, he only really lives in the minds of people who listen to and in various ways believe that myth. And I know that was me. So, it’s complicated. But I mean, the short answer to your question is, it was fucking terrifying.”

I think that is an absolutely perfect answer, and a mindset that I wish more fans shared. Johnson is very respectful and deferential to Hamill and the other actors who inhabit their characters, but also realizes that they aren’t literally the character – so Johnson’s job as a director is to take the character in a direction, whether or not the actor agrees.

See, actors are not the end of discussion about the character they play, and Star Wars fans shouldn’t want them to be. We want these actors to embrace the story and their role, but we also want storytellers who are unafraid of taking risks with them. Fortunately, with The Last Jedi, we had both.

One thought on “An important reminder: actors are not always right about what should happen to their characters

  1. Agreed. Actors certainly are entitled to their opinions about their characters, but ultimately, they are NOT the last word on them. Whole creative teams come up with these characters and worlds, and don’t belong to just one person. Some fans also think these characters belong to them, and if they aren’t portrayed the way they’d like, they get mad. And that’s just childish, lol. I’m glad Rian Johnson is defending The Last Jedi, as he should.

    Liked by 1 person

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