9 Things We Learned From The /Filmcast's Rian Johnson Interview

On Tuesday night, Rian Johnson sat down with the hosts of /Filmcast for an in-depth interview about his polarizing, powerful film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Johnson dished on everything from how he originally pitched The Last Jedi to Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, to the furious backlash the movie received from fans on opening night, and that one striking scene that had theaters scrambling to put up warning signs assuring audiences that they were seeing what they were supposed to be seeing. And, because we're still all arguing about it, Johnson went into detail about Rey's origins.

Below are some of the best tidbits and trivia we learned from the interview with the director.

rian johnson star wars the last jedi

Johnson Didn't Immediately Say Yes to Direct Episode 8

After he had released Looper, Johnson had been approached with offers to direct various franchises, and got very used to saying no, determined to continue writing and directing his own stuff. So when Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy brought him the offer to direct Star Wars Episode 8, his immediate instinct was to reject it. "But...it's Star Wars," Johnson said. "It was my whole world when I was a kid. It's hard to overstate the importance in terms of the [franchise's] foundations of my creative life. So it's something that sort of stopped me in my tracks." He told Kennedy that he would think about the offer.

"I thought I would go home and make a list of pros and cons. But what I did was I went home, and for several nights, I didn't sleep... I stayed up all night watching documentaries about mountain climber disasters."

In the end, Johnson said, "It wasn't an intellectual decision, I just had to do it."

Johnson Started Writing His Script Before Force Awakens Began Production

Johnson's meeting with Kathleen Kennedy took place when J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm were still prepping Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and production hadn't even started yet. When Johnson came on board for Episode 8, the first thing he did was read script for Force Awakens. That was the only thing he had to go on when he was writing script for Last Jedi, Johnson said:

"When I was writing [the script] I was watching the dailies [from Force Awakens]. I'm really grateful the timing worked like that both so I could see Daisy, John, Adam, and Oscar in their roles, but I'm really thankful I wrote it before the movie came out. I was writing based on my personal reaction to the script and to what I was seeing, and not based on some kind of perception of the world's reaction to it. That made it more personal in terms of the launching points I used for my movie."

Johnson didn't write the script in a vacuum, per se, but he was able to remain fairly divorced from the reception and fan community around Force Awakens. He was grateful "just being able to come at it storytelling wise from a very pure place of 'what did this make me feel, what do I see in these characters, and what do I think is the next step of it'?"

Knowing the Reaction, He Still Would Have Left Snoke to the Same Fate

Knowing the backlash that Last Jedi received after its release, especially pertaining to the twist with Snoke, Johnson said he wouldn't have done it any differently.

"A lot of things that ended up taking hold in the fan community in terms of who is Snoke, who are Rey's parents, and the fever pitch that those rose to, I obviously knew those were questions you had coming out of Force Awakens, but I didn't have the weight of the fan expectation of what the payoff of those questions would be. Which I think was a good thing. [...] I guess what I'm trying to say is, the timing of it was, it's not like I was aware of those expectations and was purposefully trying to poke people in the eye, I was writing to my honest gut reactions to what the most powerful turn of events would be to those questions."

Johnson also went into detail as Snoke "being a sort of Wizard of Oz" who works behind a smoke screen and relies more on "theatricality and style" than Emperor Palpatine did. But despite his investment into the look and facade of Snoke, Johnson still thinks that Snoke's backstory "would have gotten cut at some point even if I had written it."

How Johnson Settled on the Idea of Force Projection

Johnson made headlines last week with his social media clapback featuring a "sacred text" of his own. Last Jedi detractors who criticized the film for introducing an entirely new Force ability without context or build-up were met with a Star Wars precedent described in the 2011 book The Jedi Path.

But the question remains: Did Johnson write the Last Jedi twist with Luke's Force projection based on this non-canonical Star Wars text? Or did this book just happen to reinforce Johnson's narrative choices? Maybe a little bit of both, Johnson revealed. "I had already sort of had the idea for it, or something like it," Johnson said. "I wanted [Luke] to hand Kylo his lunch at the end, but I didn't know how to do that without a physical confrontation that would be satisfying...that Kylo would survive." He went on:

I was in the middle of trying to crack this whole thing with Luke and the ending. I hadn't quite got it yet, but I had this notion of what ended up being the projection thing that he does. But I wasn't sure about it. I was like, is this okay? I swear to God, this happened, I was sitting in the lobby at Lucasfilm, waiting for [senior vice president] Kiri [Hart] to come out because I had forgotten my badge that day or something. That book was sitting on the coffee table there in the lobby. I picked it up and started thumbing through it, and I said, "Ooh, advanced Force powers." I turned to it, and it described exactly what you saw. I landed on that and it was like a God ray came down or something.

