Since “The Last Jedi” came out in 2017, director Rian Johnson has defended his acclaimed entry into the “Star Wars” franchise from fans who felt that it went against the tone of the universe. In a recent interview with GQ looking back at his career, the “Glass Onion” director addressed criticism of the film’s comedy scenes, which some saw as overly silly for the franchise.
“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,” Johnson told GQ. “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. I was so young that when I watched ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ 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 like too real. ‘Return of the Jedi’ was the one that I was exactly the right age to see in the theater.”
“Return of the Jedi,” the 1983 conclusion to the franchise’s original trilogy, is more lighthearted than the previous two movies, featuring the adorable Ewok bears and several comedy scenes involving them and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). But Johnson pointed out during the interview that even the original 1977 film from George Lucas was more comedic than some fans remember, citing a scene where Chewbacca scares an imperial droid as an example of the film’s often over-the-top humor.
“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,’” Johnson said. “The slightly self-aware element of gleeful humor is something that is part and parcel to ‘Star Wars. It’s not the whole thing, and we get very serious as well. And I think that kind of brazen balance of those two things is also something that is part of ‘Star Wars.’”
Referring specifically to a scene between Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux, where Poe antagonizes his foe by pretending he can’t hear him over their ship’s intercom, Johnson maintained it was true to the established tone of the franchise.
“That scene with Hux and Poe, besides just being a hell of a lot of fun, was also something that felt essentially ‘Star Wars’ to me,'” Johnson said.
During the interview, Johnson also addressed the perception that the movie was a deconstruction of the “Star Wars” mythos and tropes, saying that he did not view the film as cynical about the franchise, but that he had to engage with the idea of “Star Wars” itself in order to tell the story of Luke (Mark Hamill) and Rey (Daisy Ridley).
“I definitely didn’t approach the entire thing as a meta exercise, because first and foremost it has to be an honest expression of what the characters are going through in it. It’s not very interesting to think in a meta way about ‘Star Wars,'” Johnson said. “At the same time, you’re dealing with a story that’s about heroes, and about a younger generation meeting their heroes, and a generation that is now the older generation of heroes dealing with being role models for the younger generation and still being human beings with faults and foibles. And somebody who has the role of a legend, but who feels fallible as a human being, by the end of the movie realizing the value that that legend has and realizing their place is to step up and be that for the younger generation.
“When you’re dealing with all of these things, the legends that I grew up with, was the characters from ‘Star Wars,'” Johnson continued. “If I think about the thing in my life that’s been the most consistent, it is these movies. I think anyone who makes a ‘Star Wars’ movie today is going to be in some way engaging with their relationship to ‘Star Wars’ itself.'”
Although “The Last Jedi” has remained a controversial entry in the divisive “Star Wars” franchise, Johnson stands by the film, saying he is “even more proud” of it five years on in a recent interview with Empire Magazine. The director is currently still attached to spearhead a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, although he recently said “it wouldn’t be the end of the world” if the project didn’t pan out.
Watch Johnson’s full interview with GQ below.