Back when Rian Johnson was first hired to write and direct Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he set up a film camp of sorts for the Lucasfilm Story Group, screening six films that would relay the kind of tone and themes that would be influencing him in creating what eventually became The Last Jedi. Or as Johnson puts it today, thinking back to when this happened, “These movies have basic ingredients, I think, that would be good to have in our heads while I’m coming up with this story. Let’s watch them and get them in there.”
In 2015, Johnson told this story at Star Wars Celebration in London, which of course sent fans off looking for clues within the six films he mentioned. (It’s fun to imagine obsessed Star Wars fans watching Letter Never Sent, a Russian film set in Siberia, looking for clues about Kylo Ren.)
Now that we’ve all seen The Last Jedi (and if you haven’t, there are minor spoilers ahead), ahead, Johnson goes through those six movies and explains just how each of them relates to what we saw in The Last Jedi.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
“I’m doing a big David Lean rewatch. I’m rewatching a bunch of stuff of his recently, kind of inspired by Phantom Thread. I went back to his romances and just started rewatching a bunch of stuff. And oh my God, that movie’s incredible. The Bridge on the River Kwai, well, there’s obviously the war element. There’s also the mission element of it, which, it’s an incredible mission movie. And the thing I had remembered about it, which on the rewatch, I was glad I revisited, was kind of the amount of personal emotion that gets into a mission movie and the degree to which you deeply care about the characters. You can see it reflected a little in the Admiral Holdo and Poe thing, the uneasy kind of tension between them. You know, William Holden is kind of the hotshot American – versus Alec Guinness, the sort of stiff upper lip commander. And it’s something that is a common thing in war movies.”
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
“Twelve O’Clock High explores that in a different kind of way. But also Dawn Patrol. I mean, war movies are rife with subordinate/superior tension. You see it a lot in war films. Anyway, but also just a damn good adventure with some real moral weight to it.”
Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
“This was kind of in lieu of rewatching Kurosawa, because I’m a big Kurosawa fan and I’ve seen his movies lots and lots of times. So I felt we were all familiar enough with Kurosawa, I thought let’s dig into some stuff that maybe we haven’t seen in the samurai genre. This is that era where they were trying stylistic things that were a little funky or a little more out there. And just style-wise, it’s got something that was going to push it out beyond what we maybe expected from a samurai film. The direction of that movie is incredible. But then, also, there’s the kind of unexpected camaraderie, this uneasy alliance with these samurai. There’s the whole issue of class in it in its own way, which plays out. And this is something that does pop up in Kurosawa films, but there is the flea-bitten samurai who they find in jail and is kind grubby and waking up, ‘Oh, God, really? Do I have to?’ And he is actually the one who ends up having incredible skills. That was kind of the most direct lift from that movie.”
“It’s a war film, but it’s also more specific. It was because I was toying with this idea of the Resistance being kind of isolated and on their own and pursued by enemies. And this movie is a supreme example of that, of this small group of soldiers in this one tank and their increasingly desperate situation.”
Letter Never Sent (1960)
“Again, this is back when there were just clouds of ideas forming. But to me, I’d seen the Criterion and the release of that just at home, and I wanted to watch it on the big screen with everyone because, I mean, you watch that movie and you’re amazed the actors survived the shooting of it. The way that it places its actors in the natural world and the way that you just feel. It feels like a 4D experience. It feels like nature is pouring out of the screen all around you. And especially with a movie like this where the danger is getting that kind of green screen separation with the actors — just getting back to the idea that Star Wars is all about feeling like you’re there, and this very tactile feeling. And that was the main reason I wanted to watch that with everybody.”
Gunga Din (1939)
“Gunga Din was mostly because it’s the closest of all the things we watched that has, I think, that sense of kind of poppy adventure, that maybe more influenced the Indiana Jones trilogy. Like, obviously, you watch Gunga Din, it’s Temple of Doom, basically. But just that sense of fun and camaraderie, which, to me, gets directly back to Luke, Leia, and Han on the Death Star and the banter between them. And the swashbuckling sense of slightly arch high adventure among dashing friends, which I think is a big ingredient in these movies. And I know we were watching some heavier stuff, obviously, with the other films. I thought something that presents adventure in a lighter, more fun way would be a really good thing.”
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