Nothing competes with the moment you get a call to work on a Star Wars. There is simply no better sensation. Can you imagine? Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hi, J.J.? Yeah? You want moi for The Rise of Skywalker? Uh, sure.” You put the phone down, and you let out the single loudest celebratory scream you’ve ever unleashed. You’re going to that long time ago, galaxy far, far away. For a certain individual, life doesn’t get better than a Lucasfilm affirmation.
Eunice Huthart is no rookie. She’s been in the stunt game for thirty-five years, ever since she doubled for Famke Janssen in Goldeneye. Recently, Huthart was the stunt coordinator on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and Justice League. Her work transforms actors into warriors, gods amongst mortals. She has nearly done it all, but until The Rise of Skywalker, she had never done a Star Wars, and yeah, there’s just something different about that particular franchise.
“I felt obliged to give it every single ounce of my being,” Huthart explains. “I fell in love with these films when I was just a kid, and I grew up on them. They were a part of my life, my growing up, my everything. I wouldn’t say there was more pressure here, but it was just more of a stronger ambition to make sure that I was delivering exactly what we wanted for these films.”
After she got the call, there wasn’t much time to think or commemorate the win. Work came quickly, and Huthart threw herself into the deep end the second she received the green light. Go time is go time.
“Once I knew that I had the job, I went out and celebrated like you would never believe,” she says, “but then I went and studied every single Star Wars movie, so I knew everything, and it was fresh in my mind. Then I had a lot of telephone conversations with J.J. [Abrams], which were just great.”
The purpose of revisiting the original films was to make sure that her team moved and behaved like the characters we all know and love. Jedis, Rebels, and Imperials have a specific way of oprating and manuvering. A fan can spot a fake in an instant.
“We had a fight between young Luke and young Leia,” she says. “We studied Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher throughout all the films. We wanted our stunt double to hold the same stances as they would. We wanted to pay homage and honor everything as much as we could.”
Huthart is very proud of her work in the film and the film itself. She excels in the pre-production stages and the actual shooting, but her favorite moments often arise during the very earliest of creative conversations, on the phone with Abrams, absorbing his philosophy of the world and the style of action he expects to see up there on the big screen.
“I had about a month to demonstrate ideas, stunts, action beats, and styles of movement,” says Huthart. “We weren’t doing anything from the script at that point. I was only trying to sell J.J. on a different style or a different this and a different that. Then, when everything is signed off, we started rehearsing what we predicted we were going to shoot.”
During pre-production, and even during the shoot, sequences can change at any given moment as ideas flow, circulate, and take hold within different departments. Huthart, her team, and her actors will rehearse the stunts, the action, and they’ll choreograph the fight scenes. Abrams watches everything, offering tweaks where desired, and he’ll even redesign bits to suit his vision.
“After we sign off on all of that,” she continues, “we’ll talk to the art department about different structures, breakaway walls, powdered walls, and powdered floors. Sometimes, I like to keep the floor up a bit higher so that I can then fit mats underneath the floor to stay even. You would never see where the safety side of it is. From there, we’ll speak to costume, and we’ll redesign some of the outfits so that they’re made of a different material, or we can put pads underneath. The Stormtrooper costumes, for example, are redesigned so that the stuntmen can move a lot easier, which makes the stunts look a bit more impactful.”
In watching older movies, Huthart finds inspirations in other ways as well. The style and tone of filmmaking today is so far removed from the way stunt teams operated in the eighties and seventies. There is something to be gained in finding innovation in the past and applying it to a massive Disney endeavor.
“We’re so desensitized,” she says. “I watched Logan’s Run recently, and there was a fight scene between two actors, and they do it all themselves, and it’s so real! That fight is amazing! It’s so basic now, and we’re desensitized by special effects, and superheroes and everything is bigger, better, faster, and harder. When we see something for real now, it actually stands out to me.”
The “make it real, make it hurt, and make it count” attitude is what’s responsible for delivering her best day on the set of The Rise of Skywalker. Huthart has rarely been as happy as she was working with Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver during their lightsaber duel atop the ruins of the Death Star. There’s nothing phony occurring on that stage as the actors were being put through a tremendous physical gauntlet on top of being doused with gallons upon gallons of fabricated ocean water.
“Even though that scene is enhanced on a bigger scale,” she says, “everything them actors endured was for real. We were on a pier, they were fighting, and they were getting hit with waves of water, plus wind and rain. And it was amazing! The actors worked so hard. So, so hard. Shooting that whole scene was my best day on set. Even me thinking about it right now, I’m sitting here, and my fists are clenched just remembering that shoot. It was fantastic.”
To accomplish such a feat of action requires more than choreography and strength training. The actors, like Huthart, have to give everything of their body to the fight. The commitment is impenetrable, and that means every aspect of their daily life must be sacrificed to the show. Their sleep, their meals, and their mental state goes to Star Wars.
“The actors are all on different diets,” says Huthart. “They got to watch their weight and their time scales. That means they eat differently to anybody else on the crew. Before the pier fight, I went to the caterers and said, ‘You got to up their calories for the next scene by at least a third every day.’ They need to be constantly fed every two hours, because I knew the kind of physical nature that the actors were going to be doing throughout all of those scenes.”
For the Death Star pier duel, the call times were 5:00 AM, and they only finished when there was no light left to shoot. November in England, freezing cold and drenched in water. Oof. One must love the pain as much as the pleasure, and if you don’t, your fellow crew will get you through the ordeal. As the saying goes, you don’t fight for yourself; you fight for the soldier in the trench next to you.
“The actors, the crew, everybody!” exclaims Huthart. “They worked so hard, and it was a total collaboration. It was great – really great!”
Speaking with Huthart, you wouldn’t know that The Rise of Skywalker wrapped months ago. Her enthusiasm is as strong and as electric today as it was when J.J. first rang. If she could live perpetually in the moment of the Death Star duel, she would. Absolutely, no question.