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The Rise Of Skywalker Editor Maryann Brandon Dishes On Behind-The-Scenes Rumors - Exclusive Interview

Veteran editor Maryann Brandon loves Star Wars. That's clear as soon as she starts talking about her latest film, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Whether you liked the highly polarizing conclusion to the Skywalker Saga or not, it's hard not to get caught up in her unchecked enthusiasm.

Looper spoke to Brandon about Episode IX a few weeks after the film's theatrical debut, when the debate about its merits (or lack thereof) was at its peak, and when dubious reports about behind-the-scenes turmoil on The Rise of Skywalker were reaching fever pitch. Given the climate, Brandon was understandably reticent to share too much information about The Rise of Skywalker's development, but she did take some time to talk about the differences between The Rise of Skywalker and The Force Awakens (which she also edited) and to clear up some of the more persistent rumors about the production.

Through it all, Brandon remained remarkably positive and upbeat, and her affection for the source material came through loud and clear. You may not agree with Brandon's opinion of The Rise of Skywalker, but you can't deny that she's a Star Wars fan through and through.

How The Rise of Skywalker was different from The Force Awakens

So, The Rise of Skywalker is out, and it's ended up being fairly controversial. Were you surprised?

It was so much fun to work on, and obviously I wish that people weren't so polarized about the film in their reviews. I'm a little surprised that they are because I really believe the film is so good and so entertaining and so right about where it went and what it needed to do. I can say I was a little taken aback by the reviews, but now that the dust has settled, I guess the world is polarizing place right now and the reviews seem very reflective of that attitude.

You also edited The Force Awakens. How was your experience on that different than on The Rise of Skywalker?

Well, with The Force Awakens we were creating — or J.J was creating, and Larry Kasdan, the other writer, was creating — new characters. It was all about introducing these characters to the world of Star Wars, and coming back after a long period of time where there hadn't been a Star Wars movie, and re-entering the world of Star Wars.

I think we did it with a lot of love and care and excitement, also introducing older characters back into the franchise that people, fans especially, will love and adore, and who hopefully newcomers would learn to love and adore. It was really super exciting.

I mean, I've always been a Star Wars lover. I grew up with Star Wars, so for me it was thrilling to be able to do it. And this one was taking those characters we created and lovingly giving them, not an end to their story, but finishing their journey. And I think I'm really satisfied with how we did that.

Were there differences on the production side at all?

Oh, look, when did we do Force Awakens? 2014? And now it's 2018, '19, '20. Obviously, technology keeps racing along. So, there are more and more tools that I have as an editor.

I think we started two or three months later then we started The Force Awakens, so we had a slightly shorter time to do it, but the challenges on any movie are always the same. Are we telling the right story? Is it clear? Are people reacting? Is the pace right? Is the story right? Is the emotion right?

This movie, because it was so big and so epic, had the added challenge of people already having formed opinions about what they want to see when they go to the film. It's an interesting thing. You go to a Marvel film, right? Or a Superman and Batman film, those characters. People know those characters. You know what you're going to get with Superman and Batman. On this, I feel like J.J and Chris Terrio were creating these characters — or finishing creating these characters — and having you fall in love with them.

What I'm proudest of in this movie is that I feel like it's an emotional journey. And when I read the script, that was my big thing, like, I hope we can make this as emotionally satisfying an emotional journey for the fans and for the newcomers.

Why The Rise of Skywalker's alleged "J. J. cut" is just a rumor

Obviously, there have been many rumors about what happened on this movie behind the scenes. In light of some reports, how involved was J.J. Abrams with the theatrical cut of the movie?

Yeah, I read that too. Really, I'm absolutely stunned. I don't know where that came from. He's involved in every aspect of the movie. One hundred percent involved. This movie, you couldn't do it without him. I don't even understand. I don't know where that came from. Does anyone know where that came?

I believe it came from a poster on Reddit.

Okay. So, from my point of view, and I'm just one person, just one woman who worked as the editor, he was there every minute of the day, and I know that because I was there every minute of the day.

So, there's no J.J cut sitting in some vault over at Disney?

If there is, I had nothing to do with it, and I can't imagine there is because he was with me the entire time. He was either with me or Stefan Grube.

That being said, do you think if Disney and Lucasfilm came to you and said, "We want to do a Rise of Skywalker special edition," would you be up for it?

If Disney and Lucasfilm came to me and J.J. Abrams wanted me to do it? Yes, I would do it, but I think we made the special edition. I think I feel like we really did put out the best film we could put out. Like, is there a special edition in mind that I would do? I don't. No, there is not.

Was there anything that Disney and Lucasfilm said had to be in the movie, or that absolutely had to go?

No, they were nothing but incredibly supportive. Look, I started reading some of that stuff, and a friend of mine started sending it to me, and I said please stop. It was getting so depressing. Can I just tell you, I worked so hard on this movie? And between Stefan Grube and Michelle Rejwan and Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, there was not one irresponsible moment that we had on this movie, not one moment where we weren't working to make the best movie.

It seems like there was a little bit of confusion about exactly what happened when Leia died, when Kylo Ren turned, and when Han Solo showed up. There are plenty of fan theories. What's your take on it?

Isn't that the beauty of it? That people can have all sorts of theories? I mean, I love that people can think what they want to think. The important thing is that it took all of her power to do the thing that she had been afraid to do since she had had her son, which was reach out to stop him from causing more pain, and to come back in her. And that's what she gets in the movie. I think that's beautiful. I think it's great.

It's great. I love when people have theories. It's so interesting to me because when I cut a film, a lot of times I'll try to do that too, like, think of a big theory and be like, can I cut it so it has this meaning? And oftentimes, that helps me find another meaning in something. It doesn't always translate but it is a very creative way of watching a movie, I think.

Why Maryann Brandon would love to edit another Star Wars movie

So, after all of this, would you do another Star Wars?

No question, because I love Star Wars. I love the world of Star Wars. I love the fact that you can go to any world and create any world and make it up, right? Like, you go to the desert and say you're on desert planet. You can go to the Antarctic and say you're on an ice planet. You can go somewhere and say you're on the moon planet. I love that.

I love that it also lends itself to human characters, but in this sort of Western, kind of old-fashioned on-a-quest-for-something kind of way. That really appeals to my love of adventure, sci-fi, Saturday-morning matinees.

And on top of that, and most importantly, I am a huge fan of Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm. So everyone who works there has been so great to me and it means a lot to work at a place where people are always... I mean, Kathleen's is so smart. She's always thinking and has ideas and she's involved. She's not removed. I love that.

Is there anything that people haven't asked about, or that you haven't gotten to say about this movie that you would like to?

I'm a little wary of saying anything technical about the story or how we did it or what we did because it seems to backfire in my face every time.

What I would love to say is, I think this movie is a really fun movie. Like a Saturday-morning matinee. Take your family of four, sit down, get your popcorn and have fun. Quite honestly, that is why I loved the movies and that is why I got involved in making movies. I love serious dramas. I love to cry my eyes out. I love to laugh. I love going to the movies. My big hopes for this film were that people would go to it and feel that way and enjoy the movies. Just enjoy the movies.

I am sad that it became a polarizing thing, but I don't think that defines the movie. I think what defines the movie is that it's really good fun and it's a really emotional ride and the acting is amazing. That's what I'd like to say. Some really amazing work went into this movie.

Believe me, I do not love every movie I get involved with. Although, I will say this as an editor in general, I do find a way to love everything because you can't work on something if you don't love it. I'm in that process now of stepping back from this movie and trying to have a real hard look at it, but I keep coming up with the same thing. I just think it's so much fun.