“We Had Such a Great Time”: Rian Johnson on the Path to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The writer-director discusses making the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a literal cliffhanger of an ending — Jedi hopeful Rey finds the legendary Luke Skywalker in a self-imposed exile on the island of Ahch-To, high above the rocky waters below. She reaches out to him with his first lightsaber, he stares back in a mixture of disbelief and confusion. They exchange no words. The credits roll. It was Rian Johnson, the acclaimed filmmaker behind BrickLooper, and episodes of Breaking Bad, who was given the simultaneously exciting and daunting task of coming up with what comes next. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson’s sequel, which he wrote and directed, arrives this Friday, December 15. It picks up on that cliff. It gives Luke Skywalker his first lines in more than 30 years. It follows Rey’s next steps. It continues the stories of troubled dark side warrior Kylo Ren, stormtrooper-turned-hero Finn, and the struggle between the First Order and the Resistance. It also looks to take the saga in some thrilling, strange, and fun new directions. (Porgs, anyone?)

StarWars.com first spoke with Johnson in 2014 just as he was getting to work on what would become The Last Jedi, in a video interview that would appear later on The Star Wars ShowNow on the cusp of his film’s release, we sat down with him again to discuss completing his journey.

StarWars.com: When you first wrote down the word “porg”…

Rian Johnson: [Laughs]

StarWars.com: …did you have any idea what you were unleashing onto the world?

Rian Johnson: [Laughs] No. It’s funny. The slow realization that the porgs were gonna have an impact one way or the other, and probably both ways at once [Laughs], kind of started dawning on me on set — when we brought them on set and I could see the crew members. All the work on set stopped when we brought the porg puppets out. I could see crew members just like, adoring them, and then other crew members giving them the side-eye. [Laughs] And I was just like, “Okay, this is a little microcosm of what the fan reaction will be.” But I don’t know, though. They feel Star Wars to me, in their proper place. If the movie was porg-centric [Laughs], then we could have a conversation.

StarWars.com: Well, that’s why we have stand-alone movies.

Rian Johnson: Exactly! Precisely! That’s what I was saying to Kathy [Kennedy]. I don’t know, man. It feels Star Wars to me. I hope people will like them in the actual movie.

StarWars.com: I think they will. I mean, one thing that I love about them is that they’re weird. One thing I love about Star Wars, and you talked about this when I first interviewed you, is how weird it is, and how important that is to the DNA of Star Wars. I see other great elements of weirdness in what we’ve seen so far, like in Canto Bight.

Rian Johnson: Oh, yeah. There’s strangeness all over the movie and that’s one of the big things I’m curious to see how people react. I think there’s a lot of just oddness in the film, and there’s a lot of humor in the movie. I mean, we have jokes. We have flat-out jokes in the film. [Laughs] We have funny creatures. I think the part of the fan base that’s closer to my age, you tend to start thinking of what you’d want in a Star Wars movie in terms of the opera of it, and the seriousness of it. That’s a big and important element of it and I think we definitely served that in this movie, but it’s important to then remember, you know, Salacious Crumb [Laughs], and it’s important to remember the other side of these movies, which is fun.

Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega laugh on the set of The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: Exactly. Empire Strikes Back, as much as people talk about how dark it is, is also the funniest Star Wars movie.

Rian Johnson: Oh my God, that whole scene where Yoda is just messing with [Luke]. I agree, and I think it’s a very important part of these movies.

StarWars.com: So, I actually want to read you something you said to me when I first interviewed you. It was summer 2014. You were just cracking the story at that point. You said, “It’s like being able to take a story you care about and put it on the most powerful cannon that exists, and blast it straight into the planet Earth.” So now that you’ve done it and it’s about to come out, how are you feeling right now?

Rian Johnson: Well, it’s interesting, in this specific period right now, the lead up to the release. Especially seeing Disney turn up the heat on marketing. Those guys are the best in the world at what they do. What I said before about the powerful cannon about to shoot it into the Earth, I’m feeling the reality of that. I guess now it’s just hoping to God that I’ve loaded a decent cannonball into the gun. [Laughs] It’s really realizing the breadth of how many people are going to see this, how deeply those people care about it. I feel super proud of the movie and everything that I wanted it to be, I feel like it is. Whether the whole world sees it because it’s a Star Wars movie or a few people see it because it’s a small movie, that’s always just the best that you can do — is make something you’re proud of.

