Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker premiered this week, and reactions to the concluding chapter of the saga have been largely negative. As of this writing, the sequel has a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes—compared to The Force Awakens at 93% and The Last Jedi at 91%. Rian Johnson, who directed the second film in the new trilogy, is no stranger to being on the receiving end of negative reactions; despite that 91% score, many fans in the Star Wars community were not pleased with how the filmmaker subverted the expectations set up by J.J. Abrams in The Force Awakens. While Johnson has yet to formally chime in on The Rise Of Skywalker, which saw Abrams return to the director’s chair, the filmmaker does have some very interesting thoughts on catering to fandoms versus challenging and surprising them. IndieWire picked up Johnson’s comments from a December 13 interview on the Swings & Mrs. podcast, where he shared his opinion on the creative process:
I think approaching any creative process with [making fandoms happy] would be a mistake that would lead to probably the exact opposite result. Even my experience as a fan, you know if I’m coming into something, even if it’s something that I think I want, if I see exactly what I think I want on the screen, it’s like ‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me.
One of the prevailing criticisms of The Rise Of Skywalker is that Abrams—along with co-writer Chris Terrio—appears to have given a little too much consideration to fan complaints about The Last Jedi. The end result is a predictable conclusion to the trilogy, and one that’s ultimately rather unsatisfying—which echoes Johnson’s sentiments. The filmmaker went on to explain that, as a movie fan, he enjoys being challenged:
I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard, I want to have things recontextualized, I want to be challenged as a fan when I sit down in the theater…What I’m aiming for every time I sit down in a theater is to have the experience [I had] with ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ something that’s emotionally resonant and feels like it connects up and makes sense and really gets to the heart of what this thing is and in a way that I never could have seen coming.
Johnson clearly brings that perspective to his own filmmaking, whether he’s upending expectations in The Last Jedi or playing with classic murder mystery tropes in his latest effort, Knives Out. Although there is a vocal contingent of fans angry with Johnson for his narrative choices in The Last Jedi, there are just as many fans who loved the film, which was also heartily praised by critics. Johnson’s comments, paired with the critical response to The Rise Of Skywalker, call to mind George Lucas’ reaction following a private screening of The Force Awakens. Back in September, The Hollywood Reporter shared excerpts from Disney CEO Bob Iger’s memoir, The Ride Of A Lifetime, wherein he detailed Lucas’ comments:
Things didn’t improve when Lucas saw the finished movie. Following a private screening, Iger recalls, Lucas “didn’t hide his disappointment. ‘There’s nothing new,’ he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, ‘There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.’ He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars.”
Perhaps Johnson is right.