Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow below.
The podcast The Director’s Cut, which basically just showcases recordings of the Q&A’s between directors at the DGA theater, is a treasure trove of great conversation, and a new episode is particularly of note. Now available is a 20-minute discussion between Rian Johnson and Spike Jonze about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with the two diving deep on the Force Awakens sequel. What makes these interviews unique is that it’s a fellow director asking the questions, so the conversations can sometimes get gloriously technical or dive into areas that aren’t generally broached in your typical interview setting.
In this interview, Jonze is returning the favor as Johnson moderated a discussion about Jonze’s masterful 2013 film Her. Here, Johnson talks about his Star Wars fandom growing up—what Star Wars meant to him as a kid and how that manifested in his approach to The Last Jedi. Johnson also talks about his early days on the project, and how we was unsure how much creative freedom he’d be given on not just a Star Wars movie, but his first major studio movie ever. He also discusses the process of coming onto a sequel that didn’t even have an outline, writing the film based on the script for The Force Awakens:
“This was more like a baton handoff. And first of all that seemed crazy to me, coming into it I was like, ‘Wow really?’ And then as I got into it and started working it was like, ‘Oh thank God,’ because as opposed to just tagging bases, it meant that I could honestly react to what I felt from The Force Awakens and those characters, and find the path forward that felt honest to me and felt real, and that led to some surprising places we might not have gotten to if the whole thing was drawn out… [J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan] had nothing they dictated to me, no, they were really gracious in kind of leaving it open.”
Johnson says he was never given a packet of answers to the questions Abrams set up in The Force Awakens, and reiterated that he wrote the script before that movie came out, so he wasn’t crafting his story while audiences were responding to (and creating fan theories for) certain aspects of that film.
But this also goes both ways. For the handoff to Abrams for Episode IX, Johnson says he recently sat down with the filmmaker and discussed where he left off in The Last Jedi, but that movie is all up to Abrams:
“J.J. and Chris Terrio are writing right now the third movie and it’s a similar thing. I sat down, similar to the way I sat down with J.J. at the beginning of this process, but it’s just like a talk. We had lunch and it was just like, ‘Here’s where I thought I brought it to, here’s kind of the things I think I set up,’ but then it’s the baton handoff and I turn back into an audience member, and it’s kind of exciting.”