StarWars.com: Now, you were in a really unique position to give your vision of what came next after Rey meets Luke. How did you drill down to what you thought that would be? Did you have an idea instantly when you knew the story of VII, or did it take time to develop?

Rian Johnson: I had an instinct as to where it made sense for it to go, but I was very much just trying to really, genuinely, get into the heads of the characters in VII. I just made a list of all the things I knew about all the characters, including Luke. Because, obviously, you don’t learn much about Luke in VII, but you learn a lot about the circumstances under which he’s made this decision to take himself out of the fight. So my goal was really just to make something that felt like a straight line going forward from VII that made sense to me. Rather than come up with some crazy take on what it would be and then figure out how I get there, I was really just trying to continue the line forward in a way that made sense. Because it was me who was figuring it out, there’s going to be specific choices involved in that that wouldn’t necessarily be what someone else would do. But I was just trying to make the choices logical and make emotional sense, more than anything else.

Luke looks on as Rey practices with her a lightsaber on a cliff.

StarWars.com: Luke’s shadow looms over this movie, and in a sense it did over The Force Awakens, too. How do you view Luke Skywalker — the Luke Skywalker of now?

Rian Johnson: Well, I can’t say too much because discovering that is part of the adventure of the movie and part of the journey in the movie. But, you know, so much of what his character was in this movie and what defined it was a combination of, like I said before, feeling like it was led down a certain path by the big choice he had made to be in exile. And then beyond that, Luke’s story in this movie, to a certain degree, serves Rey’s story. So that was the other element of this. Wherever he was going to be at and whatever he was going to go through, I couldn’t just think of it in a vacuum. This trilogy is not just Luke’s story. At the end of the day, it’s Rey who’s carrying us through this whole thing. Obviously, Rey and Finn, those are like the two big characters, but in this section of the story, meaning the island stuff, it’s Rey. So I had to think about him in tandem with Rey. And that was great, also, because that kind of meant thinking about him in tandem with myself, and as fans, our relationship to Luke as a legend and as this hero that we grew up with, who we now haven’t seen for some number of years and we’re approaching with expectations of what he’s going to be.

Rey climbs over the edge of a large rock in The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: Right. Rey is really our surrogate.

Rian Johnson: Absolutely. Rey is our surrogate. So it made sense to shape him, in some ways, in relation to what would work best with her.

StarWars.com: I know you said once before that when you were growing up you were a Luke guy. He was your favorite. And he was mine, too. He’s a character I feel like I’ve learned a lot from. Having that kind of responsibility — to take a character that meant a lot to you as a kid and now move him forward or reintroduce him — how do you wrap your head around that? 

Rian Johnson: You keep your eyes down on the path and take one step at a time. [Laughs] Like what I was describing about trying to draw a straight line forward based on what I knew from the previous one and, also, just trying to get inside Luke’s head. Put yourself in his shoes. In real life, I don’t think even the most famous person in the world, when they’re making decisions in life, [is] thinking about what their relation to that fame is and that big false projection of themselves on the global stage or, in Luke’s case, the galaxy. Never having, or never going to experience that, my guess is that is something that is only an obstacle towards figuring out what the best thing to do is moving forward. I guess, also putting myself in Luke’s shoes, it had to come back down to what the current situation is, what he thinks is the best thing to do moving forward, why he’s doing that, and how he’s getting there. Just boiling it down to the basic questions and not thinking of the big “Oh my God, this is Luke Skywalker” of it all.

Director Rian Johnson speaks with Mark Hamill on the setof The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: When the teaser came out and we heard the voiceover, I was really kind of shocked, because I honestly felt like I was hearing Luke Skywalker and not Mark Hamill. It sounded like Luke to me, and I was just like, “Man, what an actor.”

Rian Johnson: Yeah, yeah!

StarWars.com: So what was it like working with Mark on this movie?

Rian Johnson: I mean, it was phenomenal. It was a really intense working experience, just because during prep and during rehearsals we had a lot of conversations like this. A lot of conversations about the character. And we collaborated and we argued and we did everything you can imagine. Through that, first of all, we formed a really good connection, and second, we both, by necessity, had to really understand where he was and where he was coming from.

