Oscar Isaac takes on the role of Poe Dameron, a X-wing pilot in the Resistance and a leader in the fight against the First Order, in the hotly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While the J.J. Abrams-directed film is shrouded in secrecy, Isaac recently sat down with TIME to discuss what the Star Wars series has meant to him throughout his life and his own analysis of his character’s journey.
TIME: What’s your personal history with Star Wars? Were you a fan? Did you see the movies in the theater? What were your feelings about Star Wars before this?
Isaac: For me, it’s been a huge part of my childhood and actually, recent life. My family and I are all pretty big fans. The earliest movie I can remember seeing in the theater was Return of the Jedi and I went with my father and it made a huge impression on me, particularly when Darth Vader’s helmet comes off. You see that he’s just a big vulnerable sad sack underneath that black helmet and how fragile he is and what it says about the way that we look up to our parents sometimes and once we realize that they’re just human. Anyway, that stuck with me a lot and I was a huge fan. It just ignited my imagination in a way I couldn’t have imagined and then as I grew up, my family were huge fans, particularly my uncle and cousins, and they would collect the toys and we’d rewatch the movies. Then when the prequels came out, we were very excited and we would throw Star Wars-themed parties and collect the toys and dress up as the characters and actually memorize the fight scenes, the duels. We’d try to reenact them with the lightsabers, but to a T. You know, say, “okay no no no he goes left, right, left, right and then down.” So yeah, it was always a great way for the family to spend some time annoying the rest of the family.
What can you tell me about the character?
I can say that he’s a pilot for the Resistance. He’s incredibly dedicated. He’s perhaps sometimes a little overenthusiastic with wanting to prove himself as a pilot and so can sometimes find himself in slightly reckless situations, in situations that he maybe didn’t anticipate. So I think part of his journey is figuring out what a real leader is, what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a hero, and yet he’s a formidable opponent to the First Order.