I’ve been following the career of Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson ever since he made the astonishingly awesome Brick way back in 2005. That little indie high-school noir propelled him (and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt) onto bigger things, including twisty time-travel caper Looper and some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad (though we’ll conveniently forget about his sophomore feature The Brothers Bloom).
Having met the guy on one of his trips to London a couple of years ago, I can personally attest to Rian Johnson being a completely awesome human being. So, it was with a lot of excitement that I heard he’d gotten the Episode VIII directing gig: the plum job in science fiction cinema. But what I wasn’t expecting was just how much leeway Lucasfilm gave him with the material.
I’d assumed that these new Star Wars movies were essentially ‘director-for-hire,’ with story bods high up in Disney pre-approving all character beats, action scenes and narrative consequences, with the director largely in charge of making sure the production runs smoothly and the actors and crew are happy. This is essentially the model Marvel works on (and the one in which similarly idiosyncratic director Edgar Wright bridled under when trying to make Ant-Man) and sounds a bit soulless. But then again, you can’t argue with their success.
But, it turns out that Lucasfilm apparently let Johnson do whatever the hell he wanted with the franchise, with the director commenting that, “the pre-set was Episode VII, and that was kind of it.” Being allowed to do whatever you want with a franchise as big as Star Wars is a prospect as exciting as it is intimidating, but Johnson ended up forming a close relationship with the existing story team, eager for his script to seamlessly meld with what came before in The Force Awakens.
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?
We’ll discover the fruits of Rian Johnson’s labours on December 15th, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens big.