Newcomers Lauren Lapkus and Nicole Byer Take Their First Steps into the Larger World of Star Wars

The comedians share some of their favorite moments and characters, from Darth Vader’s “chewed bubblegum” head to Jar Jar Binks, after their first viewing of the Star Wars films and series.

Lauren Lapkus and Nicole Byer had made a mistake. After pitching their idea for a podcast series — volunteering to travel down the rabbit hole of 40+ years of Star Wars films and series for a first-time viewing — the newbies were only partway through Star Wars: A New Hope and they were utterly confused. Think Anakin in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, suddenly second-guessing his choice to turn to the dark side. Here they were in just the first hours of their journey and nothing was making sense. Where was Yoda? And Darth Vader’s galaxy-shaking reveal to Luke Skywalker?

Fortunately, the two comedians had a rotating cast of veritable Star Wars experts among their friends and colleagues to act as wise Jedi Masters in explaining the Force and everything in between. And by the time the credits rolled on Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, they were starting to see what all the fuss was about.

Their podcast, Newcomers, details their quest sampling everything Star Wars has to offer. (And we mean everything, including the original Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978.) Now listen in as the co-hosts dive into their experience entering the Star Wars fandom… It is such a rare treat to find people who are adults and just discovering Star Wars for the first time. That never happens!

[Laughter] Almost everyone I talk to has been a fan forever! So it’s always really refreshing to see people who are coming into it but they’re not kids, so they have a very different perspective on it.  

Lauren Lapkus: We managed to never see it somehow our entire lives, which seems impossible. It is extremely rare. Once we found out that we both hadn’t seen it, it seemed like a perfect pairing.

Nicole Byer: We both do improv so it’s kind of wild that we were never like, “I want to understand these references, so let me sit down and watch it.” Instead I was like, “Nah, I’ll just make up things in my head. [Laughs]

Lauren Lapkus: It comes up so often in improv — it does take work to not know what’s going on.

[Nicole laughs]

“I am your father.” – Darth Vader Nicole, you actually full-on avoided Star Wars before this. And Lauren, I think you just didn’t know anything other than pop culture references. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re watching or listening to, you will find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. It is just inescapable.

Lauren Lapkus: Yeah! What made you both decide to take this deep dive and watch all the Star Wars movies for the first time and to make a podcast about it?

Nicole Byer: Someone had reached out on Twitter and was like, “Lauren has said on a podcast she hasn’t seen Star Wars. Nicole has said on a podcast she hasn’t seen Star Wars. Why don’t they get together and make a podcast for us where they watch Star Wars?” And I think Lauren, you sent me the tweet and I was like, “Okay, let’s pitch it somewhere!” And then we pitched it and HeadGum was like enthusiastically happy about it, so we were like, let’s do it.

Lauren Lapkus: Yeah, it seemed like a really great way to get to know what this is all about and make it fun for ourselves. I don’t know that we would have spent the time to watch everything Star Wars-related if it was just up to us in our free time. It was great to have someone to bounce it all off with and to feel like there’s someone who’s in this with me, because sometimes these movies are really long or we don’t know what’s going on…

Nicole Byer: Sometimes? All the time!

Lauren Lapkus: All the time! So it’s nice to have someone to commiserate with, but then to also bring on guests who are really passionate about it so we can see what we’re supposed to be getting from each thing in case we missed something good, or what matters to the kid who watches it, and that kind of thing. So it was kind of the perfect way to do it. It was a really elegant way to have an expert who could kind of be your sensei, to guide you and answer some of those questions. But it was very clear from the first episode — even though you were both like, “Oh my God! I got so tired. That movie was so long!” — that there was still this respect for it.

Nicole Byer: The people who came on loved it so much that it made me [love it.] I don’t think I understood it. I had so many questions. But then [Jon] Gabrus or [John] Gemberling would come on and poetically wax on about it. It was just fun to talk to people who loved it so much.

Lauren Lapkus: It’s so true. I think we realized doing the podcast, every episode we would talk to someone and go, “Oh yeah, I love that character,” that I think that in the moment we weren’t necessarily attaching to. Talking about it later and realizing people are so passionate about it, it does make it more fun. I think immediately I was into all of the merch. I understood why the merch is so successful. I wanted merch, even if I didn’t understand what the character was. I was like, I want that, I want that. So hearing people feel that love for it pumps you up. It was cool.