Mark was so wonderful to work with on set. He was so trusting. Especially with this character meaning what it does to Mark, and his life, the fact that he could step back into that character’s shoes and trust some young schnook [Laughs] with the direction of that character, and put himself into my hands. I still can’t believe he had the graciousness and the trust to do that. But it was a wonderful experience.

Rian Johnson directs Carrie Fisher on the set of The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: I wanted to ask about Carrie Fisher. Obviously, that’s the unfortunate side of this, that she’s not here right now. I was thinking about how she always seemed to embrace her legacy as Leia. What was she like on set and what were her thoughts on playing Leia again at this time?

Rian Johnson: Yeah, she was very conscious of what Leia meant to the fans, and especially to the female fans. That was something she really held on her shoulder. She was very aware of that and always would, as we were going over the scenes, bring that to bear. And always come back to the strength of the Leia character and what was important, and what girls growing up saw in her. So, yeah, that was something she was very aware of. And on set she was a delight. She gives a really beautiful performance in the film, and emotionally she goes to some places Leia hasn’t really gone to before. But she was singing show tunes and dancing with crew members. She was lovely.

StarWars.com: In terms of the newer characters, one theme that I’m picking up on in the trailers is an idea of change. It definitely seems like Kylo and Rey are open to other ideas or paths. What can you tell us about what you wanted to do with characters who don’t have the 30 years of history and where you wanted to take them?

Rian Johnson: Well, the other big half of the movie, that we have shown less in the marketing but I’m really excited for people to see, is Finn’s story. Finn is such a big part of The Force Awakens, and he’s such a huge part of this movie. His side of it, in a way, is just as thematically interesting to me as the Rey/Kylo/Luke side of it. I kind of am enjoying the fact that we haven’t tipped our hand much as to what he goes through in this movie and that people are going to experience it fresh. So I’m a little reticent to dig into it, but it’s less about the spiritual side of things and more about the war side of things. He defected from the First Order but he never really joined the Resistance. Even in The Force Awakens, with this big heroic act at the end, first in going back to the Starkiller Base, he openly says, “I don’t know how to do the thing to help the Resistance. I’m just here to help Rey.” And at the end when he picks up that lightsaber, it’s to protect Rey. It’s not that that’s a character flaw or anything. I realized that he acts from personal motivation, not ideological motivation. It’s kind of beautiful. But he’s also in the middle of a war and the idea of putting him in a situation where he was going to have to make some bigger choices was very interesting to me.

An injured Finn recovers in a medical machine.

StarWars.com: Did John Boyega have a sense of ownership of the character or opinions on what Finn would be doing?

Rian Johnson: Yeah, and this was another thing that was exciting to me. John was really excited to strengthen the character in many different ways, but in the most literal way, also. I think that Finn gains a gravity over the course of this film and really comes into himself as a character. Any choice, big or small, that John could make, he would always take the choice that would bring more strength to Finn. I think John responded really strongly to the arc that Finn had in this movie and to where he starts and where he gets to. Yeah, I’m excited for audiences to experience that.

StarWars.com: Mark Hamill talked about going back on the Falcon and how unexpected that was for him emotionally. Did you have any moments that took you by surprise — that emotionally hit you, that you weren’t expecting?

Rian Johnson: Yeah, walking onto the Falcon. Weirdly, that seems to be a universal one. Obviously, Mark has all the history with it. It’s a whole different ball of wax for Mark. But even for me and friends and family… My attitude was, “Anyone who could get out here to visit, please come visit [Laughs], because this is a once in a lifetime shot, so bring your family and get out here.” I had so many friends and family come and visit the set. The Falcon, walking on the Falcon set, was universally the magic moment for everybody. There’s just something about it. But then, you name it, every single day there was something. Whether it was framing up C-3PO in a shot or turning to look for some place to set my coffee down and realizing I’m right next to Artoo. I didn’t set my coffee down on Artoo, I wouldn’t do that to him.

StarWars.com: That’s why he has that ring on the top of his dome now?

Rian Johnson: Exactly. That’s what it is. That’s now canon. Coffee canon.

