‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Director Rian Johnson Admits He Wants to Shock Fans

Rian Johnson is still explaining his creative decisions two years later.

As social media has taken hold of pop culture, internet chatter has taken a decisively negative turn. Take, for instance, the vitriolic response some fans had to Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi upon its 2017 release. Sure, cinema intends to elicit a reaction, but some fans took the disappointment to heart.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker now has to pick up the pieces of the broken fandom. But The Last Jedi director has been busy promoting his new murder mystery hit, Knives Out. Even so, Johnson remains haunted by the work he did in the “galaxy far, far away.”

Rian Johnson on the red carpet | Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
Rian Johnson on the red carpet | Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Rian Johnson and ‘The Last Jedi’

Prior to his detour into Star Wars, Johnson was already a respected filmmaker. He had taken the indie cred of his first film, 2005’s Brick, into the studio system with 2012’s time-travel thriller Looper. Even so, making the leap to one of the most beloved and successful film series of all time was impressive.

As much as The Last Jedi divided Star Wars fans, Johnson has taken it all in stride. The endlessly positive filmmaker has continued to defend his choices, only addressing his haters in the classiest way. Honestly, we can’t say we would be quite so poised if our $300 million film had so royally angered half its “fans.”

Rian Johnson on pleasing the fans

No matter how Star Wars fans feel about The Last Jedi, the film does feel like it was destined for some kind of backlash. After all, Johnson does what he does best: subverting audiences’ expectations. With every film he’s made, the director has deconstructed a specific type of film, much to the dismay of some fans.

During a chat on Radio.com’s Swing and Mrs. podcast, Johnson explained exactly how he views his responsibility to the fans. One thing is for sure: he doesn’t believe in catering to what fans are hoping to see on-screen.

I think approaching any creative process with that or anything with that second thing you said [making fandoms 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…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. I think what you want from a movie guides, inevitably, how you go about making them.

As a creator, Johnson is, of course, well within his rights to take risks. The issue with The Last Jedi — versus his breakdowns of film noir, heist, time travel, and murder mystery stories — lies in its specificity. Star Wars fans are infamously fanatical in nature. Everyone has their own ideas about who Luke Skywalker should be, Snoke’s origin story, and who Rey’s parents are, even if the answers they think they want ultimately wouldn’t be the most satisfying.

How will his approach affect ‘Star Wars’?

After fans’ visceral reaction to The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm has been scrambling to split the difference between both sides of the Star Wars fandom. In a telling move, the company brought back Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams for The Rise of Skywalker. And they even halted development on subsequent films in the franchise in lieu of an unspecified hiatus.

As for Johnson, Lucasfilm had announced the filmmaker would direct an entirely new Star Wars trilogy. So far that hasn’t come to pass, though no one knows for sure what the status of this project is. Will Johnson get the opportunity to play in the Star Wars sandbox again after The Last Jedi? And, more importantly, will fans ever be able to accept his distinctive take on the franchise if he does?