If you have not seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi and do not want to read massive spoilers, please stop reading. This is not a test, please stop now.
Okay, if you’re still with us, that means you’ve probably seen The Last Jedi and you might have a lot of questions about some of the more shocking moments in the film. The good news is, we have some answers. (Beyond confirming The Last Jedi‘s dorkiest reference, which Johnson talked to us about previously.) On Friday, we spoke to writer and director Rian Johnson about three very specific plot points of The Last Jedi. (Again, this is your last warning.) More specifically…
• The return of an old friend from the Original Trilogy and Prequels that we were not expecting to see. And how, specifically, this old friend is the way we remember him from The Empire Strikes Back and why that was so important. (Also, Weird Al is a topic.)
• The mysterious Snoke, and why what happens to him happens the way it does.
• The fate of our old friend, Luke Skywalker. And why Luke’s destiny had to be a contrast to that of his old pal, Han Solo.
You fulfilled Weird Al Yankovic’s prophecy that Luke would be making movies with his Yoda until the end of time…
[Laughs.] “The long term contract I had to sign, we’ll be making these movies until the end of time.” Oh, I can recite the whole song…
“With my Yoda.”
Oh, that was on my mind. I should have just had that song when that scene played out.
That would have been great.
I should have, man. I really should have.
Was that always a character you wanted to bring back?
Yeah, it made a lot of sense, I think.
You went with The Empire Strikes Back version of Yoda, the ornery version.
That felt really important to me. And, actually, I cut some of that out and Frank Oz said to me I had to put it back. Because when I first pitched him the scene, it’s like the Yoda from Empire is back because that’s the one Luke had the emotional connection with. And that’s why we did the puppet and recreated the Empire puppet: Neal Scanlan and his team did a recreation of the Yoda puppet. It’s not only a puppet, it’s an exact replica of the Empire puppet. They found the original molds for it. They found the woman that painted the original eyes for Yoda. Then Frank came and worked with them for a few weeks to get the puppet right. He did a lot of testing and a lot of adjusting with the puppet creators. It was amazing to watch the process. The idea that the last time Luke saw Yoda was in Return of the Jedi and the notion of getting back to that version of Yoda to form the emotional connection with Luke – including a glimpse of the impishness, as part of their relationship. It made a lot of sense.
You’re going to poo-poo this, but with Snoke it almost felt like you didn’t know where he was going anyway, so let’s just get rid of him.
[Laughs.] Um, no, yeah, that’s not really the driving force behind it. But I did definitely think the notion behind this movie, for me, from the start, was to evolve Kylo into a complicated, more solid villain. I guess “villain,” for lack of a better word. But someone who takes the reins and steps up and is no longer just pretending to be Vader, but has become his own version of a formidable force. And going into Episode IX, that’s the strongest launching pad. That’s where you want to put your money down. And if you’re dealing with a superior of his, that just seemed less interesting to me than clearing the deck so Kylo can be the main guy. And it gives an opportunity for a big, dramatic beat that’s really interesting and we get to have some fun with him.
Did you debate how to end it with Luke, or was that always the plan?
Well, I debated it a lot, but it was always in my head that always made sense to me for a lot of different reasons. First of all, this is Luke’s movie. Mark gives a great performance in it. His journey back to taking on the mantle of the legend of Luke Skywalker, basically — something he had rejected as being unhealthy for the universe. And him coming around to realizing that the galaxy needs this — “I need to be the legend they need me to be,” and taking that on his shoulders. Once he does that and comes back and does this heroic act that’s going to resonate throughout the universe, the notion that then that’s the moment to give him his final bow. And that’s the most emotionally potent time to do that made a lot of sense. And, honestly, thinking about the number of characters we have on our plate going into the next movie — and I’m not working on the script for IX with J.J. [Abrams] and Chris [Terrio] and I want to be totally clear I don’t know what they’re doing – but it just vaguely seemed good to me that putting Luke in another realm could open possibilities for his possible involvement in the next one. As opposed to him just being another character that had to be juggled into the plot, if that makes sense.
Did you ever think this was going to happen someday anyway, so you should be the one to do it because you knew how to do it?
No, no, that was never at all… In fact, I was always like, oh God, this has to happen here. It was a slight feeling of dread and nervousness over the responsibility of doing it and doing it right. But I did it because it felt like the right time and it felt like the right place.
Did you ever worry about after what happened to Han Solo in The Force Awakens audiences might not be able to take this back-to-back?
Well, first of all I wanted it to be a contrast to Han in VII. In that Han in VII was violent and it was a defeat. Whereas Luke, I wanted it to be peaceful and a victory. I wanted him to win with this. So I thought, from the very start, that’s how I wanted it to feel. And the other element of it is it just rung true for me. It rung true for Han and it rings true with Luke. So many of us who grew up with these movies are at a place in our lives where we had people we had in these positions of mentorships are starting to get older and starting to deal with — whether it’s losing them or just our relationship with them changing and it becoming something else, it’s an element of life that I think a lot of people of my age who are Star Wars fans are starting to deal with. It felt emotionally honest to have that in there as well.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.