Cinephiles who have been following Rian Johnson‘s career since the early 2000s likely have not only a sense of what Star Wars: The Last Jedi is going to look and feel like, but also a shared sense of pride and accomplishment for the rising writer/director. Films like Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper, and even his experience on the smash-hit TV show Breaking Bad helped to land Johnson on the radar of Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy. Not a bad string of events considering that his ultimate achievement to this point (and perhaps his ultimate test) will be seen by millions around the world this December 15th.
In a recent, long-ranging chat with Vanity Fair, Johnson delved into all aspects of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or at least the ones he was contractually allowed to talk about. So while we can’t expect any comment from Johnson on whether or not Luke is related to Rey, or confirmation of Supreme Leader Snoke’s species, or what the sub-title The Last Jedi actually refers to, we did get his thoughts on his script-to-screen process for the highly anticipated film.
Imagine not only being handed the reins for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but being told you’ll be following in the footsteps of J.J. Abrams and picking up where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off. No easy task. And where Star Wars canon is concerned, there’s a story team that handles all of the related plots and characters across multiple platforms; we’ll have more on them in a future article. However, Johnson was surprised to see how much latitude he was given to come up with the story of The Last Jedi, mostly from scratch.
The pre-set was Episode VII, and that was kind of it.
Johnson apparently wanted a closer relationship with the Lucasfilm story team, enough that he went to San Francisco for six weeks during the writing process in order to meet with the full group twice a week.
Plot is one thing that had to connect to the previous installment, but the characters themselves are obviously another important cog in the galactic wheel. Here’s how Johnson approached the hand-off of new and returning characters:
J.J. and Larry [Kasdan] and Michael [Arndt] set everybody up in a really evocative way in VII and started them on a trajectory. I guess I saw it as the job of this middle chapter to challenge all of those characters—let’s see what happens if we knock the stool out from under them … I started by writing the names of each of the characters and thinking, What’s the hardest thing they could be faced with?
Fans of The Force Awakens will remember that John Boyega‘s Finn was left to heal in a Bacta Tank/Suit at the end of the film, while Daisy Ridley‘s Rey is transitioning from desert scavenger to island Jedi-in-training, and Adam Driver‘s Kylo Ren is dealing with … a lot of drama. Driver commented on where he sees all of the characters starting from in The Last Jedi:
I feel like almost everyone is in that rehabilitation state. You know, I don’t think that patricide is all that it’s cracked up to be. Maybe that’s where Kylo Ren is starting from. His external scar is probably as much an internal one.
So with that in mind, it will be fascinating to see where Johnson takes these characters from there. In the interview, at least as far as Luke and Rey are concerned, he cautioned against direct comparisons between their mentor and apprentice relationship and that of Yoda and Luke, for example. “There’s a training element to it,” he said, “but it’s not exactly what you would expect.” Despite the things Johnson couldn’t talk about, he was happy to comment on Hamill’s performance, which, he said, “shows a very different side of the Luke character.”
We’ll have much more from Johnson and the rest of the cast and crew regarding their time on Star Wars: The Last Jedi soon, but for now, be sure to check out some amazing images from the Vanity Fair piece, and head over to their site for the full interview.