STAR WARS Editor Maryann Brandon Balances Story and Character
December 11, 2019

by Jazz Tangcay, Variety 

Few fandoms are as passionate as those who love “Star Wars” — a franchise that spans multiple media, including movies, books and theme parks. Editor Maryann Brandon, an Oscar nominee for her work on “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” returned to the galaxy once more for “Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker.” This time, she worked with co-editor Stefan Grube.

The movie presented a complex task for the team in balancing what audiences already know about the characters with what still needed explained.

“For instance, there’s the idea that [the characters are] always being chased by somebody,” says Brandon. “They know that. We all know that. You don’t have to say, ‘Let’s get out of here. So-and-so is after us.’”

Additionally, there’s also the danger of keeping unnecessary bits since audiences know the characters well. “Sometimes you can kill a scene if you put in too much,” she notes. “Even in a battle scene, if you take a few shots out even though you love those shots and they’re brilliant, sometimes things just get clearer.”

Paring scenes down to the minimum clarifies the storytelling while increasing the emotional impact. Brandon sometimes re-watches her scenes with an eye on whether all the characters’ feelings are represented since their reactions can be integral to the tale.

“Your audience is going to feel [something] and they need to know that the character felt it,” Brandon says.

Oftentimes in the early stages, Brandon will cut scenes together with a focus on the visuals. She doesn’t include dialogue, music or effects just to see if it works and the rhythm is right before starting to finesse.

Full scenes sometimes hit the discard file as well. There was one part Brandon says everyone loved but didn’t seem to fit during the editing process. “At midnight, we were like, ‘wait a second, this could go here in this form’ and it actually unlocked something so amazing.”

Brandon balks at offering specifics, however, in order to avoid divulging spoilers.

She is in a unique position as her craft and this particular genre are typically male-dominated. While she usually doesn’t notice gender-related slights unless they’re brought to her attention, “in retrospect, I can see that I have not been considered for certain jobs because I’m a woman, because the director might not feel comfortable with me in that role.”

With credits that include “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Venom,” Brandon says she’s now managed to cross that barrier.

“I’ve earned their respect,” Brandon explains. “And I will say this, it is harder to earn the respect than it [would be] if I was a guy.”

In addition to editing “Alias,” Brandon directed a couple of episodes after developing a good relationship with series creator J.J. Abrams. It was their enduring working relationship that brought her into the “Star Wars” galaxy.

Above all, “I just try to tell the story the way I would feel it,” says Brandon.