I also think there’s this fear about saying you don’t get something that’s really popular, or that you might not like certain elements of it. It felt kind of liberating to be able to say, “I don’t get it!” And say it publicly. For years, you’re just kind of going along with it, like, “Yeah, Star Wars, cool.” And then, once you’re watching it, you feel like you’re supposed to just go, “This was amazing!” You can’t say anything negative. And that’s as true in the Hollywood world as it is with having an opinion on Twitter and saying I didn’t like that big popular movie. I wouldn’t want to do that. So with this it was kind of scary. How honest should we be? I think it worked out really well, to be honest, because then when we do enjoy something, we totally mean it. The parts that we loved we think are awesome, and the parts we don’t get, we’re like, “I don’t get it.”

Anakin being dubbed Darth Vader Yeah. And when you’re watching something and you don’t get it, you’re not slamming on it. It’s more just like, “You know what, that wasn’t for me. Other people love that, but for me it was just OK.” Although, as I was finishing that first episode and you guys were like, “What have we done?” it made me think of Anakin Skywalker. But at that point, you didn’t even know what that scene in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was! Was there a point early on where you second-guessed this whole idea, but you realized you were in too deep already?

Nicole Byer: Yup. Not even too deep. It was in the middle of the first movie. We were watching it and I was like, “Do I tell Lauren now that I don’t think I can do this?” The first movie for me is interesting. It’s kind of an indie movie. It had a bigger budget, but it’s not an action movie as we know them now. And then after that was said I was like, “Oh! Now all these long desert scenes that I was so upset about make sense.”

Lauren Lapkus: I had the same thought secretly. I think at some point we said to each other, “I almost wanted to quit after the first movie.” [Nicole laughs] We just realized, “Okay, good, we’re in this on the same page.” Neither of us felt like we totally got it right away. Then we decided to just keep going forward, and I’m so glad we did. I feel like we learned so much. We’ve passed so many trivia quizzes now about Star Wars! Do you remember why you decided to watch it in theatrical order? Of course, this is a topic of some debate among fans. Everybody has a different answer as to what the “correct” viewing order is going to be, especially when you’re introducing someone new.

Lauren Lapkus: Yeah, we debated about that. People were tweeting at us their opinions before we even started. I think we decided to just go in the order they were released so that we could follow it as if we were people who had experienced it in real time.

Nicole Byer: Also, I liked watching the order of release because it set the tone for the story, and you got to see how technology evolved. I think watching them in [Episode] order would take away from it. It would be even more confusing….The only confusing part for me was the timelines. Solo takes place before [Episodes] IV-VI, and then Rogue One takes place at a different time, and then The Mandalorian…it was very confusing. [You’d think] isn’t this person dead? No, they’re not dead yet because they’re going to die later. Then I found out midway through that Star Wars is not in the future. [Laughs]

Lauren Lapkus: I don’t think we realized that until we’d watched like seven movies.

Galen and Jyn

Nicole Byer: Yes! It was during Rogue One, and [Jyn Erso] got a message from her dad, and I tweeted, “Why didn’t she…save the message? She lives in the future!” And then someone was like, “I hate to tell you this, but it’s not the future.” I was like, “Wait, what?” And there’s so much to the lore that it’s so hard to explain it to someone completely for the first time. Every question spawns seven other questions. A friend of mine just saw it for the first time as an adult, and she was like, “Wait, so are they on Earth?” I was like, “No. No Earth. Different galaxy.” “Can they come to Earth?” [Laughs]

Lauren Lapkus: It would be crazy if they came to Earth and then we realized what era it was taking place in based on what the people on Earth were doing, if there were people or it was like dinosaur time. That would be good!

Nicole Byer: Yeah, that would be good. Lauren, I think you just came up with another movie. Honestly, though, it’s funny because sometimes I think about Star Wars just in my house when I’m not doing Star Wars stuff. I want a movie of Lando Calrissian’s daughter that was implied in…

Lauren Lapkus: Yes! That was the more recent one, The Rise of Skywalker.

Finn wearing stormtrooper armor.

Nicole Byer: Or Finn’s origin story, I think, would be cool. There are so many places you could take [Star Wars]. It’s crazy. I didn’t get a chance to listen to this episode of the podcast, but as I was scrolling through, I noticed that you watched The Holiday Special

Nicole Byer: HA! I love that so much. It’s so funny!

Lauren Lapkus: This is what I think is so crazy when people listen to our show. Our opinions are kind of unexpected because we don’t have the same childhood reverence for this, so we’re coming at it like, “What do I like now?” I like when things are weird. I was really excited to watch the Ewok spin-off movies because I love Ewoks.

