To say Star Wars: The Last Jedi divided audiences would be an understatement. On the one hand, it subverts our expectations of what a Star Wars movie needs. Writer/director Rian Johnson insisted on surprising audiences by significantly altering Luke Skywalker’s beliefs (despite star Mark Hamill’s objections), lessening Supreme Leader Snoke’s involvement to the entire saga, and all but throwing the mystery of Rey’s parents out the window.
These were bold choices that left diehard Star Wars fans feeling either reinvigorated by the overall saga or deeply frustrated and in some cases, angry. With his new movie Knives Out in theaters, Johnson has been making the rounds to talk about the project as well as his divisive entry in the Star Wars canon and while speaking with Radio.com [per IndieWire], he talked about the importance of challenging an audience with the unexpected rather than giving them what they want.
“I think approaching any creative process with [making fans happy] would be a mistake that would lead to probably the exact opposite result.” Even my experience as a fan, you know if I’m coming into something, even if it’s something that I think I want, if I see exactly what I think I want on the screen, it’s like ‘Oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me.”
One could surmise these comments as a critique of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That film, directed by J.J. Abrams, felt like a greatest hits album. A nostalgic crowd pleaser made, with some respect, as an apology for the prequels. But it might just be empty calories in the grand scheme of things. The similarities to A New Hope have been written about ad nauseam.
Johnson wanted to get away from similarities to previous Star Wars movies and give the audience something that was both new and connected to the overall mythology of the franchise, with the director explaining:
“I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard, I want to have things recontextualized, I want to be challenged as a fan when I sit down in the theater…What I’m aiming for every time I sit down in a theater is to have the experience [I had] with Empire Strikes Back, something that’s emotionally resonant and feels like it connects up and makes sense and really gets to the heart of what this thing is and in a way that I never could have seen coming.”
While promoting the final entry in the saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams has rode the fence when talking about The Last Jedi. He’s praised Johnson’s approach, but he’s also said he felt like the film somewhat alienates the fanbase in its meta commentary.
The movie certainly has its defenders, including studio president Kathleen Kennedy, but once everyone finally gets to see The Rise of Skywalker, opinions on The Last Jedi will no doubt change.