Getting to hang out on set with Anthony Daniels or Warwick Davis. Having conversations with Warwick. Every single day there was something different. I mean, directing Luke Skywalker. But, and I have said this before, before all of that, which was amazing, the real emotional impact of the shoot for me and the things that I feel like I’m going to remember 20 years from now are, first of all, the working experience I had with the whole cast and the crew, and the new people I met and the new relationships I’ve formed. And also just the day-to-day work of telling the story. I don’t know. It was the new stuff. That’s the stuff that’s going to stick.

StarWars.com: It’s exciting.

Rian Johnson: Yeah. All the nostalgia stuff was fantastic and really fun and wonderful. But the new stuff, the new relationships, and what we got to build, I guess, as opposed to what we got to visit. As Michael Jackson said, “That’s where the jelly is.” [Laughs]

StarWars.com: I don’t think I know that one…

Rian Johnson: Quincy Jones said when they were doing the intro for “Billy Jean,” Michael just wanted to let it play and keep playing on and on. Quincy Jones was like, “That’s too long, that intro…” and Michael was like, “Yeah, but that’s where the jelly is. That’s what makes me want to dance.” [Laughs] I love it.

StarWars.com: So, you’ve never really made a movie on this scale before. Close to it.

Rian Johnson: [Laughs] Brick was not a small movie. We had at least 12 locations in that film. So, yeah.

StarWars.com: What was it like for you coming in and having to create creatures and ships and that stuff, and make sure it was working?

Rian Johnson: It was easy. [Laughs] Not because of me. Not because I did it well or knew how to do it, but because we had the best people in the world handling it. Neal Scanlan, who was our creature supervisor, is a wizard, and his whole team is so with it and so good at what they do. They’re this well-oiled machine at this point, having gone through VII, having gone through Rogue One, and it was like that with every single department. I mean, the sets, we had an insane amount of sets. Massive sets to build. But because it was Rick Heinrichs, our production designer, and Chris Lowe, who was our supervising art director, and because they and their whole team were absolutely incredible, I engaged creatively on the design and then I showed up on a finished, beautiful set. It’s this incredible group of artists and craftsmen and engineers who moved mountains and worked miracles so that I could be Mr. Magoo and just kind of walk forward off the edge of a skyscraper, and there’s a girder to step on to that’s swinging by. It was an incredibly difficult production, logistically, in that sense. But because everyone was so damn good at their job, for me it didn’t feel much different than any of the other films I’ve done.

StarWars.com: Could we go through a couple of the new elements that are in the movie? Maybe you could talk about where the ideas came from or the story behind them.

Rian Johnson: Sure. Yeah.

StarWars.com: Let’s start with the crystal foxes.

Rian Johnson: They’re beautiful creatures, man. They live on Crait, which is a mineral planet. Crait started with a very graphic idea of red underneath white, and how that could transform during the course of a battle. But the bigger idea behind it is it’s a mineral planet, and when it snows, it’s salt that’s snowing down on you, and any crevice is filled with crystals. So it was just a logical thing of how would a creature evolve on that planet. The idea of it being kind of a crystal chandelier with fur seemed really beautiful and worked with the story.

A Vulptex, a crystalline fox-like creature, from The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: And when you first see the actual animatronic puppet, what is that like for you?

Rian Johnson: It’s incredible. No, it’s amazing. That’s another Neal Scanlan special. Those are stunning. I mean, it’s also a process. There’s definitely a process of working step-by-step, trying to get the crystals to feel right. At one point we tried putting a crystal suit on a dog and that just did not work at all. [Laughs] It was a noble attempt and it was kind of cool, but…

StarWars.com: The dog wouldn’t take direction? 

Rian Johnson: Nah, the dog was lovely. The dog was a pro. [Laughs] But it just kind of looked like a suit on a dog.

A crystal fox stands in front of an old Rebel base on Crait.

StarWars.com: From what I’ve seen, they’ve been done both practically and digitally.

Rian Johnson: It was a real collaboration between the two. In the behind-the-scenes pieces, you always can see the animatronic element of it, whether it’s with the crystal foxes or with the fathiers, the kind of horse creatures. It’s always a handoff between the two. Even when there’s an animatronic element, with nearly all the big creatures in this movie, we’re just using that for a little piece of it, and ILM is then taking over. Then in some cases, also tweaking the designs to work in their world. So, yeah, it’s always a back and forth. The big shot in the trailer, obviously, where the crystal fox comes in and turns back and looks and he’s full-body, is just not something you can do with an animatronic creature. That’s where the wizards at ILM translated it into the digital world.

