The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson reveals he was disappointed by The Empire Strikes Back when he first saw it as a child. Though it's considered arguably the best film in the Star Wars franchise, there was a point in time when the reaction to Empire was much more divisive. Following the whizz-bang space opera of A New Hope, many were surprised by the darker turns Empire took, such as Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and Luke Skywalker learning the horrifying truth about his father. Additionally, the film ended on a downer cliffhanger, leaving some feeling unfulfilled.
Empire's reputation drastically improved in the years since, becoming the gold standard for Hollywood franchise sequels (every other property has tried to make their Empire Strikes Back). It's amusing to know that the film wasn't always held in such high regard. Even someone who would go on to make his own divisive Star Wars movie wasn't particularly enamored with it when he first watched it in his youth.
In an interview with UPROXX to promote Knives Out, Johnson touched on his relationship to The Empire Strikes Back. It eventually became his favorite one, but after his first viewing, he wasn't a big fan:
But, as a kid, I distinctly remember being disappointed by The Empire Strikes Back.
When Johnson's The Last Jedi became one of the most polarizing films of the decade nearly two years ago, many remarked how the response was similar to initial Empire reactions. Johnson himself was hesitant to play up that comparison in the interview, but the parallels are definitely there. Fans were disappointed by some of Johnson's creative choices, which subverted many expectations people had going into the film. Some maintain the belief The Last Jedi's own reputation will improve once The Rise of Skywalker comes out and people can view it within the full context of the sequel trilogy. It's not a coincidence Empire became the high bar for Star Wars after Return of the Jedi wrapped up the original trilogy and viewers could see how it all came together.
Whether or not that happens, obviously, remains to be seen, but Johnson's case is encouraging that perhaps some will change their views on The Last Jedi in the next few years. Of course, there will always be people displeased by the film (which is par for the course with something as massive as Star Wars), but it would be nice if Last Jedi discourse wasn't as heated and volatile as it is now. That will probably depend on what The Rise of Skywalker does to definitively end the story, so ideally the saga will conclude on a high note and there will be more people like Johnson - where disappointment over Last Jedi turns into appreciation.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019