Recently, Rick Carter spoke with Ben Consoli for the Go Creative Show. Carter worked on both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, along with other films such as parts two and three of Back to the Future and Avatar.
Carter was asked, “When you first get a script, what is the first step to creating this new world? Are there questions that you ask a director every time? Are there things about the script that you look for and pull out? What is that early inspiration?”
“‘The Force Awakens’ or even ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, I was on as the script was being developed, as the story was being developed. And then I’m asked to bring a visual point of reference to what is being discussed. But it’s beyond just illustrating the ideas that are coming up or coming out of the writer and the director. It’s more that many times the visual is the idea.”Rick Carter
Rick Carter is intuitive about his design process, getting a feel for the story, the motifs, and the world in which it will take place.
“I would just say I let it wash over me, whatever the idea or whatever the script is and don’t try to pick it apart as much as try to feel it. So in ‘The Force Awakens,’ one of the questions that I was asking when I first started on the ‘Star Wars’ project, even before J.J. was there, was: how strong is the Force? What’s the purpose of telling these ‘Star Wars’ movies now? And so I actually asked a group of illustrators who I call visualists up at Lucasfilm, ‘How strong is the Force?’ And you can’t just answer that with words. You have to show it.”Rick Carter
Carter makes it clear that his style is not that of a one-man production designer. Rather, he likes to ask questions, to give and take ideas from other creatives in a collaborative way.
“So, I asked a group of people, ‘What would actually scare you about the return of the dark side? What could they do that would actually be truly threatening?’ And it was Dennis Muren, the visual effects guru…who said, ‘Well if the dark side could take the light out of a star, then that would be very, very powerful.’ And then J.J. really liked that idea, and he sort of weaponized that so that became the threat that is in the movie.”Rick Carter
If you were wondering where the idea came for the Orbacks to charge onto the hull of a Star Destroyer in The Rise of Skywalker, look no further than Carter and his collaborative team.
“I was looking at the Star Destroyer and there’s some illustrations we were doing and I just thought, wouldn’t it be great to stage some kind of a swashbuckling even like a western scene atop of a Star Destroyer? Because it’s always been thought of in Star Wars language in the beginning that it was a western in space.”Rick Carter
Coming back to intuition, confronting the dark side, and how Star Wars is such a personal endeavor to creatives. When “Star Wars” first premiered in 1977, Carter was 27 and had already traveled extensively. His perspective of the film, he says, would have been very different at the time than it would have been for J.J. (who was then 11).
“I looked at the whole process as a transition from one generation to another, trying to express what we had discovered but also so that we could move it forward into the future… And in a sense, I was trying to ask that fundamental question, not about the Force as something separate only about ‘Star Wars,’ but what is the Force? Steven Spielberg would say and has said to me that he feels the Force is intuition, that how intuition plays a role in his life he would regard as the Force. And, if you think about it, that kind of— put aside the things that are telling you what it’s supposed to be but what it is—that was what I was trying to help people who are younger come in and experience for the first time, and then take on a responsibility to confront the darkness, if it should arise again (as it did). And then you would find that much of the darkness is not just out there, but it is in your own heart. And to be able to make a transformation to actually confront the darkness that’s within you as well so that you can find a way from the inside to deal with it, as Luke had to, and as Rey to, as Ben Solo did as Kylo Ren. I thought those were worthy themes given any time, really, but particularly our times now. And, it was great to be there in the beginning for the first one. I then had a number of consultations with Rian Johnson before he made ‘The Last Jedi’, and I know how personal that imagery is to him, just as I know how personal the imagery is for J.J., and I can convey some of that. But, one thing I would like to say, just by bringing up both J.J. and Rian, is that that was part of the whole message: come into this world that Kathy Kennedy and Disney were creating for directors and storytellers to tell a version of the story that’s personal [to them] because it was very personal to George.”Rick Carter
As fans, for whom “Star Wars” is deeply personal, we can certainly all understand the enormous responsibility and pressure to not only create something which acknowledges the past while moving it forward into the future, but to do so from an equally personal place of love for a galaxy far, far away.