'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Vs. 'The Empire Strikes Back': Rian Johnson Explains Similarities And Differences

The challenges of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are well-documented by this point: J.J. Abrams had to reintroduce the classic Star Wars vibe to fans after the prequel trilogy and the way he chose to do that was to hone in on many of the same structural beats that kicked off the entire franchise in the first place in George Lucas's original 1977 movie. But does that mean The Force Awakens' sequel will also loosely follow the storyline of The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the original trilogy?

It's a question fans have been asking for years, and the darker vibe of the trailers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi have only bolstered that theory. We're two weeks away from the movie's release, and while out on the film's international press tour, writer/director Rian Johnson explained his thoughts on The Last Jedi vs. The Empire Strikes Back observations.

A French outlet called Numerama asked Johnson if he intentionally stayed close to Empire's storyline or if he actively distanced himself from it, and this was his response:

"I will be curious, after you've seen the movie, if you find that it looks too much like The Empire Strikes Back. I don't think it does, but I'm sure the audience will have their own opinions when they see it. (laughs)

For me, my attitude is always, 'I need to tell the story as honestly as I can.' I think that it would be a mistake to try to copy The Empire Strikes Back, but that it would be just as much as mistake to make creatives decisions based on saying, 'We're going to be nothing like The Empire Strikes Back!'

These two approaches lead, in my opinion, to two forced versions, which have the same weaknesses. For me, I try just to take a starting point of what I knew about these characters, and say: 'Where do I want them to go? How did they get there? What are the hard things I'm going to throw at them?' and as the story developed, I just tried to follow it and it took me in some very unexpected directions.

Look, we're starting this movie with our protagonist going off to a desert island to meet a Jedi master, just like Luke and Yoda. And our characters are split up, some are back with the Resistance, some are off, and then you have a kind of training dynamic seemingly set up.

There are big structural things that are going to be very similar to The Empire Strikes Back. But I don't think, after watching the movie, many people will have the feeling of a copy of The Empire Strikes Back. I don't see how they could, but maybe they will. I don't know, you never know! (laughs)"

We've been hearing for months from people who have seen The Last Jedi that the movie takes some big swings and is different from what we're expecting. Now that Abrams has done the grunt work of getting the franchise up and rolling again, I can't imagine that a gifted storyteller like Johnson would copy The Empire Strikes Back in quite the same way; I think the more likely option is that Johnson is purposefully trolling fans with the similarities that we've seen in the trailers, setting us up to think we know exactly what to expect only for him to pull the rug out from under us when we see the actual movie.

We don't have long to wait until we see how this all shakes out, because Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters on December 15, 2017. After that, we can probably continue the whole The Last Jedi vs. The Empire Strikes Back debate, armed with proper information.