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Oscar Isaac says Rise of Skywalker reveals why Poe’s past isn’t ‘squeaky clean’

Plus Episode 9 might not be the end of the actor’s Star Wars career

poe screaming on a sand sailboat during a star wars chase scene Lucasfilm Ltd.

What makes a Star Wars hero?

When audiences first met Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens, the dashing Resistance pilot was the kind of guy who would literally give you the jacket off his back. An expert X-Wing pilot and best friend to an adorable ball droid, Poe could do no wrong.

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi threw out a curve ball, reframing Poe’s cockiness as a serious detriment when Dameron went rogue and attempted a mutiny against Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo. In the process, Poe learned one of the central truths of the Star Wars saga, best put by Alec Guinness in A New Hope: “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Of course, Poe’s adventures have not been limited to the big screen. Marvel Comics published an ongoing Poe Dameron comic book series set before, during and after the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Another comic book miniseries introduced us to Poe’s parents, Rebellion pilot Shara Bey and special forces Sergeant Kes Dameron. Isaac himself has even revisited Poe, lending his voice to episodes of the sequel-trilogy-adjacent animated series Resistance.

Mostly recently, Poe played a key role in Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Resistance Reborn. Released last month as a direct lead-in to The Rise of Skywalker, the literary adventure finds Poe and his Black Squadron tasked with rounding up allies to reform the Resistance in the wake of the catastrophic events of the last film.

Now, it looks as if The Rise of Skywalker might very well mark the final flight of Poe Dameron. Sitting down with Polygon, Oscar Isaac reflects on becoming an iconic Star Wars character, Poe’s controversial turn in The Last Jedi and teases a final chapter that reunites the heroes of the new trilogy.

Polygon: What was the biggest difference between working with J.J. Abrams on this set and The Force Awakens?

Oscar Isaac: I think that there was more of a sense of trust. There was less figuring out and asking, “How does this thing work?” or “How do these people interact with each other? What’s the nature of these relationships? What is the energy of this?” All those things have been pretty mapped out pretty well in the last two films. That meant there was more of an opportunity to explore and to play around and to do long takes, overlapping dialogue and things like that.

From a certain point of view, Poe was almost a secret villain of the last movie. Has that experience changed him?

A villain? How do you mean?

Well, his actions were justified in his mind and we were all rooting for him, but they weren’t necessarily a positive thing.

Right, right. Yeah. I don’t know. I feel like “secret villain” is a bit extreme.

But is that something that Poe has learned from?

Yeah, there were definitely lessons to learn and there were flaws. There were things that he was having to butt up against. The challenges were very difficult and it was a very frustrating place for him to be. For all the characters to be.

Is that very different this time around?

Oh, yeah. It was fun in this one to get out of the cockpit and to join my friends. To really go on the adventure together. Not only that, but also to shed light on Poe’s past and learn that he’s not quite as squeaky clean as you ever imagined.

JJ Abrams and Oscar Isaac chuckle on the desert set of Rise of Skywalker Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm Ltd.

We have gotten to see a bit of Poe’s backstory in the Marvel comics series. Is that something you follow and does it affect your performance in any way?

I’ve looked at them. I mean, they’re amazing artwork and really cool stories and it’s pretty amazing to see that. It’s great.

Has it affected the way you play the character at all?

I mean, it definitely enriches the character but, ultimately, my job is to take the script and do my best to tell that story. But what’s great about the comics is that it gives a richer tapestry to his life.

In many ways, Poe has become a sort of a sex symbol to a lot of fans and they have interpreted his sexuality in a lot of different ways. Has that response affected the way you play him to any degree.

I don’t know. I can’t really speak to the way that people liking Poe may have necessarily changed the way the writers have approached how they tell the story.

Does it affect your own performance at all?

I’d say that, in this film, you do get us together. You get us all together and you really get to see the chemistry and the dynamic between the three characters. That, I think, probably has something to do with what they saw that people really loved, particularly in seeing Poe and Finn together. So doing that in this film is important.

Is this a goodbye for Poe or do you think that you might have a chance to return to the role again?

Well, nothing really ends, does it? I know, for me, this is the end of this chapter. See, it was always these three films for me. That’s how I’m seeing it. You can never see around the corner and really never know how things are going to turn out or what’s going to happen but, for the moment, yes, this is it.

Did you get to offer any thoughts as to where you’d like to see Poe’s story go?

Yeah, I would talk a bit about it. I remember meeting with Rian [Johnson] beforehand and talking about different thoughts and different ideas and then speaking with JJ. I felt that I really wanted to see a scene where Poe gets to say goodbye to Leia and that was added in, which was fantastic. I think the nature of the energy was definitely felt, particularly on this one. There’s a real collaboration.

What’s the primary takeaway for you as an actor from your time doing this trilogy?

I’d say it is my friendship with John [Boyega] and Daisy [Ridley] and JJ [Abrams]. That, in particular, is just so special to me, particularly with JJ. He is just someone that I admire so much and respect so much, not only as a artist, but as a family and someone that is just a positive person in the world. He’s a really incredible role model and someone who’s just so optimistic. He’s just filled with goodness, you know? Those people are rare, particularly in this industry.

Is there a particular role outside of Poe that you’d like to maybe see Star Wars discover?

Something that made that maybe fans of Star Wars haven’t seen? Inside Llewyn Davis. I’d say that’s the one that I really love a lot.