Nicole Byer: Wooo boy.

Bob Fett with C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca in The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Lauren Lapkus: But those didn’t really hold up. I thought, that’s gonna be my thing, you know? With The Holiday Special, Nicole was like “This is my favorite Star Wars thing to ever happen.”

Nicole Byer: It is absolutely my favorite. I have now seen it twice.

Lauren Lapkus: Oh, you watched it again?

Nicole Byer: Yes! I was showing it to Sasheer [Zamata]. I was like, “You have to see at least some of this.”…It’s so wild. I loved it.

Lauren Lapkus: I loved it, too. I feel like I could definitely watch that at Christmastime. That would be a nice tradition. Lauren, did you have any favorite moments in Star Wars that were just so weird that you latched on to them, other than the Holiday Special?

Luke eats dinner with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in their home on Tatooine in A New Hope.

Lauren Lapkus: I think there were a lot of things in the first movie, things that have become a cultural touchstone for some reason. Why aren’t we talking about the [blue] milk? Why are we not talking about how Luke’s aunt and uncle just die suddenly? That’s a huge part of the story. There were certain things like that. What were some other weird things? The fact that there were a lot of C-3PO lookalikes I thought was interesting. I became kind of obsessed with wanting there to be a pink one and a blue one and a green one. I just want more colors.

Nicole Byer: I think the weirdest thing for me is when Darth Vader — or Anakin right before he becomes Darth Vader — his legs get cut off, his arms get cut off on the lava planet, and Ben just leaves him. I was like, “Wait, what? You’re just going to leave him like this on the lava planet?! Take your friend home! Or finish it. Kill him. “

Lauren Lapkus: What about when we saw the back of Darth’s head!

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker

Nicole Byer: Oh my God, when they took off the helmet and he looks like chewed up bubble gum? I couldn’t believe it! I was like, “Ewww!” Also, I love Darth Vader’s outfit. I love the shiny patent leather. I love the song that went with him. I was like, “Darth is a true diva.” I love Darth Vader. It’s so funny that he’s flashy. He does unnecessary things. He’s extra to the extreme.

Nicole Byer: He truly is. He’s like a drag queen. He’s so extra. That helmet. But you’re like, “Oh, he needs it, because he’s bubble gum.” They put it on so quickly that I was like, there’s no time to heal.

Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker on Dagobah. To go back to the original trilogy, by the time you were watching The Empire Strikes Back, it sounded like you were really becoming fans. There were a lot of great things you had to say about Frank Oz and his performance as Yoda, but also that character.

Lauren Lapkus: There were those things that we were familiar with vaguely, and we thought they were all going to happen in the first movie. So the first movie was a letdown for us. That’s part of why we were so critical of it, I think, because we were like, I thought we found out he’s Luke’s father, and Yoda, and all these things are gonna happen. And none of that stuff happened. So then when we started to see those things come into play and understand the context around them it was a relief, in a way.

Learning about the Force…It is such a beautiful idea that you can harness this energy for good. There are so many positive things these movies are saying. When Yoda died, we were devastated.

Nicole Byer: Oh, boy. Yes! This franchise does not care about your heart! Actually, a tear fell down. I was like, “Wait, what?”

Lauren Lapkus: I didn’t know he could die!

Luke and Yoda

Nicole Byer: I didn’t know he could die either! And they were like, “He’s 900 years old,” and I was like, “That is old, but why did he have to — he just fades away?!”

Lauren Lapkus: And the way he died, I know, it was just so magical. He just like disappears.

Nicole Byer: It was very sad. He got tired of answering Luke’s questions. He was like, “You know, I’m just going to roll over. You take care of it. You’ll figure it out. I’m sure it will be fine.”

Lauren Lapkus: We really did love the puppetry. A lot of those elements of these films really felt so real, and that’s part of it, too….That was part of why I think we are more attached to some of those older [characters]. Not fully. I know Nicole loves Jar Jar Binks.

Jar Jar Binks eats a frog in The Phantom Menace.

Nicole Byer: I. Love. Jar Jar. I think Jar Jar — you’re making a face [Laughs] — I think Jar Jar was great at physical comedy. I love Jar Jar, too, but Jar Jar can be a polarizing character.

