Despite their prominence in interviews and appearances pre-release, Billy Dee Williams and Naomi Ackie have relatively small parts to play in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Williams, returning as Lando Calrissian, has little more than a cameo in the film, while Ackie’s new character Jannah has a little bit more to do, but still not much. But apparently, there’s more to these characters than meets the eye. According to a recently published Rise of Skywalker book, Lando and Jannah might share a pretty big connection. Spoilers follow.
At the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Jannah, who was stolen by the First Order as a child, forced into the life of a Stormtrooper, and then revolted and escaped to become a Resistance fighter, takes a seat next to a familiar face: Lando Calrissian. Lando asks Jannah where she’s from, and Jannah replies that she doesn’t actually know. Lando’s answer: “Let’s find out.”
It’s a curious moment – one that raises a few questions. My knee-jerk reaction to the scene was that it was inserted to set-up some sort of Disney+ show that keeps things going. But there might be a simpler answer. Before Rise of Skywalker opened, rumors surfaced that Jannah was somehow related to Lando. While this isn’t confirmed, or even hinted at, in the movie itself, supplementary material strongly suggests that might be the case.
In the recently published The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary via EW, some details about Lando’s personal life are filled in via a block of text:
When peace reigned, [Lando] attempted to start a family, but tragedy struck and his infant daughter vanished. It was only later that it became clear who the culprits behind the abduction were: the First Order, building their fighting forces but also specifically striking out at the old Alliance leadership.
You can see the page with this info here.
The fact that the book specifies daughter and not just child certainly implies that they’re talking about Jannah here. Of course, this raises all sorts of new questions, specifically: what are the odds that Lando would just randomly sit down next to his long lost-daughter at the end of the movie? Does he know Jannah is his daughter, or is he just as clueless about it as she is? And why the heck isn’t this info in the actual movie itself? Rumor has it that there was a much, much longer cut of Rise of Skywalker, as well as some heavy reshoots for the third act. Perhaps at one point this reveal was in the film itself but ended up on the digital cutting room floor.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...