‘The Director and the Jedi’ Review: One of the Best Making-Of Documentaries Ever Made

     March 19, 2018

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Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow below. 

When it comes to making a Star Wars movie in the modern era, everything is kept under lock and key. Audiences know precious little about the film, its characters, or its plot until opening day, which is a rarity when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking. For the home video release of these new Kathleen Kennedy-produced Star Wars movies, however, there’s an opportunity to let fans behind the curtain a bit. While the bonus features on the Blu-rays of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are compelling and insightful in their own ways, the feature-length documentary The Director and the Jedi included on the Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi blows them out of the water. In fact, this documentary is so good it stands as one of the best movie making-of documentaries ever made.

Like most feature-length making-of documentaries, The Director and the Jedi offers an extensive look at how the film’s director and writer Rian Johnson steered the Last Jedi ship through production. This documentary begins in pre-production so we don’t get to see any of the writing process, and it concludes with the last day of principal photography so we also don’t get invited into the editing room. It is solely focused on the preparation for the main shoot—which includes some pre-shoots in September 2015, a couple months before The Force Awakens opens—and the herculean task of filming a brand new Star Wars movie.

It’s focus that makes The Director and the Jedi stand out, and director Anthony Wonke’s 95-minute documentary works incredibly well as its own film with its own aims, goals, and themes. Indeed, while the documentary chronicles multiple aspects of making the movie, from crafting the action sequences to building the sets to creating the creatures, the backbone of the documentary is the relationship between Johnson and star Mark Hamill, and the two’s fundamental disagreement over the direction of Luke Skywalker’s story arc in The Last Jedi.

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Image via Lucasfilm

Hamill has not been shy about saying that when Johnson pitched him the story for The Last Jedi, the actor “fundamentally disagreed” with the direction and conclusion for the character in the movie. The two had many, many discussions about Johnson’s portrayal of Luke as a disillusioned man who’s put himself in seclusion so the Jedi can die off. Hamill was understandably eager to finally get to play Luke Skywalker again, but after getting the shaft in The Force Awakens, he came into The Last Jedi to find he’s not really playing the Luke everyone remembers, he’s playing Obi-Wan.

Both Hamill and Johnson are candid about these disagreements in the film, but Hamill says both on camera and to Johnson that while he disagrees, this is Rian Johnson’s movie and he will serve out the filmmaker’s vision to the absolute best of his ability. So as the production wears on Hamill is in good spirits, but we also see a deeply respectful relationship between the actor and the director throughout. Indeed, towards the end of the film Johnson says that when it came time to shoot Luke’s death scene, it wasn’t like Hamill had finally come around to Johnson’s way of thinking (and the actor is even seen joking about possibly not showing up, so Luke doesn’t have to die). But in spite of that Hamill gave it his all, and Johnson says he will forever owe the actor a great debt for giving himself over to a story and character path he wasn’t entirely onboard with.

This relationship is the backbone of the film and it provides a compelling and insightful throughline, and seeing the footage on set it’s clear that this talk of being respectful and supportive of each other is not just good PR—you can tell Johnson and Hamill genuinely love each other. It’s a fascinating look into the collaborative nature of moviemaking, and it makes The Director and the Jedi a truly unique viewing experience.

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Image via Lucasfilm

The documentary isn’t solely about the titular relationship of course, as it also delivers on providing a tremendously insightful look into how The Last Jedi was made. You see the toll the massive schedule takes on Johnson and his longtime producer Ram Bergman, you see Johnson offering up very specific direction from behind the camera that results in the performances we see on screen in the finished film, and you even get a front row seat to the making of Luke and Leia’s reunion scene, for which the entire crew is visibly emotional.

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