We all know the story. The Last Jedi ripped the Star Wars fandom in half. There are fans — yes, even hardcore fans — who love the movie to pieces, while some others have treated it like it’s a bigger crime against cinema than The Human Centipede 3. The director of the film, Rian Johnson, a huge Star Wars fan himself, has naturally been at the receiving end of most of the criticisms.
There’s no denying that The Last Jedi is the most shocking Star Wars movie ever made. It’s also true that the film subverted fan expectations every chance it got (i.e. Luke Skywalker rejecting the force and exiling himself). For those reasons, many have called The Last Jedi an un-Star Wars like film. But maybe it’s exactly those risks and Rian Johnson’s ballsiness that makes it the most Star Wars film since the original trilogy.
Rian Johnson was a guest on the first episode of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new podcast, Creative Processing. On it, he talked about his mindset while making the highly polarising Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This, in particular, stood out to me:
“I think the instant you start thinking in terms of how do you not step outside of the bounds of what the original movies did, you’re not thinking the way the people who made the original movies did. They were with every movie, they were pushing it forward, with every movie they were stepping outside those bounds and pushing the characters into new, emotionally honest, but surprising places. That’s why those movies are great. That’s why they’re alive. If they had been looking at something that came before it and saying, ‘Oh, we better not do this because that is outside of this or that,’ it would’ve been different.” – Rian Johnson
I don’t think this is something a lot of people talk about enough. The original Star Wars trilogy set the world on fire not because it constantly pushed the boundaries, not just of technology but also fantasy storytelling. It was unabashedly weird, yet very earnest. We have a tiny bumbling alien who’s said to be one of the greatest knights the galaxy has ever seen, a giant slug mob boss ruling the underbellies, supposedly cool/badass characters who dressed in monk robes and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Empire Strikes Back is the most beloved Star Wars movie to date and it ended with the Empire (an evil Nazi group) winning, but not before Darth Vader captured one of the good guys, chopped off the protagonist’s hand and revealed himself to be the crippled hero’s father. It was as unorthodox as it got at the time. Search for reviews that were written in 1980 and you’ll find that many critics and fans disliked the bleak nature of the film.
Since the original trilogy, Star Wars continued to push the boundaries of technology, but never the boundaries of storytelling. That is until The Last Jedi (and maybe to a lesser extent, Rogue One). The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like it’s been made in a factory, it genuinely feels like it’s made by one highly creative man with a singular vision. Now, doesn’t that remind you of George Lucas in the 70s and 80s?
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