As we speak, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available for digital download and it will be available on Blu-ray and 4K (the first Star Wars film to be offered in this format to date) on March 27. An advance copy of the Blu-ray showed up in our mailbox today (sadly, not the 4K, because I was hoping to write about how Star Wars looks in this format, but I’ve been told that it’s coming) so we decided to listen to director Rian Johnson’s director commentary track – and for a film that clocks in at 152 minutes and with a director who likes to talk about filmmaking, there’s a lot going on here.
It’s interesting: Johnson says more than a few times that he’s recording the commentary before the film is released into theaters and mentions on multiple occasions some iteration of, “I wonder how audiences will react to this part.” Now that he’s well aware of what audiences reacted to, I kind of wish he’d go back and do another commentary track. And I realize if he’s reading this he’s shaking his head saying, “That’s crazy, no way,” but it would be pretty fascinating during the scenes that became somewhat, let’s say, polarizing.
Regardless, this is still a fascinating commentary. (Full disclosure: I say this as someone who doesn’t listen to many of these and, when I do, usually find them somewhat dull.) Anyway, here’s what stood out:
• Johnson confirmed something I’ve suspected but have never heard before (and I’m sure it’s out there, I just haven’t seen it): the opening theme to Star Wars during the crawl is slightly different each time. John Williams rerecords the score every time and each time the mix isn’t quite the same. In the past I thought, maybe, it was just the way the different sound systems were set up in different theaters, but this is actually a thing.
• Within five minutes of the commentary starting, Johnson references the 2015 horror movie, The Witch. Three minutes later Johnson then references The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This is a commentary track with a lot of nerdy movie references.
• Johnson reveals that to get the look right on Kylo Ren’s smashed helmet he had to do it himself by stomping on it with his own feet. (I kind of wish J.J. Abrams would have stopped by the set on this day to say hello and accidentally witnessed this. “Oh, so, you don’t like the helmet I came up with?”)
• During the scene when Chewbacca almost eats a cooked Porg, Johnson can’t help but giggle while talking about it.
• Johnson’s one cameo in the film is when Luke pulls down Han’s dice in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. That’s Johnson’s gloved hand in the closeup.
• During the scene when Adam Driver appears shirtless – a moment that would later become a future internet meme – Johnson simply states, “Adam Driver ladies and gentleman, looking good.”
• Johnson says that when Kylo Ren gives his perspective of the flashback with Luke Skywalker, Johnson feels Kylo Ren is telling the truth – that, from his perspective, is what happened.
• Johnson also said one of the trickiest aspects of the film was getting Kylo Ren to a place where the audience would at least think it’s plausible that Rey would want to eventually interact with him. Because when the movie starts — where The Force Awakens left off — we had just watched Kylo Ren kill Han Solo. It’s pretty hard to come back from that. And Johnson later says that, by the end, he wanted Kylo Ren to be in a position where he’s closer to the villain he wanted to be in the first film of this trilogy.
• When discussing Benicio del Toro’s DJ, Johnson was adamant he didn’t want DJ to “see the light” like so many other Star Wars characters before him had — like Han and Lando. He wanted this character to “stick to his guns,” so to speak, and remain kind of a jerk. Johnson also said that DJ’s last line to Finn, after Finn tells him he’s wrong, “Maybe,” was something Del Toro came up with on the spot. Johnson said the original last line was a “movie line” like, “wrong and rich.”
• The scene when Finn decks Phasma in the face after their long fight was inspired directly from a similar scene in Back to the Future Part II after Marty rises up on the DeLorean and the door smacks Biff in the face.
• Johnson clearly has a soft spot for the final coda of the film that shows all the inspired kids. Johnson says that the film could have easily ended with the Falcon flying off into space with all the heroes on board, but that last shot shows that Luke fulfilled what he set out to do: Luke didn’t just save a few remaining Resistance fighters, but also reignited hope in the galaxy.
• And finally, my favorite one: Johnson admits the gunning stations in the Millennium Falcon make no sense. Thank you! This is something I’ve been trying to figure out since I first saw the original Star Wars. Han climbs up a ladder while Luke climbs down. Then when we see them in the gunner positions, it kind of appears they are sitting straight up, and in reality while it’s being filmed, they are, but in the movie Han is facing straight up and Luke is straight down. In this photo, that tunnel behind Han goes straight down. This is weird!
And as Johnson admits, in an atmosphere with gravity, or even a ship that seems to have gravity, this makes no sense whatsoever. So, when making the movie, he said you kind of just have to go with it because that’s the way it’s always been. This is a good answer.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.