StarWars.com: I know you worked with the Lucasfilm Story Group. In developing crystal foxes or any of these creatures, did you talk to, say, Dave Filoni? Star Wars Rebels has lots of new creatures.

Rian Johnson: During the design of it I wasn’t talking to Dave, but when he saw [the crystal foxes] he was very excited about them, [Laughs] and that made me think I was on the right track. But then, he’s got his whole thing where he loves wolves, so he thought they looked wolf-like and I think that got him excited. So he’s biased. [Laughs]

The city Canto Bight, at night.

StarWars.com: Can you talk about the genesis of Canto Bight and the idea of a casino city? 

Rian Johnson: It was an early idea I had — and again, it plays into the themes in Finn’s storyline — that it would be fun to see sort of the Monte Carlo of the Star Wars galaxy. That it would be fun to just go someplace totally different, get a totally new flavor on the plate in this movie. We’ve seen Star Wars luxury before, obviously, in the prequels. The idea behind it was just, everything was nice, everything was beautiful. It’s where the galaxy’s one-percenters hang out. The notion is it’s a huge desert planet and it’s like Vegas. It’s literally this one manmade bay that’s been created to create this one fake luxury city.

Background actors in alien costumes and makeup, with VFX and makeup artist Neal Scanlan, in a Vanity Fair photoshoot promoting The Last Jedi.

Photo of Canto Bight aliens (and Neal Scanlan) by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

StarWars.com: What can you tell me about — because I’ve only seen him in the Vanity Fair pictures — the dog-person?

Rian Johnson: Oh, yeah, he’s a patron of the casino. I love that guy. [Laughs]

StarWars.com: He might be my favorite.

Rian Johnson: Yeah, he’s got just an air of haughtiness to him. We were talking about collaborations between departments. Michael Kaplan, the costume designer — all the extras in that scene, and also all the creatures, they’re all dressed by Michael. The handoff between that and Neal’s folks with the creature design had to be tightly integrated. It’s all to create that air of unimpeachable, snooty wealth, and the combination of the beautiful and the grotesque, also, is something we tried to hit a little bit of in each creature.

StarWars.com: George Lucas has talked about how he worked hard to introduce new elements in every film, whether it was ships, creatures, or planets. I definitely see that in The Last Jedi. Is that something you were conscious of?

Rian Johnson: Yeah. You want to do it just ’cause it’s fun, also. But, yeah, I remember being a kid, and when a new movie was coming out it was like, “Oh, what kind of planets are they going to go to next? Are we going to see any new ships?” That is the kind of thing that you get excited about. A lot of the designers that we worked with had been working on the previous movie, and it’s always good to come in with a breath of fresh air and say, “Here’s a new challenge, here’s something we haven’t seen before, or here’s a real tough nut to crack. How do we do this?” That just keeps things fresh as opposed to recycling old visual ideas.

StarWars.com: What about the ski speeders?

Rian Johnson: I wanted them to feel really rickety. At some point we came up with the idea of having this open cockpit, like a biplane, or a World War I plane. Also, I knew that they had to have this stabilizing ski, because I wanted to take advantage of the red and the white on Crait, and kick up that red, and have that jetski spray behind them. Those were the mandates going into it, and then it was kind of a slow, step-by-step process of [developing the design]. The cockpit on one side and the engine out on the other side came up, and it felt really good. Step by step we just worked it forward.

Ski speeders glide close to the ground, kicking up red crystal dust.

StarWars.com: I love, to use that word again, how weird they are.

Rian Johnson: Yeah! They’re very odd.

StarWars.com: When you see them you almost want to study them. They don’t read as something like an X-wing or a Y-wing.

Rian Johnson: Good. [Laughs] That’s the other thing about this. Finding what the visual cues are that will make it feel like it shares a language with what came before, while still having it feel new. If you look at the grille on the front of the middle section of it, you can see a very obvious visual nod to one of my favorite vehicles, the snowspeeders from Empire. But it’s a fairly subtle thing, and the design of the overall thing feels like something we haven’t seen before.