Nicole Byer: Yes. And I understand why people don’t like Jar Jar, but I was like, honestly, Jar Jar is the spirit of the first three movies because they’re big, they’re colorful, and it’s a very different aesthetic than the prior movies. The last three movies are darker in tone and darker in a color scheme. It’s really interesting how, truly, the three movies in each of those triplets or whatever you want to call them, are very much contained to them and the style is just them, which I found so interesting.

Lauren Lapkus: We interviewed Ahmed Best. He was talking about his experience playing that role, and we learned that that was the first time a human had been used for CGI, like an actor. That’s amazing!

Nicole Byer: Yes! [Even if] you don’t like Jar Jar, Jar Jar is the template for every CGI character you’ve seen after that movie.

Lauren Lapkus: You have to have reverence for that. That’s amazing.

Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. I think [The Phantom Menace] works really well if you are a child when you’re coming to it. You can see yourself in Anakin, who’s nine, and every kid I know loves Jar Jar. He’s funny. His ears are floppy. They love him. I’m 12 years old inside. I love him. And I am heartened to hear that you love him so much, Nicole.

Nicole Byer: I just liked how goofy he looked. I liked that he would just appear, and do something very silly, and then run off. The way he spoke was also very funny to me. I thought it was just really funny! [Laughs] It was silly. I like silly things. In the first three movies I thought they were missing that Han — someone said this and I agree with them, I can’t remember who it was — but they’re missing that Han Solo character, the reluctant hero. I thought that Jar Jar did a really nice job of giving you the laughs that Harrison Ford gave you in the first three. The middle three. It’s very appreciated, Jar Jar.

Chewie and Han in The Force Awakens I was really surprised and a bit impressed that once you got to The Force Awakens, you were really shocked and surprised when Han Solo showed up. I was like, “How?” [Nicole laughs]

Nicole Byer: It was fun because I was truly surprised. I was like, “Wait, WHAT?” The movies give it to you. They give you the drama. They give you that shock. When he died, again I was like, they don’t care about our feelings! I love that that’s what you’ve learned about Star Wars. Star Wars doesn’t care about your feelings and will stomp on your heart repeatedly. [laughs]

Nicole Byer: I was so sad. I was like, his own son! It’s so dramatic, it’s great. And then when Daisy Ridley is revealed to be…who’s McGags’ granddaughter. What’s his name? Palpatine.


Nicole Byer: Palpatine’s granddaughter, I truly screamed in my house. I was like, “NO!” [Laughs] I loved it. I know some people didn’t like that twist because originally she was the daughter of nobody, but that’s juicy. I love it. The saga! It’s drama! Lauren, was it you who honestly thought his name was Hans Olo?

Lauren Lapkus: That’s Nicole.

Nicole Byer: Definitely me.

Lauren Lapkus: We sort of struggled throughout all of these episodes to get Nicole to pronounce their names. [Laughs]

Nicole Byer: It’s something about their names are just not of this world. But then someone’s name is Ben. And then Palpatine?

Lauren Lapkus: That’s the thing, I think there are like three Bens. And then everyone else’s name is something that we can’t figure out.

Nicole Byer: Yeah, I truly thought it was Hans Solo. I cannot call him Han. That is weird. He will always be Hans to me. My sister watched the movies so she would talk about them, and I just heard Hans. So that’s who he is.

Grand Moff Tarkin holds up a finger as he speaks in A New Hope. When I was prepping for our conversation I was just making notes about things that were making me laugh. One of the notes was “Hans” and you referred to Tarkin as “the sick little man.” But by the time you got to the sequel trilogy, Lauren, you were doing a great Unkar Plutt impression that was really spot on. You guys were using all the names and talking about the Force lore.

Lauren Lapkus: That’s the thing. As much as we can resist, I feel like we got so sucked in. It’s part of our lexicon. We’re having these conversations with people where we’re as passionate as they are about this topic. It’s been a journey. When I think about looking at you Nicole, after we first watched the first movie, and we were both like, “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then cut to 20 episodes later and we’re like, “THE FORCE!” There was a change. [Nicole laughs] Nicole, I know you love Jar Jar. Did you have a favorite character coming out of this whole experience, Lauren?

Lauren Lapkus: I have a few. I love porgs, and I love the story behind porgs and that they were just to fix a little animal wandering in the background. … It’s so funny. I like Babu Frik and I like Ewoks and Yoda. Those are my favorites. But a lot of cute little ones. And the Child, who is not Baby Yoda.

Lauren Lapkus: We love the Child.

Nicole Byer: Oh, boy.

