The Force Is Strong With Rian Johnson

The director of The Last Jedi talks about how he got involved in the Star Wars saga, the challenges and rewards of directing, and what separates his film from previous installments.



Even before Star Wars: The Last Jedi held its world premiere a few days ago, it had already been announced weeks prior that its director, Rian Johnson, will be heading up an all-new Star Wars trilogy after this one concluded. It would be entirely new and separate from the Skywalker narrative which suggest that the people behind the franchise not only loves The Last Jedi but believe that Johnson can do more than just the current story. Here, the director talks about how this all started for him, the importance of strong female characters in Star Wars, and what the deal is with those porgs.



Q: Tell us how you got involved and how you got offered this project.


A: This project came out of the blue. I had had a couple of general meetings with Kathy Kennedy after she stepped in and started running Lucasfilm. But they were very general meetings, and I didn’t think that I was actually in the running for anything. And then at some point, I came in for what I thought was another just how-you-been, what-are-you-working-on meeting, and she felt out whether I would be interested in doing this. My jaw hit the floor. And I took some time to think about it. It was a big decision, actually. On one hand, it was something that I felt was a dream offer. On the other hand, it was a big life-changing deal. I wanted to make sure it was something that was going to be a good experience, and it really has been.



Q: How do you even tackle the responsibility of following The Force Awakens?


A: I think the only way to tackle it was to just jump into it and start doing it. If I had let myself zoom back and look at the enormity of the task, and the responsibility of it, I would have just been paralyzed and just spent the last few years curled up in the fetal position. So, we just had to dive in, and so first I read the script for The Force Awakens. They were shooting it when I started writing, and so I was able to watch dailies, and I just started from square one. I looked at where The Force Awakens left off, and I wrote down the names of each one of the characters, and I started like writing and asking myself what I knew about each of these characters. What do I think they want? Where can I see them going? And what would be the hardest thing for each of them to come up against? And once I got to a place where I had something for each one of them that made sense, I started drawing it out into a story. So, it’s kind of like eating an elephant. You just do it one bite at a time.



Q: What was the involvement in terms of working with Lucasfilm and writing it into the DNA of Star Wars?


A: One of the things I was the most afraid of coming into the writing process was that I’m a very slow writer. I will take years just thinking about something and working it out. And I knew I couldn’t do that with this movie. I was afraid I would just go into a writer’s hole and be on page three of the script with a month to go. So, I moved up to San Francisco for a few months to write and come up with a story. A few times a week, I would come into Lucasfilm, sit down with the wonderful folks in the Story Group at Lucasfilm, Kiri Hart and her whole team, and I would just put everything up on the whiteboard that I was thinking of. And we would just talk through it.


Once I got to a place where I had something for each one of them that made sense, I started drawing it out into a story. So, it’s kind of like eating an elephant. You just do it one bite at a time.


That wasn’t the writing process as we weren’t working out the story in the room, but just being able to come in and bounce stuff off of everyone and ask if it feels right to them was helpful. It made the whole writing process feel like collaborative play. That took a lot of pressure off.



Q: How is The Last Jedi going to build on what has been done, and be even more epic in scope and scale?


A: I knew that the bigness and the epic sense and all of that would sort itself out. I knew that would just naturally happen, because once we started playing with these toys we came up with cool battles and cool stuff. What I needed to really work about it were the characters and the story. That was really the starting point of the whole thing. So I was never really worried about how we were going to make this big and cool. I was just worried about how are we going to develop these characters. Because it’s the middle chapter of a trilogy, this is the one where we have to slow down a little and dig into everybody a little bit more. That’s really where I put most of the focus. Then the rest of it was really like playing with a toy set.



Q: Tell us about the porgs.



A: The porgs were everybody’s favorite creature on set. We loved the porgs. Every time they would come out, our First AD, Jamie Christopher, would say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the porgs.” We always said they shouldn’t be in this movie; they should be out playing gigs. They’re really adorable little creatures that Neal Scanlan and his team designed and then cooked up.


Q: Tell us about the importance of strong females in the Star Wars universe.



A: One of the first things that Kathy told me when she asked me if I’d be interested in doing this was that the lead character was a girl named Rey. I was instantly into that; it just felt right. Leia was the first female figure that girls and women could look up to, and seeing how much it meant to them, Carrie Fisher was very conscious of that and held that with her. She felt a responsibility to make Leia great. Now, in addition to Leia and Rey, we have the new characters of Rose and Admiral Holdo. In this movie there are a lot of really interesting strong and powerful and weak and conflicted and good and bad female characters. I got to work with a lot of amazing actresses, like Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. There are a lot of kick-ass women in this movie, which is pretty great.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opens in cinemas today.