The most contentious conversation starter (or ender) during nerdy holidays just might be whether or not you enjoyed 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi — a film still being regularly and passionately discussed, unlike Lucasfilm’s most recent trilogy closer The Rise of Skywalker. Remember that one?
While promoting Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson looked back on his most iconic films in a video interview with GQ to discuss his turn at the helm of a Star Wars film. “For me, everything in the movie is Star Wars and everything in the movie I can trace back to deeply in a deep way what Star Wars is for me,” he said. “Everyone has a different take. I know there are Star Wars fans who somehow think that Star Wars was a serious thing, like The Batman movies or something.”
The director continued to discuss his relatable upbringing with the original George Lucas films. “I was so young that when I watched Empire Strikes Back, it had this deep, profound impact on me because it was terrifying, because I was just young enough to not experience it as watching a Star Wars movie, but to have it feel like too real. Return of the Jedi was the one that I was exactly the right age in the theatre,” he said. “And anyone who thinks that slightly goofy humour does not have a place in the Star Wars universe — I don’t know if they’ve seen Return of the Jedi. There’s literally a scene where Han Solo is like a cartoon, trussed up to a pole and a torch goes by him to light the fire, to cook him. Even the first movie, they’re in the heart of the Death Star, and they’re trying to do this desperate gambit to get out with their lives and save the princess, where they’re pretending that Chewbacca is like their prisoner and the little Imperial droid comes up, Chewbacca roars at it. And the droid like a scared dog [does droid sounds].”
He’s right; the original films had a sense of campy fun that various filmmakers have hit to their own sensibilities. On a spectrum that includes Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau leaning very much into the family comedy in their Disney+ projects, and Tony Gilroy adding sharp wit to Andor, Johnson lands somewhere in the middle. He goes on to explain, “The slightly self-aware elements of gleeful humour are something that is part and parcel to Star Wars. It’s not the whole thing. And we get very serious in the movie as well. And I think that kind of brazen balance of those two things is also something that’s part of Star Wars.”
You can’t deny that Johnson’s film shook up the galaxy far, far away — earning some misguided wrath thanks to the idea that going different places with Star Wars is sacrilegious. Johnson is aware of what he did and how it’s impacted the stories since. “I definitely didn’t approach the entire thing as a meta exercise because I think first and foremost, it has to be an honest expression of what the characters are actually going through. And it’s not very interesting to just think in a meta way about Star Wars.”
Cue Luke shouting, “the sacred texts!” when Yoda burns the books, allowing the Jedi Master to write his own ending. “You’re dealing with a story that’s about heroes and about a younger generation meeting their heroes, and a generation that is now the older generation of heroes dealing with being role models for the younger generation and still being human beings with faults and foibles,” Johnson said. “And somebody who has the role of a legend, you know, but who feels fallible as a human being. By the end of the movie, realising the value that that legend has and realising there are places to step up and be that for the younger generation. When you’re dealing with all of these things the legends that I grew up with was the characters in Star Wars. If I think about the thing in my life that’s been the most consistent thing of that, it is these movies. And again, anyone who makes a Star Wars movie today is is in some way going to be engaging with their relationship with Star Wars itself.”
But Rian, we want to see more of your relationship with Star Wars! We’re still waiting for the trilogy that was promised.
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