rian johnson star wars the last jedi

Back in 2014, before the title had even been revealed for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Looper and Brick director Rian Johnson got a call from Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy asking if he was interested in making that film’s sequel. So what did Johnson say that convinced her to hand him the keys to one of the world’s largest movie franchises? In a new interview, Johnson explains his initial pitch and talks about putting aside years’ worth of childhood fantasies in order to come up with a coherent and compelling idea for where to take the characters in a galaxy far, far away.

Johnson recently made his triumphant return as a guest on The /Filmcast, and though the episode doesn’t officially debut until later tonight, we’ve been given a sneak peek and have singled out a few fascinating tidbits that may be of interest to Star Wars fans. Here, the writer/director reveals his original pitch for what would eventually become The Last Jedi, how he was scared when word came out that he had secured the gig, and more:

“When I got the job, and especially when it broke on the internet and everyone started talking about it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I guess I’m actually doing this,’ it was really scary. But then, when I sat down to write, it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had writing. I guess maybe because it was a blank page, but I had a starting point [with The Force Awakens]. After Kathy asked me if I’d be interested in it, we had a series of conversations, and basically my pitch was the first movie is like the introduction, the second movie is training. And by ‘training,’ I mean we take each of these characters and we really test their mettle. So I said that would be my approach to it, it’s a very character-based approach where we just start with each one of these characters we care about and figure out what the hardest next step is for each of them.

So having that trailhead to go from, it was also nice because it gives you a direction as opposed to just having a big cloud of childhood fantasies, of ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Falcon do this or that?’ that you could get lost in, it wasn’t like that…once I actually started doing the work, I found that it felt really comfortable. And then all the childhood fantasy stuff is just fuel for the fire.”

The sheer amount of storytelling possibilities in the Star Wars universe can be crushing when viewed in a macro sense, so it makes sense that Johnson would need to considerably narrow his focus in order to have a chance at success. Dialing into the wonderful new characters established in The Force Awakens and deepening their relationships with the surviving legacy characters paid off: The Last Jedi may very well be the best movie in the whole franchise. His experience working on that film was so positive that Lucasfilm greenlit his new trilogy without hearing any story ideas from him at all, so it sounds like Johnson has pretty much perfected the art of the pitch at this point.

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