StarWars.com: All the posters have this red-and-white motif. You can see it carried through in the footage we’ve seen in the teasers and trailers. It’s really unique. I don’t think any of the other films had this specific a look with bold, clean colors. Where did that come from?

Rian Johnson: It was something that developed… It went back to the script, I guess. The idea for Crait, very early on, was a visual idea that was there even before I started writing the script. Snoke’s throne room, which is the other big red environment, was something I had that I was fixated on. The idea of this theatrical space. Snoke uses theatricality, and so it’s this very striking, graphic, bold space, and red felt right to me for that space, as well. It’s probably a combination of me just liking bold, graphic design like that, and the natural development of it. Red just felt right for this middle chapter. It felt kind of dangerous.

Three variations of promotional posters for The Last Jedi.

StarWars.com: It’s definitely a threatening color.

Rian Johnson: It’s threatening, it’s got a vividness to it, it’s got a life. The throne room took us a while to figure out how to actually make that work. I kept saying, “Well, it’s like red curtains back behind him.” But then we did curtains and it just looked like curtains. [Laughs] There’s nothing threatening about curtains. So the idea of creating a red abstract space back there… At some point, I remembered that Anthony Minghella did this production of Madame Butterfly that had a sequence where it was a similar thing. They did a very bold, striking red behind and a reflective surface in front with dancers, and it was gorgeous.

StarWars.com: Yet he’s in this gold robe.

Rian Johnson: I love that. When Michael Kaplan showed that to me, he like, squinted at me, and said, “What about this?” And I was so excited, just because the idea of bringing a splash of theatricality to this character, and the idea of him not being exactly what you’d expect… He would have looked fine in just black robes. We could have very easily done “evil bad guy 101,” and just stamped it on there. To me, though, it was much more interesting to kind of squint at him and say, “Wait a minute. What’s this guy’s deal, exactly?” [Laughs] To have a little bit of Ming the Merciless in there was more interesting to me.

StarWars.com: I’d like to touch on Rey and Kylo Ren a bit, if we can somehow figure out a way. As someone now charged with shepherding the protagonist and the villain of Star Wars for a new generation, what did that responsibility mean to you, and did you have an approach for how you wanted to move their stories forward?

Rian Johnson: With each of them, there were things that I really responded to in The Force Awakens. Both individually as characters, and also in their interaction in the interrogation scene that they have in The Force Awakens. I thought the dynamic between them was very interesting and the opposing forces, flint striking off each other with the two of them, combined with this power on opposite sides that they both share, was very interesting.

It’s not just a big, open study of their characters. It’s a narrative, so another big part of it was figuring out how we feel about each of them coming out of Force Awakens and into this film. Again, it’s not a big canvas. It’s a line that’s going forward and you’re following a path step by step. You know, we hate Kylo’s guts coming into this. [Laughs] He’s interesting because the villain is always interesting, but also because, I think, you can see his flaws and his vulnerabilities.

StarWars.com: And he gets embarrassed.

Rian Johnson: He gets his ass kicked. He has his butt handed to him, absolutely, by someone who should not have been able to hand him his butt. [Laughs] So he’s in a very different place than Vader, but I think we hate him maybe even more than we hate Vader coming into this.

StarWars.com: After the Force Awakens employee screening, I ran into Pablo [Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm Story Group] in the hallway and I said, “Man, I don’t know what you guys are planning. But if you’re planning on redeeming this guy, you have a lot of work to do.”

Rian Johnson: Exactly, which is not to say we’ll redeem him, but I felt like my work with this was to evolve the character from where he’s at, to push him further along, which you always need to do with any character, and, I guess, get inside his head a little bit more. Even to do that, you can’t just say, “Okay, yeah, he killed Han Solo, but he’s a nice guy.” Or, “He had these issues, so you gotta understand…” I mean, you can’t make that appeal. You have to come into it with the knowledge that this guy has some very big strikes against him and you have to work forward with that.

Kylo Ren looks down at his mask.

StarWars.com: As you approached this as a writer-director, you were moving stories forward for characters that are younger than you and also characters that are older than you. Were you looking back on what you were like when you were younger, when you were thinking about what these characters might be feeling?

Rian Johnson: Absolutely, yeah.

