The home media release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi includes a commentary track from director Rian Johnson, where he reveals some interesting nuggets about the movie. At this point, it feels like there isn't anything else to say about Episode VIII. After months of pre-release coverage and hype, the conversation went in a truly fascinating direction when the movie polarized audiences. Ever since December 2017, just about everything in Last Jedi has been the topic of a hotly-contested debate, so even with the movie in headlines once again to commemorate its arrival on digital and Blu-ray, some thought the talk would be more subdued. However, there's still much to learn.
Johnson recorded his commentary before The Last Jedi was theatrically released, so he did not know what the public reception would be. Instead, Johnson discusses the making of the movie and how things came together, providing insight that cinephiles are sure to enjoy. Here are some of the biggest revelations Johnson made on his track.
Defending the Comedy
The humor of The Last Jedi drew heavy amounts of criticism, with some feeling it was too sophomoric and out-of-place for a Star Wars movie. In particular, the opening bit of Poe Dameron putting General Hux on hold as a stalling tactic drew the ire of many, but Johnson obviously has a soft spot for it. He felt it was necessary to establish a fun tone early on, knowing that the middle chapter of a trilogy is usually the most dramatic. The goal here was to let people know they could have a good time, and this was still an entertaining Star Wars flick. Johnson cited The Force Awakens and the original trilogy as his key influences here.
Related: General Hux's Comedy Makes Sense
General Hux was the butt of many jokes, which was another conscious choice on Johnson's part. He felt Hux could be an entertaining "foil" and serve as a funnier antagonist when compared to Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. Johnson didn't want the First Order to be overly dark and serious, and since he had plenty of dramatic beats set up for the former Ben Solo, he let Hux be the opposite side of the coin. If anything, this should benefit Episode IX, seeing that they are the two main villains left alive in the sequels.
Challenging the Characters
Johnson previously revealed when he sat down to write the script, he listed all the main characters and thought about the greatest test they could face. In the case of Poe, Johnson's intent was to transition him from "hero to leader" as he learns a valuable lesson about warfare. For Finn, the director noticed in The Force Awakens, the ex-stormtrooper acts out of his individual interest of saving Rey, not keeping the larger cause in mind. This is why Finn is paired with Rose for most of the film, as their mission allows him to get a grasp of the larger picture and understand what's at stake. There are several moments peppered throughout that depict this change in mindset.
The character Johnson was most excited to write for was Kylo Ren, who was established as a nuanced and compelling villain in Force Awakens. Since Kylo killed Han Solo, Johnson thought the audience would come into Last Jedi hating him. So, he worked on digging deeper into Kylo's psyche to give audiences (and Rey) a better understanding of Kylo. Another goal Johnson wanted to accomplish was to let Ren take the next steps to becoming the villain he aspired to be in Episode VII. Killing Snoke and becoming the new Supreme Leader means that was very much achieved.
Explaining Luke's Saber Toss
For two years, viewers were left with the final image of Force Awakens, wondering what would happen next when Luke was reunited with his old lightsaber. It was a shock when the Jedi tossed it over his shoulder as if it was nothing, and this was done to illustrate how Skywalker's outlook on life changed since the original trilogy. One of the things Johnson had to do was explain why Luke had fled to Ahch-To, knowing full well his friends are in danger. The Luke we all know would never run away in fear, so Johnson made the older Luke a broken man filled with shame. Luke was under the impression the galaxy was better off without him and decided he would stay out of its affairs.
Luke's portrayal, of course, is one of the most infamous aspects about the movie. Even Mark Hamill expressed concern over how the character was written - something he later regretted sharing publicly. In the end, this was really the only way for Johnson to go. J.J. Abrams was the one who had Luke vanish at the Resistance's greatest time of need, which sort of boxed Johnson in. This was also the best way to make Luke's arc fully pay off. If he valiantly answered the call for help right away, there'd be no conflict. Watching him transition from curmudgeon to hero was exceptionally rewarding.
"It's Time for the Jedi To End"
Following the teaser trailer's premiere at Star Wars Celebration 2017, this was the line most associated with the film. The farm boy who once told Obi-Wan he wanted to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi was now saying the Order had to cease to exist. This was our first glimpse into how different Luke was and succinctly summed up one of the film's main themes. But originally, the line wasn't this straightforward.
Johnson can't recall exactly what he wrote initially, but he said on the commentary he came up with a much more "convoluted" version of this sentiment. The people who edited the trailer trimmed out a section of this dialogue and gave the world that immortal statement. It wasn't until Johnson saw the teaser himself that he realized this simpler take was much more effective and incorporated it into the final cut.
Vice Admiral Holdo's Personality
The subplot involving Poe Dameron's antagonistic dynamic with Vice Admiral Holdo was one of the few Last Jedi sections to be significantly altered during reshoots. During principal photography, Laura Dern played the character with "hippy dippy" sensibilities, and Johnson feared they went too far in that direction. When it came time for the pickups, the characterization was changed to what is seen in the finished movie. With this new approach, Johnson was still able to convey that Holdo is a different kind of leader - even if she wasn't as "spacey" as initially intended.
Canon enthusiasts may cry foul at this development, since it arguably creates a contrast with the way Holdo was portrayed in Claudia Gray's Leia: Princess of Alderaan. However, this decision ultimately made the movie better. Not only is it easily explainable since people change as they grow older (Holdo is a teenager in Leia), it also makes it easier to buy Holdo as an authoritative figure. Many compared her to Luna Lovegood after the book came out, and while many Harry Potter fans like the quirky Hogwarts student, few would have put her in charge of the Order of the Phoenix. With Holdo stepping in for Leia, she had to exhibit the traits of a strong leader.
Rose Tico was another character who was changed during development. During her introductory scene with Finn, Johnson revealed he had conceived Rose as an "Eeyore type" - a reference to the Winnie the Pooh character. However, Kelly Marie Tran's casting necessitated some rewrites. Johnson was enamored with the actress' spirit and enthusiasm, so he revised the script in the midst of shooting to better reflect Tran's personality. She was no longer skeptical of Finn and a big fan of the person she thought of as a hero.
A sullen Rose may have been an interesting foil to the energetic Finn, but much like Holdo, this change helped The Last Jedi. It's Rose who inspires Finn to realize what's at stake and see the bigger picture, so it was vital for her to be an open-hearted, dedicated fighter. It may have been forced if Finn decided to change his mentality by spending time with a grump. Making Rose a relatable, likable everywoman standing up for what she believes in allowed her to become infectious.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019