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Interview: Debs Patterson, director of Skywalker Legacy

The “Skywalker Legacy” has the unenviable task of exploring the legacy of the Star Wars saga and documenting the making of  its final chapter – “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”.

We chatted to Debs Patterson, director of the documentary about what impressed her the most about the original trilogy, who had the most fun on set, what gave her a new appreciation for documentarians, and most importantly – her expert opinion on what is the correct order to watch the Star Wars Saga.

The documentary is part of the ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” bonus features of the 4K and blu-ray releases.

Where do you start to capture a series that means so much to people? Did it start with a re-watch?

Yes it did, it definitely did. I went back and watched all of the movies in order for the first time. I watched the original trilogy a thousand times growing up, and obviously have seen the prequels I think a couple of times when they came through, but it was the first time going back and watching them all in order.

I also delved into the behind the scenes materials. I grew up in the Northern England and South East Asia, so I remember seeing a behind the scenes from the last trilogy on TV in Singapore when I was a teenager and having my my head blown away by the filmmaking of it and the practical effects.

Did you feel privileged or scared when you set out to make this film or both?

I think I felt really privileged. I came into it knowing that they knew that I’m not normally a documentary person. I was invited to come in as a filmermaker and to bring a kind of filmmakers POV to the experience so that felt really exciting. And because I’m a filmmaker I feel quite confident in my ability to tell a good story.

What I should have been scared about was writing the script at the same time as you edit it and that gave me a new respect to all documentarians. But mostly I just felt it wasn’t something that I’ve ever imagined doing but when the opportunity came up I felt immensely privileged and excited to watch the making of it up close, and watch J.J. and his amazing team go about their business. Getting to live in the world of Star Wars for seven months of shooting and then another few months to edit. Then getting to see them communicate that to everybody else. So that was kind of cool.

Credit: Debs Patterson

Why do you think Star Wars resonates so strongly with people from all different backgrounds?

I thought about this a lot when I was making this film. I thought about the ‘why’ of it all as well as the ‘what’ and you know watching a lot of George Lucas’s interviews, and listening to the way that J.J. and Chris Terrio and Michelle Rejwan and the cast and how they would like all talk about it – it’s something that’s quite hard to quantify.

My personal feeling is that it’s the way that’s it made as well as what it is. There’s something incredible about the storytelling – wild rides and flights of fantasy – but there is also something that’s been true from the beginning till now about the way it was made. Simultaneously unbelievably creative and unbelievably collaborative as well as kind of pushing the pen. So, that’s my best theory on why it’s become so legendary.

Although you weren’t present for the filming of the original series did you get a sense of what the set was like when looking at behind the scenes footage, and did anything surprise you?

Yeah, I mean it’s incredible  and what surprised me was the scale of what they were building, like they built the whole Millennium Falcon and they built the ice-cave and the rebel base on Hoth, and it goes on and on. And then Degobah, you know, it was all constructed. And the Death Star! I mean the interiors of the Death Star. The scale of it is incredible but also the design of it. But the thing that was most surprising was how it happened that George Lucas managed to come together with Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, and with John Williams and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, the serendipity of the whole thing was absolutely extraordinary.

Directors aren’t often in the presence of other directors when they are working. Was it strange to observing J.J. at work? Did the way he approach things surprise you in any way?

Yeah, that was part of the reason I was so excited to do this, and felt it was such a privilege to do this, because directing is one of the weird jobs where it’s really, really tough to apprentice, and you don’t often get to see other directors at work. I’d heard a lot of good things about J.J. Abrams and was very interested to watch him work as well as to watch how the big movie got made.

He is just a wonderful human being. I’ve learnt so much from watching him work every single day. He is incredibly creative and he’s an extremely good human being. He wants other people to be their best selves around him and to do their best work around him, and he’s not threatened by that the way other people can be.

So, yeah man I was surprised that – in watching him work up close over those seven months and then in months of edit as well – I don’t think I ever saw him get toxic on people which I was immensely impressed by. As well as, you know, keeping all of the creative plates spinning and working as a team to get this thing done.

(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

What is your favorite moment in the documentary?

I’ve got a couple. The bit where we speak to Billie [Lourd] right at the very end about how the movie kinds of merge with life, like it’s incredibly hard, but we’re here and it’s important that we are still here. She’s talking about how much she loves working with Kelly [Marie Tran], and Kelly for some reason at that moment chose to run up and hug her. So, just little moments like that were really special, but also being there with Anthony [Daniels] putting his [C-3PO] costume on for the last time in this forty year journey. Being in the room when John Williams was recording the overture you know to the whole saga. I just get into watching this incredible team doing their work every single day – but not just the famous people. The number of master craftspeople on that film is mind-blowing.

Who had the most fun on the set?

John Boyega is a big joker. Daisy would sing all the time and she’s a beautiful spirit – she keeps herself happy along the way. J.J. and Tommy [Gormly], he’s the first Assistant Director keep a really good spirit on the set – you know with jokes. And obviously Joonas [Suatamo] who plays Chewbacca, I mean he’s just hilarious, he’s hands down hilarious, but yeah it was a very, very enjoyable set to be on.

Do you think you could now win a Star Wars trivia match? 

I would like my chances, I feel like I could contend. I mean there are people that know an awful lot more than me still which is frustrating.

With people been encouraged to stay at home as much as possible now is an excellent time for a complete Star Wars re-watches. What is your expert opinion to watch them?

I have to say having now done both I do believe the correct order is the production order. It’s controversial but I think there’s a decent argument to be made for how the prequels are really George Lucas’s complicated second act, even though chronologically they are supposed to come first. I personally think the correct order is four, five, six, one, two, and three with “Rogue One” and “Solo” probably coming in between prequels, and then the sequels in that order.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is now available on Digital, DVD, Blu-ray and 4K.

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