Why Making Glass Onion Scared Rian Johnson More Than The Last Jedi

Five movies into his career as a director, it's clear Rian Johnson thrives on taking risks. His debut film, 2005's "Brick," is a quirky high school murder-mystery where the teenagers all talk like characters out of a hard-boiled noir detective story in the vein of "The Maltese Falcon." In his next two movies after that, "The Brothers Bloom" and "Looper," Johnson took on a pair of well-tested genre films (the con artist caper and time-travel thriller, respectively) and did his very best to flip them on their heads.

Then came 2017's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," Johnson's sequel to "The Force Awakens," and a movie that aspires to upend the very tenets of what a "Star Wars" sequel even is. Far from being discouraged by the divisive response to the film, Johnson followed up his trip to a galaxy far, far away with "Knives Out." The smash-hit 2019 murder-mystery comedy breathed fresh life into the whodunnit genre and gave us a new oddball hero in the form of Daniel Craig's detective Benoit Blanc (the mashup of Craig's Southern-accented crook from "Logan Lucky" and Hercule Poirot we never knew we wanted).

Johnson has since secured a highly-lucrative deal with Netflix to direct a pair of "Knives Out" follow-ups featuring Craig back in CSI: KFC mode, the first of which, titled "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," only just made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times (via IndieWire), Johnson indicated writing and directing the "Knives Out" sequel was perhaps his most nerve-racking project to date, eclipsing even that of "The Last Jedi."

The Last Jedi was a 'proper sequel'

Where "Glass Onion" acts as more or less a standalone whodunnit movie (with Benoit Blanc being the only element connecting it directly to "Knives Out"), "The Last Jedi" is what Johnson referred to as a "proper sequel" to the LA Times. What's more, unlike "Knives Out," Johnson wasn't involved in making "The Force Awakens." As such, the challenge for the filmmaker on "The Last Jedi" wasn't figuring out how to tell a story that works on its own à la "Glass Onion," it was settling on what he felt was an engaging direction to take a story that was already in motion. He added:

"If anything, going into ['Glass Onion'] was a little scarier even than ['The Last Jedi'], because the first one, when we made ['Knives Out'], it was in such a vacuum and we had no idea if people would be into this kind of thing. Genuinely, it was just something that I really loved, a genre I loved, and I'm like, 'Let's try this.'"

Of course, the success of "Knives Out" only raises expectations all the higher for "Glass Onion," adding to the pressure on Johnson to deliver what he feels is a worthy follow-up. If anything, it sounds like the film's mega-popularity made it easier for Johnson to understand what George Lucas might've gone through mentally, back when he created "Star Wars" all those decades ago. Johnson explained:

"The fact that people enjoyed ['Knives Out'] and the fact that it was popular — when you put something out there, this happens anyway, but especially, I think, in this case — it becomes something outside of you and you kind of forget how you made it."

A much shorter turnaround time

The other major obstacle for Johnson was time. When you watch "The Last Jedi," it feels like a grand statement, as though Johnson poured every thought he'd ever had about "Star Wars" in his life into a single movie, just in case he never got to make another one (which may or may not prove to be the case). "Knives Out," on the other hand, is far from a thesis on the whodunit genre, but it was still a film Johnson spent more than a decade thinking about before it came to fruition.

Going from that to conceiving and producing "Glass Onion" in under three years, Johnson found himself feeling scared in a way he never did working on "The Last Jedi." He explained:

"And so, it was scary. I've never experienced nerves quite like actually sitting down to write something. I also spent 10 years planning 'Knives Out,' whereas this, I was kind of starting from scratch [with 'Glass Onion']."

Thankfully, all seems to have worked out for Johnson. "Glass Onion" earned a strong reception during its debut on the film festival circuit, with /Film's Chris Evangelista going so far as to dub the sequel "an even bigger, funnier, twistier whodunnit" than "Knives Out" in his glowing review. Now Johnson just has to do it again with "Knives Out 3." No pressure though!

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" opens in theaters in November 2022 before streaming on Netflix starting December 23, 2022.