As for his Twitter clapback, Johnson said he knows it won't immediately end all criticism of his film. "For me, showing [the book to fans] is less about 'See, this is a canonical thing,' and it's more about that we're always making stuff up in this universe," he said. "Somebody made this up before. And as long has Star Wars has been around, people have been adding to it."

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Last Jedi Never Had Any Alternate Titles

Episode 8 was going to be The Last Jedi from the very start. "There were no alternate titles," Johnson said. "Very early, when I started writing the script, I wrote the title page and it was The Last Jedi. And I never changed it."

Rey's Cave Scene Has Some Unique Inspirations

The stunning sequence where Rey searches for the answer of her parents' identity in the dark cave in Ahch To only to be met with mirror images of herself "was a very, very early visual idea" that Johnson had. Johnson had visited Rick Carter, a production designer who works with Steven Spielberg and worked with Force Awakens who Johnson dubbed "the secret Yoda" of these movies, in Malibu where for a few weeks, they simply discussed life, spirituality, and the characters. "The mirror sequence kind of came out of those few weeks," Johnson reveals.

"I had this vision of a million Reys going off into infinity in her search for her identity. At one point in my notes I had the wacky idea of 'Oh, should it be like a [2001: A Space Odyssey] type thing where each of the Rey's is a little bit younger? And she gets younger, and younger, and younger going back to her origin until you get to the end, it's like the space baby in 2001 where it's baby Rey. And there's a shadowy figure holding the baby who you think it's the mother, and it reveals that it's Rey holding herself as a baby. Like really wacky stuff like that, that would probably end up looking plain silly."

Johnson also noted that the sequence drew heavy inspiration from Jonathan Glazer's 2013 sci-fi film Under the Skin, whose famously stark and surreal scene has influenced projects like Stranger Things as well. For Last Jedi, Johnson even got the effects company that worked on Under the Skin called One of Us, to work on that mirror sequence.

The Original Canto Bight Storyline Involved Poe and Finn

In Johnson's first draft for Last Jedi, it was originally Poe and Finn who went off in the mission to Canto Bight. Rose didn't exist at that point, Johnson said, reiterating the revelation we first learned in the Art of Star Wars book. "At the time, I thought it was awesome, it's Butch and Sundance going off on an adventure!" Johnson said. "But as I writing it, it was boring because the two guys don't challenge each other."

Eventually, he split off Finn and Poe into their own separate storylines, which allowed him to explore the idea of who Poe really was — a mystery after the character disappeared for the majority of Force Awakens. After connecting Poe with Leia's arc, it all fell into place. "That's where the whole idea of where heroism vs. leadership came in," Johnson said, describing the storyline where the hotheaded Poe learns of the burdens of leadership after endangering and nearly killing the remnants of the Resistance thanks to his mutinous scheme.

Where the Idea for the Red Salt Planet Came From

The visual of the brilliant red streaks standing out against the white salt planet was a "visual that came about very early" back during Johnson's talks with Rick Carter. But more so than just being a beautiful and indelible image, Johnson wanted the landscape to reflect the ugliness of the battle itself. He said:

"I wanted to do a big battle and communicate the violence of it, but you don't show blood in Star Wars movies, these are PG-13 movies. So the initial thing was to have a movie where the landscape itself could graphically communicate the violence of this battle. Also the notion that the landscape could evolve during the course of the battle, the idea at the beginning it's white and pristine and it gets scarred and increasingly red. And when the cannon goes, it blows it all away so it just becomes a red hellscape. And as Luke comes back to the legend he needs to be and [starts] healing the world, the salt starts snowing down so it's back to being pristine."

Johnson Was Working on Another Sci-Fi Movie Before Last Jedi

After Looper, Johnson had an exciting idea for a sci-fi film but after spending over a year trying to crack the script, he couldn't get anywhere with it. "I had the concept for it, but looking back, I realized I kind of put the cart before the horse, like I was kind of seduced by what was cool about the idea, but I didn't have a grasp of the heart of it or what it was really about."

Johnson was tight-lipped on what the premise for that sci-fi film would be, stating, "I'm still hoping that I'll wake up in the middle of the night and say ah-hah it's this!" Maybe we'll see the film in the future, when Johnson isn't tied to his new Star Wars trilogy — or maybe even sooner. Johnson wasn't against the idea of tackling a new original film once he wrapped up his new trilogy, but he admitted that the Star Wars films "felt just as personal and meaningful to me as any my own films."

Listen to the full episode of The /Filmcast will it goes live later tonight to hear more of Johnson's insights and revelations about The Last Jedi.