When Rian Johnson’s Star Wars film The Last Jedi was released in 2017, it came in as a critically acclaimed box office hit, earning four Academy Award nominations and grossing upwards of $1.3B worldwide. Diehard fans of the franchise, however, took umbrage with the title, very loudly calling out their issues with everything from its plot to its tone.
After wading into the public discourse surrounding The Last Jedi a fair number of times in the five years since, Johnson has once again spoken about his intentions with the film and the thinking that informed it — this time, in a video interview with GQ spotlighting his overall filmography, which you can view above.
Johnson notes that a core issue some had with The Last Jedi was the belief that its use of humor has no place in the Star Wars canon, expressing at the same time his sense that this perspective is misguided. “For me, everything in the movie is Star Wars, and everything in the movie, I can trace back to deeply, in a deep way, what Star Wars is for me,” he says. “And I know that everyone has a different take. I know there are Star Wars fans who somehow think that Star Wars was a serious thing, like the Batman movies or something.”
The filmmaker makes his argument to the contrary with reference to choices made by the franchise’s creator George Lucas in his original trilogy, which embraced the light as a counterbalance to the dark. He says that when he first saw Empire Strikes Back as a kid, “it had this deep, profound impact on me because it was terrifying, because I was just young enough to not experience it as watching a Star Wars movie, but to have it feel too real.” But for Johnson, who saw the subsequent entry Return of the Jedi at “exactly the right age in the theater,” the experience inherent to that film was quite different.
“Anyone who thinks that slightly goofy humor does not have a place in the Star Wars universe, I don’t know if they’ve seen Return of the Jedi. There’s literally a scene where Han Solo is like a cartoon, trussed up to a pole and a torch goes by him to light the fire, to cook him,” says Johnson, referencing the goofy way the character puffs out his cheeks to try to put out the flame. “Even the first movie, they’re in the heart of the Death Star, and they’re trying to do this desperate gambit to get out with their lives and save the princess, where they’re pretending that Chewbacca is like their prisoner. The little imperial droid comes up, Chewbacca roars at it, and the droid like a scared dog, [makes a silly, scared sound and flees].”
This “slightly self-aware element of gleeful humor,” Johnson continues, “is something that is part and parcel to Star Wars. It’s not the whole thing, and we get very serious in [The Last Jedi], as well. And I think that kind of brazen balance of those two things is also something that’s part of Star Wars.”
Johnson most recently wrote and directed Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — a sequel to his critically acclaimed, award-winning whodunit Knives Out — which hits Netflix on Friday, December 23rd, having opened in around 600 theaters one month prior. While the filmmaker committed in 2017 to pen another trilogy of Star Wars films, and to helm at least the first title in it, when we’ll see those films remains unclear.