- "We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi. He's a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy."
- ―Kathleen Kennedy
Rian Johnson is an American filmmaker who wrote and directed the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the second episode of the sequel trilogy. His work on The Last Jedi received several accolades, including the Empire Award for Best Director and the Saturn Award for Best Writing. Johnson is also developing a new Star Wars film trilogy, which will be separate from the episodic Skywalker saga.
Johnson's filmmaking career began in 2005 with Brick, an independent feature which he wrote and directed. His debut was critically acclaimed at Sundance Film Festival. Johnson went on to write and direct the successful science fiction film Looper, which premiered in 2012. He also directed three episodes of the television series Breaking Bad, including the highly-regarded 2013 episode "Ozymandias." In 2014, Johnson began work on The Last Jedi.
Rian Craig Johnson was born on December 17, 1973 in Silver Spring, Maryland. At a young age, Johnson moved to Denver, Colorado and later San Clemente, California. He graduated from San Clemente High School in 1992, and began attending the University of Southern California, the same university attended by Star Wars creator George Lucas. During his time at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Johnson worked as a production assistant on the 1995 film Omaha. He graduated from USC in 1996, also completing his first short film, Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!!, in the same year.
In the late 90s, Johnson worked for the Disney Channel. In the following years, Johnson served as a crew member of several short films, working as an editor for 1997's Greater Than a Tiger and as a cameraman for 1998's Phyfutima. In 2001 and 2002, Johnson directed the shorts Ben Boyer and the Phenomenology of Automobile Marketing and The Psychology of Dream Analysis, which he also wrote. Later in 2002, Johnson served as an editor for the feature film May.
2005 saw the release of Rian Johnson's debut feature film, Brick, a high-school film-noir drama starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Filmed on a budget of under $500,000 and produced by Johnson's friend Ram Bergman, the independent film won several awards, gaining early buzz at Sundance Film Festival, where Johnson received the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision. Following Johnson's debut was The Brothers Bloom, a 2008 con-man film starring Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, and Adrien Brody, also produced by Bergman. The Brothers Bloom was met with mixed critical responses, but it demonstrated Johnson's ability to work with big-name talents, film at a variety of locations, and execute action sequences. Following The Brothers Bloom, Johnson worked on the AMC television series Breaking Bad, directing the 2010 episode "Fly." It has been described as the most polarizing episode in the series, although many critics called it one of the show's best episodes.
Johnson's third feature was the time-travel film Looper, which was again produced by Bergman and starred Gordon-Levitt, alongside Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. The film was released in 2012 to positive reviews, with critics praising Johnson's writing and many calling it a science-fiction classic. Also showcased in 2012 was Johnson's return to Breaking Bad with the season five episode "Fifty-One." The episode was well-received, and Johnson won a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing. In 2013, Johnson directed his third and final episode of Breaking Bad, "Ozymandias." Since it first aired, "Ozymandias" has been universally praised, with many considering it to be one of the single greatest television episodes ever made.
The Last JediEdit
- "This is my first studio movie and my first experience doing anything approaching this kind of scale and scope—both in terms of the film itself and in terms of the process: the amount of people an the amount of money involved. So I didn't know what to expect. But this was one of the most pleasurable writing experiences that I've had, for some odd reason. That pressure never actually came into play, and I found I was able to very naturally sync into this world—to play in it and feel it out. It felt fun. Writing never feels fun. It was very unusual. This was not the typical self-doubt and torture. This was a bizarrely pleasurable writing experience."
- ―Rian Johnson
Following the release of Looper, Rian Johnson had a general meeting with Lucasfilm's new president, Kathleen Kennedy. After being called in for a second meeting, Johnson was offered to direct Episode VIII of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Johnson was shocked, and after putting thought into the offer, he accepted, and Bergman was again brought on as a producer. Johnson then met with Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, and he met with Rick Carter, co-production designer of The Force Awakens, having a week-long story session. Weeks later, Johnson and Ram Bergman toured the Skywalker Ranch archives, where they examined Star Wars props, costumes, and art. In the Skywalker Ranch library, Johnson found the WWII book Vertical Warfare, which inspired the opening bombing-run sequence of the film.
By early summer of 2014, Johnson was deep in the writing process. He started by analyzing each of the characters from The Force Awakens and determining what would challenge them the most. That understanding formed his foundation for the story and set pieces. Throughout July, Johnson scheduled a series of films to be screened for Episode VIII's cast and crew. The titles selected each represented a tone or aspect he wished to convey. The series included the samurai film Three Outlaw Samurai, the Soviet drama Letter Never Sent, the WWII film Twelve O'Clock High, the war epic The Bridge on the River Kwai, the adventure film Gunga Din, the romantic thriller To Catch a Thief, and the war drama Sahara. During the screening series, Johnson was invited to join the informal Intellectual Property Development Group to help visualize the Force-bond between Rey and Kylo Ren. Johnson had a minimalist approach, and they decided to simply intercut between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. By August, Johnson had completed the basic story, and he shared his ideas with production designer Rick Heinrichs. In a late addition to the script, Johnson added the three flashback scenes to add more character motivation, taking inspiration from the Japanese film Rashômon. His first draft of the script was completed by the end of 2014, with the title Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi.
- "I feel super proud of the movie and everything that I wanted it to be, I feel like it is. Whether the whole world sees it because it's a Star Wars movie or a few people see it because it's a small movie, that's always just the best that you can do—is make something you're proud of."
- ―Rian Johnson, on The Last Jedi
Designing The Last Jedi began during the summer of 2014, during the shooting of The Force Awakens. Johnson contributed dozens of ideas to the film's designs, including the nun-based Caretakers and the Millennium Falcon's coffin-esque escape pod (based on a vessel from C. S. Lewis' novel Perelandra). One of Johnson's biggest design choices was removing the helmet from Kylo Ren, in order to get inside the character and to further Driver's performance. Johnson also created the look of Snoke's throne room, comparing Snoke to the titular character from The Wizard of Oz, and adding theatricality inspired by Anthony Minghella's production of the opera Madama Butterfly. In 2015, while working with Heinrichs, Johnson envisioned building the Caretaker village set on Skellig Michael rather than using green screen, in order to capture the real elements and interactive scenery. Since Skellig Michael is home to puffins, porgs were developed to cover them up.
Other Star Wars workEdit
During production of The Last Jedi, Johnson filmed a cameo as a Death Star Trooper for the 2016 stand-alone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and he received a special thanks. He also received a special thanks by the 2017 video game Star Wars Battlefront II. Johnson also collaborated with Star Wars authors Claudia Gray and Jason Fry, offering story ideas for Gray's novel Bloodline, and working with Fry on The Last Jedi's novelization. Additionally, Johnson wrote a foreward for the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
As stated in The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson's earliest memory is going with his father to see Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope in 1977. The film had an impact on him, and he recalled playing with Star Wars toys. When A New Hope was released on home video in 1982, Johnson would repeatedly rent a VHS copy and invite his friends over to watch it. Johnson also acquired other Star Wars media, including records, novels, the holiday album Christmas in the Stars, and the book Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects, which he called the most important Star Wars-related book he had. Overall, Johnson's biggest experience with Star Wars was talking about it with his friends.
Johnson has also stated that his film career was largely inspired by the 1977 romantic comedy Annie Hall, which he credited with breaking the rules of film narrative and moving him in a unique way.
Outside of his filmmaking career, Rian Johnson is a folk singer and banjo player. He and his cousin, Nathan Johnson (who composed the musical scores for Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper), form a folk duo named The Preserves.
Notes and referencesEdit
- Rian Johnson on Wikipedia