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Sure, John Boyega is fronting some pretty major scif-fi franchises at the moment. But Pacific Rim Uprising and Star Wars: The Force Awakens actually have much more in common than their charismatic leading man. Nerdist learned this first hand when we traveled to Sydney, Australia, to visit the set of the hotly anticipated Pacific Rim sequel.

In between stepping inside the Conn-Pod of the new Jaeger, Gypsy Avenger, and watching the film’s suited-up stars leap into Kaiju-fighting action, we sat down with Boyega, his co-star Cailee Spaeny, and Legendary Entertainment producer Cale Boyter, as well as Pacific Rim Uprising‘s director, Steven S. DeKnight to discuss how this sequel aims to do right by fans and revealed how The Force Awakens has proven a major influence.

A Gruff But Lovable Nerf Herder. 

Best-known for playing the affable rebel Finn, Boyega fronts Pacific Rim Uprising as Jake Pentecost, the reckless son of a renowned war hero. And according to the English ingendude, the two characters couldn’t be more different. “(Jake) is just not Finn, at all!” he said enthusiastically.

Boyter concurred, comparing the younger Pentecost to another beloved Star Wars hero, saying, “(Boyega) has a Han Solo thing that we lean into here. I think you saw shades of that in Star Wars.” He added, “(Jake has) got a Harrison Ford thing about him. He’s a scoundrel. He’s out for himself. But you love him. He’s got something that makes him vulnerable, but he doesn’t really want to access it.” Oh, we know.

Battle Experience Of The First Order

But Boyega is bringing more than Star Wars swagger to Pacific Rim Uprising. Pulling double duty as a producer on the project, he pushed for Legendary Entertainment to hire The Force Awakens‘ stunt performer Liang Yang as this sequel’s fight choreographer. Yang was a major force in constructing the sci-fi sequel’s sprawling Jaeger versus Kaiju battles scenes.

Nerdist got first-hand experience with Yang’s skills when he taught us some custom-choreography, seen in the video above. Lucky for Pacific Rim fans, Boyega and his co-stars are far more athletic and dexterous than our ragged band of bloggers!

Getting That Star Wars Look. 

Perhaps because the first film was criticized for the confusing coverage of its fight scenes, Pacific Rim Uprising‘s makers sought a director of photography whose could more effectively thrust audiences into the experience of this bonkers battles. That meant also snagging The Force Awakens cinematographer, Daniel Mindel.

“We’re shooting for scope here,” Boyter said of the film’s cinematography. “And Danny did that with Star Wars.” The producer noted how battle locations like Tokyo, which “becomes a playground” for the rampaging Kaiju, allows for depth of field and multiple planes of action. Something Mindel managed with care and skill in The Force Awakens‘ many escape and fight scenes. “We’re trying to make sure we’re pushing the audience into the action,” Boyter concluded,  “And part of that is just making sure we keep it visceral.”

A Diverse Cast Of Characters.

Admittedly, inclusive casting was a big part of Pacific Rim too. But Boyega told us that diversity has become a major factor in how he chooses his roles. “For me, it’s not just about diversity in terms of melanin,” he explained. “I think it’s diversity in types of character, different types of people.”

He noted how Pacific Rim powerfully presented a wide array of characters of different backgrounds, classes, and personalities. “You just see a whole entire world,” Boyega said. “I think if you want to create the worlds we enjoy today from George Lucas in front of the cameras, you have to be inclusive. And not just in terms of the physical, but in different types of people. Which is, for me, it just makes it more interesting.” He added, “And everyone is going to see themselves in it, which is perfect.”

Is That You Rey?

While Jake Pentecost might not be anything like Finn, Pacific Rim Uprising‘s young heroine reminds us a lot of Rey! Played by Cailee Spaeny, 15-year-old Amara Namani is an orphan living on the forgotten fringes of society. To survive, she travels to scrap yards for salvage, and she’s a bit of wonder when it comes to mechanics, engineering, and piloting complicated crafts.

“She’s definitely built a hard exterior,” Spaeny said of Amara, “and had to figure out how to survive on her own,” adding, “She’s definitely a tough girl, an old soul for sure.” All of the above could be applied to that scrappy survivor from Jakku. And while Rey has a robo-buddy in BB-8, Spaeny told us about Scrapper, the mini-Jaeger Amara managed to build on her own, and who she describes as “basically her only friend.” That is, of course, before Boyega’s character comes on the scene.

Fan Girl Makes Good. 

The biggest and possibly most exciting commonality between Pacific Rim Uprising and The Force Awakens is that both feature a female protagonist whose spent her youth idolizing a world in which she now gets to be a hero. Rey knew the stories of the Force and Han Solo, and so is elated to join the Resistance. Similarly, Amara has long loved Jaegers and loathed the Kaiju, whose attacks killed her parents. So when the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. begins The Hopefuls program for young, aspiring pilots, this tough loner is tempted to join the team and follow the footsteps of her idols.

Both sci-fi films allow a girl to be the character to whom fans can most relate. Because who among us wouldn’t wish for the chance to battle against evil Stormtroopers or ravenous Kaiju? In the coming months, we’ll get to vicariously live the dream, one in a galaxy far, far away, the other on an earth rattled by mind-bending monsters. And we can’t wait!

Pacific Rim Uprising opens March 23, 2018.

Check Out more from our visit to the set of Pacific Rim Uprising!

Images: Legendary

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