Lauren Lapkus: That was very exciting. We did not know that we would care about that.

The Child in The Mandalorian CH 8

Nicole Byer: Every time the Child was on the screen, I kept making noises that my roommate was like, “Can you stop?” I just like it so much! He’s just so cute. Lauren sent me a Baby Yoda doll, and he sits underneath my TV and watches us watch TV. He looks real. His eyes look real. Then I sent Lauren the wrong one. [Sighs]

Lauren Lapkus: I thought it was amazing. I love it, it’s so cute. It’s so great. That’s the thing, I love the merch. I’m very happy to have any version of the Child.

Nicole Byer: Yeah, the merch is fun.

Lauren Lapkus: There are so many versions of it, that’s what’s so crazy. We got T-shirts, too.

Nicole Byer: Yeah. We got these T-shirts off Instagram.

Lauren Lapkus: We fell for an Instagram ad, but it nailed us immediately. Probably heard us talking to our phones about Star Wars.

Nicole Byer: Right, they were like, “Aw, man. They keep talking about Star Wars. Let’s give them some merch.” What was the most surprising thing for you both about this whole experience?

Nicole Byer: Honestly, that I found anything that I liked in it. I truly avoided it for so long. I had the original three movies in my house on VHS my whole childhood. My sister would be like, “Let’s watch one!” And I’d be like, “NO.” As an adult people would be like, “Let’s watch this!” And I’d be like, “NO.” It became a point of pride to be a contrarian. “I’ll never watch these movies.” And then watching them you’re like, “Oh, this is fun, this is great.’” You find characters that you really just love. You’re shocked when all the younglings get murdered. You’re like, “What? Why?! Why would this happen?” It was a fun journey.

Lauren Lapkus: I was going to say the same thing. I was surprised by how much we found that we liked and how much fun we had talking about it. I was also pleasantly surprised at the listener reaction, that people were really supportive of our journey and not being too mean to us about trying to learn about this stuff. I think everyone was — I think we were afraid at the beginning, like, “Oh, people are going to get mad if we say we don’t like something or if we like the wrong thing.” And over the course of the whole thing, we really got overwhelmingly positive comments from people who were listening, who were enjoying that we were trying to figure it out. So it was really, really cool. I think we were both steeling ourselves for negativity and it didn’t come. That was awesome. Are you one and done watching these movies, or do you see yourself watching them again?

Lauren Lapkus: I feel like the only way — I’m open to it, but the only way I’m going to do it is with children who have not seen it. So if I’m watching it with my nephews, I’m totally open to that. I’m probably not going to throw it on as a way to relax, but that’s partly just because I have a lot of 90 Day Fiancée to watch.

Nicole Byer: We love 90 Day Fiancée. What a treat. Honestly, very close to the cinematic universe of Star Wars. There are so many spin-offs. There’s a bunch of different timelines. It’s kind of wild.

I’m with Lauren. I don’t think I’ll just throw it on in the background. But if one my roommates was like, “Let’s watch it,” I won’t be like, “NO.”

Lauren Lapkus: I don’t usually watch movies again that often anyway, even just other types of movies, so if I’ve already seen it, I want to watch something new whenever. I like knowing what it is.

Lauren Lapkus and Nicole Byer are the "Newcomers." One last question for you. Now that you are no longer the newcomers to Star Wars — you have seen it all — what advice would you give to other people who were just about to have their first Star Wars watch, before they get into it? Is there anything you wish you had known? 

Lauren Lapkus: I do wish that someone had told me that none of the big stuff happens in the first movie.

Nicole Byer: Yeah.

Lauren Lapkus: Too many expectations were a problem.

Nicole Byer: My advice is when you’re watching the movie, they will say a time. They’ll say, they’re coming in 20 minutes! And then it’s going to take a full 20 minutes for it to happen. Just buckle up.  Oh yeah. In Phantom Menace, they said there were two more laps and then there were two more laps.

Nicole Byer: Literally you watched the whole thing.…I think you should get a friend who knows Star Wars to then talk about it so they can help with some stuff. I wish someone was like, “Just remember, the first three are so old, they’re from the 70s slash 80s. They’re old. Get into that mindset that they’re old movies and it might be something that you don’t identify with because you haven’t seen stuff like that from that period.

Lauren Lapkus: And I would also recommend that they listen to our podcast after watching it.

Nicole Byer: Yes!

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Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer, host of This Week! In Star Wars and The Star Wars Show Book Club, and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them.

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