Rian Johnson answered even more fan questions about his film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, at a recent Q&A, where the director said that the debates surrounding the franchise are what makes the movies so fun. Even though it was critically acclaimed, some fans found writer/director Johnson’s creative decisions for the eighth film in the Skywalker saga disconcerting. The film currently holds a 91% fresh critics score next to a 44% rotten audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Johnson has never shied away from openly addressing the movie divisive nature both on Twitter and in public.
The majority of fan criticism of The Last Jedi revolves around the film’s departure from Star Wars tradition: a chase-sequence narrative, the abrupt defeat of Supreme Leader Snoke, the reveal of Rey’s parentage, and the deconstruction of Luke Sykwalker. On top of these narrative debates, a small but vocal part of the fandom has also criticized the new trilogy’s focus on diverse casting. The new Star Wars films feature a number of women and people of color in important roles. The Force Awakens brought Star Wars in line with contemporary attitudes toward storytelling with this approach, and The Last Jedi is the saga’s most inclusive entry thus far.
During a WIRED Q&A this past weekend, Johnson answered fans' questions while promoting Knives Out—his first film since The Last Jedi. His new murder mystery releases later this month and is already receiving stellar reviews. Johnson, who has credited the backlash as an inspiration for Knives Out, inevitably ended up fielding questions about his Star Wars film. One audience member asked Johnson about The Last Jedi backlash and, in particular, his thoughts on criticisms of the cast’s diversity. In the very blunt way that has become Johnson’s trademark, he replied, “if someone's responding to diversity negatively, [expletive] them." The majority of the audience agreed with Johnson (if their applause is any indication), who clarified that not everyone who had problems with his film were upset about its diversity. "If anyone didn't like the movie, I'm not saying that's why they didn't like it." Johnson also believes that the rest of the fandom needs to push back against the folks who are angry at the diversity of his film's cast. "I think the fandom has to take a stand against getting defined by a very small slice of it that does not represent the lion's share."
The director admitted that he didn’t expect everyone to enjoy his take on the franchise. In fact, Johnson believes that the passionate debates surrounding new Star Wars movies are a major reason that the films retain so much cultural significance. For fans like Johnson, arguing about Star Wars is what makes it so much fun. "People care deeply about Star Wars, and every single person has a slightly different version of what they think Star Wars is. And so much of the fun of it is arguing about it."
Johnson makes a very valid point. After all, when George Lucas released his prequel trilogy, the Star Wars franchise spent many years debating the merits of the Anakin Skywalker origin story. Those films have plenty of critics as well, yet the franchise remains as powerful as ever. Despite their controversial reception, those divisive prequels also introduced an entirely new generation of fans to the franchise. They also spawned a number of cherished spin-off television shows such as The Clone Wars.
With the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, the focus is now on Johnson’s upcoming original trilogy. Fans still harbor some apprehensions as Disney leaves the franchise in his hands given The Last Jedi’s subversive narrative. Regardless, Johnson appears to have an astute understanding of “fandom” and a knack for unique storytelling. When the director of The Last Jedi takes on a brand new trilogy, he will do so with a clean slate from a storyteller's perspective.