StarWars.com: And also looking ahead?

Rian Johnson: Trying to. But my perspective, from looking back to when I was younger, is realizing you think you can look ahead but you can never really project yourself into what it feels like to be later in life. I guess it’s arguable whether you can ever really look back and project yourself into what you were like when you were younger. I’m just putting 43-year-old me into 17-year-old me’s shoes [Laughs], and not really remembering what it was like.

To me, these movies are always, to some extent, about the transition from childhood into adulthood. When I hear [George] Lucas quoted as saying, “These movies are for kids,” it doesn’t mean they’re for little kids who laugh and point at creatures farting. It means that they’re about kids who are on the cusp of adolescence and about to transition through those stormy waters into being an adult and finding their place in this world. The hero’s journey, the myth that Joseph Campbell writes about, that Lucas famously pulled from, it’s not about becoming a hero. It’s not about becoming Hercules. The hero’s journey is really about adolescence. It’s about becoming an adult. And so, yeah, that’s something, first of all, all of us can relate to in some form. And it is something that makes you put yourself back into those years and think about those years.

It’s interesting. To some extent, you can always try and say, “Okay, I’m writing from the perspective of a kid,” or “I’m writing from the perspective of an adolescent.” The truth is, to some extent, you’re always writing from the perspective of where you’re standing right now. It goes for the older characters, as well. I’m writing Luke more from the perspective of someone who has relationships with people that age in my life. Maybe that’s helpful because the story of Luke is largely told through the perspective of Rey. So maybe that helps it. I don’t know. Anyway, you do your best, I guess.

StarWars.com: What would young Rian Johnson, playing with his Millennium Falcon toythink right now?

Rian Johnson: Oh, boy. I don’t know, man.

StarWars.com: Well, it would be weird if he were here.

Rian Johnson: It would be very strange. It would be very odd. I feel like film-school Rian would be more confused and baffled and amazed that he was here. I think 10-year-old us, you’re playing with your Star Wars toys, you don’t see that big a disconnect between that and creating something that’s going to be up on the screen. That’s the magic of playing with the toys at that age. You’re creating those movies in your head and it doesn’t feel like there’s a big separation between that and what’s on the screen. It’s only when you realize as you grow up, “Oh, I’ll never get to do that,” that weight settles on you as you get older. That’s the thing that’s defied by my current experience. [Laughs] Ten-year-old me would probably nod and say, “Oh, great! I got some great ideas for the Falcon!” [Laughs]

Director Rian Johnson and producers Ram Bergman and Kathleen Kennedy smile as they chat on the set of The Last Jedi.

Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson, and Kathleen Kennedy.

StarWars.com: The new trilogy that was announced — what can you tell us about where you’re at with it?

Rian Johnson: I’m just at the beginning of the beginning of the beginning with it.

StarWars.com: And how did it come about?

Rian Johnson: It really just came about because we had such a great time making VIII, not just with the production, but Kathy, Ram [Bergman] my producer, and I, we all just got along so well. All the folks at Lucasfilm, we loved. Disney, we had a great time with Bob Iger and Alan Horn and Alan Bergman. We just really had a great experience with everybody. So we were getting to the end of this movie, and it really started with just, “How can we keep working together? It’s been a great experience. Beyond loving Star Wars, I just love these people, how can we keep this going?” So I just kind of floated out the idea of, “Well, we can talk about a stand-alone movie or something, but the thing that’s really the most interesting to me is the notion of a new trilogy and a new story told over three movies.” My pitch was basically, “Let’s give ourselves a clear, blue, open sky. Let’s say we can set this anywhere, and it’s not gonna be dealing with the characters that we’ve already established. Let’s create a whole new group of folks, a whole new set of circumstances, and let’s go to new places and let’s create a mythic, beautiful, emotional, fun Star Wars story over three films.”

StarWars.com: That’s exciting! 

Rian Johnson: That’s exciting, right? And so I said that and Kathy was very excited about that. So we were able to extend our stay in the family. [Laughs]

StarWars.com: To wrap it up — for the holidays, is every family member getting a porg?

Rian Johnson: [Laughs] I hope they already have one, or they’re no family of mine!

A Porg screams in the Millennium Falcon.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives December 15, 2017.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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