Let’s all try and find some common ground before we get started, shall we? I’ll even extend an olive branch for old times’ sake. Look, I’m officially going on record to say that Rian Johnson is a good filmmaker — maybe even a great one.
With movies like Looper, Knives Out, and Brick under his belt, Johnson clearly knows how to tell a compelling story. That much is evident. Yet, it’s also become annoyingly apparent that his time spent in the Star Wars story universe hasn’t been remembered too fondly since the release of 2017’s The Last Jedi. And how could it be?
Although well-received by critics at large, fans of that galaxy far, far away couldn’t seem to hate Johnson’s franchise installment more. Seriously. Between Luke tossing his lightsaber, “Mary Poppins” Princess Leia, and the gang’s Canto Bight excursion — Star Wars lovers far and wide have continued to drag Rian Johnson through the proverbial poodoo.
So, which is he? A great filmmaker or a dream-destroying hack? Two things can always be true at once, but in the case of Rian Johnson — I’d like to think he’s the former, even if his creative vision for Star Wars was a bit… We’ll call it misguided.
Which would be fine if the two weren’t in totally different positions.
It’s time for the facts, people. Rian Johnson found himself smack in the middle of a trilogy with one of the biggest identity crises the entertainment industry had ever seen.
Was it about the legacy characters? Was it about the new ones? Is Rey bad at ANYTHING? These are questions people were asking back then and continue to ask now — the point is that Disney had slated three separate directors to helm their continuation of the Skywalker Saga, much like George Lucas had during the Original Trilogy, only to pull the rug out from under us when the higher-ups at the Mouse House saw how hated The Last Jedi had truly become.
Ah, hubris, what a lovely thing. Sure, the material that Rian Johnson brought to the table (at times) was notably unorthodox for the Star Wars universe., but at least it was different. At least It was original. It tried something, and that’s what these operatic space adventures have always been about.
The Force Awakens was just a rehash of A New Hope, and The Rise of Skywalker was an illegible Frankenstein mash-up of all sorts of bad ideas. To tell a good Star Wars story, you can’t be afraid of failure. In fact, you have to be willing to, and Rian Johnson’s fearlessness behind the camera read loud and clear.
In contrast, Dave Filoni was given a blank slate for his introduction to Star Wars. He wasn’t trying to clean up any messes. That is, not yet. On the heels of his success with The Clone Wars, Filoni found himself with the keys to the kingdom — and hasn’t looked back since.
He and collaborator Jon Favreau ushered The Mandalorian onto television screens worldwide. It appears to be the only hope for Star Wars fans far and wide.
To put it simply… Filoni is my aesthetic role model. He’s got the hat, the look, the imagination — he’s literally George Lucas’ apprentice turned master. What’s not to love?
Yet, lately, that’s been harder to do. So, they brought back Anakin. So what? Fan service is one hell of a drug. Can we all take our eyes off the key-jingling long enough to poke holes in what these Disney Plus shows are doing wrong? I feel like I’m going insane.
Don’t get me worked up. I’ll start talking about Sabine’s stabbing again.
In the end, many people don’t realize that Rian Johnson tried to expand on the Star Wars mythos by changing the characters as they are prone to do. I get it; seeing your childhood heroes in a different light can be hard, but it’s necessary, and I’m not even saying the choices Johnson made were right.
What I am saying, though, is that even if the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy sucked — it’s not like the Manda-verse or Dave Filoni’s Star Wars is flawless either. It has its own imperfections.
So are Rian Johnson’s Star Wars crimes forgiven? Eh, probably not. But there might be bigger ones being committed as we speak. Keep an eye out.