Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an incredible film. Let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. It’s a thematically rich, emotionally challenging, and supremely satisfying Star Wars story, and pound for pound stands as the best of the new-era Star Wars movies.
Not everyone feels this way, of course. And while director J.J. Abrams—who helmed the first and third installments of this new trilogy—has been politely diplomatic about The Last Jedi, his longtime editor recently claimed on a podcast that Episode VIII “undid” the storytelling of The Force Awakens.
Appearing on the excellent Mission: Impossible podcast Light the Fuse to discuss her work on Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3, editor Mary Jo Markey—who co-edited The Force Awakens with Maryann Brandon—admitted she felt like The Last Jedi “consciously undid” parts of the storytelling of The Force Awakens:
“It’s very strange to have the second film so consciously undo the storytelling of the first film. I’m sorry, that’s what it felt like… I don’t even feel that’s true about the third film. It took where the second film ended and just tried to tell a story. I didn’t feel like it was consciously—I don’t know, it just didn’t feel that way to me.”
Maryann Brandon, who co-edited The Rise of Skywalker without Markey (Markey opted not to return), said on the same podcast that she liked parts of Last Jedi and admired the fact that Rian Johnson was doing something different:
“The Last Jedi, I will say this, was just a different take on the Star Wars saga. To Rian’s credit, he stuck to what he wanted to do and he wanted to deconstruct the film and open it up to go a different direction. And that is the film he made. It’s controversial, but isn’t that kind of good in a way?”
Brandon went on to say that Abrams and The Rise of Skywalker co-writer Chris Terrio had a bit of a tough time following in The Last Jedi’s footsteps:
“I think it’s really polarizing and it was hard to know, for the writer and for JJ, what to do with it. It’s like if somebody wrote the middle of your novel.”
Markey added that this sequel trilogy probably should have one architect throughout:
“I feel very much like, in hindsight, that the last part of the trilogy needed one vision.”
While I agree that in terms of a cohesiveness of vision, it may have been beneficial to have a “plan” from the get-go, we’ve seen time and again that plans don’t always mean your story will be good. And I’d argue the push-and-pull of creative vision from one Mission: Impossible movie to the next is what makes that franchise so great.
As for the difficulty in following The Last Jedi, it doesn’t appear as though Johnson struggled to come to terms with aspects of The Force Awakens he wasn’t as interested in. And contrary to what some people think, Episode VIII doesn’t “undo” the storytelling of The Force Awakens, it just takes the story down a different path. Johnson used the storytelling pieces that Abrams set up to tell a story about how heroism isn’t predestined by blood, it’s a choice. Rey has a choice to step up and be a Jedi. Kylo Ren has a choice to turn away from the Dark Side. It’s the conflict within both characters that makes the film so interesting, and dispatching with Snoke so quickly is in lock-step with the kind of story Johnson was trying to tell.
Contrast that with The Rise of Skywalker, which is so muddled in trying to bring the franchise back to some predestined Jedi mumbo jumbo while also bringing in a new exterior antagonist, and the dramatic tension of the piece completely falls away. Think of how much more interesting The Rise of Skywalker would have been without Palpatine, if it had been a story about the battle for Kylo Ren’s soul instead of a story about how this girl’s grandpa is a famous bad guy.
Regardless of Brandon and Markey’s comments here, their full interview on Light the Fuse is well worth a listen for some insight into Abrams’ filmmaking process.
And on top of that, if you’re not listening to Light the Fuse regularly, you’re sorely missing out on one of the best podcasts around.