Rian Johnson has always hated the test screening process, but his last two experiences directing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Knives Out” might have changed his mind. Test screenings have become all too common for studio efforts. The process allows directors to screen the film early in order to get feedback from a selected audience. Test screenings can be a curse (audience notes could force the studio to demand changes the director doesn’t want) or a blessing (help the director realize a certain plot point or character arc is confusing), so it’s understandable why Johnson resisted them for so long. In an interview on the “Knives Out” home release (via Screen Rant), Johnson says the test experience with “Knives Out” went so well that he would’ve killed to have done something similar with “The Last Jedi.”
“It was like a party in the theater, it was really fun,” Johnson said of the first “Knives Out” test screening. “It was like the first time I was like, ‘Oh wow, this actually plays. This is good.’ Which is really nice and that’s something on ‘Star Wars,’ you can’t test ‘Star Wars’ movies for a lot of different reasons. I’ve always hated test screenings, and when we were making ‘Star Wars,’ at a certain point in the process you’re like ‘God, I would give my left arm to put this in front of 300 people in Burbank and just see how it plays.’”
Given all of the spoilers Disney and Lucasfilm have to protect prior to the release of a “Star Wars” movie, it’s not surprising Johnson didn’t get to test screen “The Last Jedi.” But the director’s comment forces the question: Would test screening have been a good idea for “The Last Jedi”? Johnson’s “Star Wars” movie opened in December 2017 and infamously divided the “Star Wars” fandom. Many fans were outraged at Johnson’s storytelling, which upended expectations by killing off characters (goodbye, Snoke) and refusing to lean into popular theories (Rey’s parents were nobodies — well, at least until that was retconned in “Rise of Skywalker”). Had “The Last Jedi” been test screened, audience reaction could have been so extreme that Disney executives could have screwed with Johnson’s vision. Critics agree Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” theatrical cut is one of the best “Star Wars” films ever made, if not the best. Test screenings would’ve threatened the masterpiece Johnson already had made.
While “The Last Jedi” polarized “Star Wars” fans, Johnson is still attached to reunite with Lucasfilm for a new trilogy in the franchise. There are no other updates about Johnson’s next “Star Wars” movie beyond that and he spent his recent “Knives Out” press tour saying he was just waiting for the go-ahead from the studio to start. Johnson earned an Oscar nomination this year for writing “Knives Out,” and he’s confirmed plans to write and direct a sequel for Lionsgate that will re-team him with Daniel Craig.