Rian Johnson On The Last Jedi's Progress, Influences, And Surprises

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This article originally appeared in Empire Magazine, February 2017 (issue 332). Illustration by Jacey.

Rian Johnson

With Rogue One now safely rolled out across the world, we find ourselves less than a year away from the next Star Wars saga instalment, this week revealed to be titled The Last Jedi. After filming in Skellig Michael (the island at the end of The Force Awakens), Pinewood, Dubrovnik, Croatia and County Cork, principal photography wrapped on 22 July 2016. Although deep in post-production — John Williams has already started recording the score — writer/director Rian Johnson took the time to answer Empire’s burning questions about the current state of play, the film’s influences and his cameo in Rogue One — did you spot him?

How are things going on Episode VIII?

Great! We’re in the thick of editing, really digging into it. It’s taking shape and I’m very excited.

Star Wars

Name three non-Star Wars films you watched in preparation.

Twelve O’Clock High was a big touchstone, for the feel and look of the aerial combat as well as the dynamic between the pilots. Three Outlaw Samurai for the feel of the sword-fighting, and the general sense of pulpy fun. And To Catch A Thief was a great film to rewatch, for the romantic scale and grandeur.

What are your memories of the first day of shooting?

Mark Hamill as Luke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Our first day of shooting was actually several months before principal photography began: we had three days on Skellig Michael island. So not only was it day one of Star Wars on this incredible natural location, but because the island was so inaccessible it was a very stripped-down, run-and-gun crew. Pretty much the perfect start to the whole adventure.

I found myself constantly wanting to push modern idioms into the dialogue.

What is the hardest thing about writing Star Wars dialogue?

I found myself constantly wanting to push modern idioms into the dialogue, and sometimes that can work, but you have to be very careful. If you go too far you can break that Star Wars spell. The other challenge is the tech talk, which has to be simultaneously complex enough to sound real and conceptually simple enough to follow. The original films were brilliant at that.

Maz Katana behind the scenes Star Wars Episode VIII

You played Imperial Officer In Firing Chamber in Rogue One. What was that experience like?

It was so much fun. I was jealous of my producer Ram [Bergman] — he got to wear the full Daft Punk helmet. Also it was great because we knew we couldn’t get cut out of the movie! The ONE THING they absolutely have to do is fire the Death Star!

What surprised you most about directing a Star Wars film?

I guess the biggest surprise was the intimacy of the process. It’s huge, sure, and it’s filled with pressures great and small. But at the end of the day, it boils down to the same things as the smaller films we’ve made: telling a story we care about with a camera and some actors. And a Wookiee.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released in cinemas worldwide on December 15.