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"I think the instant you start thinking in terms of 'how do you not step outside of the bounds of what the original movies did,' you're not thinking the way the people who made the original movies did."
―Rian Johnson[src]

Rian Johnson is a Academy Award–nominated American filmmaker who wrote and directed the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth film in the Star Wars saga. 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 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 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". Johnson's work on The Last Jedi began in 2014.

After The Last Jedi, Johnson wrote, directed, and produced the 2019 murder mystery film Knives Out, which was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Knives Out was also the first production from T-Street, a film and television production company founded by Johnson and longtime collaborator Ram Bergman.

Biography

Early life

Rian Craig Johnson was born on December 17, 1973 in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Last Jedi

Pre-production

"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 and 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[src]

Following the release of Looper, his third feature film, Rian Johnson had a general meeting with Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm Ltd.'s then-new president. 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 World War II book Vertical Warfare, which inspired the opening bombing-run sequence of the film.[1] Early in the writing process, on Dave Filoni's advice, Johnson re-watched the Mortis story arc from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series.[2]

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 World War II 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 Rashomon. His first draft of the script was completed by the end of 2014, with the title Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi.[1]

Production

"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[src]
Slider-Johnson Fisher TLJ

Rian Johnson and Carrie Fisher on the set of The Last Jedi

The design process for 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-shaped escape pod, which was based on a vessel from the C. S. Lewis novel Perelandra. One of Johnson's major design choices was removing the helmet from Kylo Ren; this was done to reveal more of Ren's character and to showcase 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.[1] In developing Snoke's mannerisms, Johnson and actor Andy Serkis sat down and talked about it before opting to base them in those of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy.[3]

While J.J. Abrams directed The Force Awakens, Johnson requested him to change the film's original ending by swapping BB-8 for R2-D2 instead as the droid who accompanied Rey to Ahch-To.[4] This was done by Johnson so R2-D2 could convince Luke Skywalker to train Rey by showing him an hologram of Leia Organa, his sister.[5] Likewise, while developing The Last Jedi, Johnson was asked by Colin Trevorrow, the original director for Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker, to include a shot of Rey and Poe Dameron meeting for the first time.[6]

In 2015, while working with Heinrichs, Johnson envisioned building the Caretaker village set on Skellig Michael rather than using green screen, aiming to capture the real elements and interactive scenery. Subsequently, porgs were developed to digitally cover the local puffin population.[1] On March 12, Johnson was publicly announced as the writer and director for Episode VIII.[7] For an insert close-up of Luke Skywalker's gloved hand reaching for Han Solo's dice, Johnson's hand was used.[8]

Other Star Wars works

"We're doing something that steps beyond the legacy characters. What does that look like? To me, the blue sky element of it is what was most striking about it. I know the way that I'm coming at it and what's fun about it for everyone in Lucasfilm is figuring out, 'what’s the next step?' It really makes you think and figure out what the essence of Star Wars is for me and what that will look like moving forward."
―Rian Johnson, on his upcoming trilogy[src]

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,[9] and working with Fry on The Last Jedi's novelization.[10] Additionally, Johnson wrote a foreword for the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.[1]

On November 9, 2017, Lucasfilm revealed that Johnson will develop a new Star Wars trilogy, which will be separate from The Last Jedi and the episodic Skywalker saga.[11] According to a statement made by Kathleen Kennedy in April 2019, Johnson is working closely with Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who were also developing their own Star Wars film series until they left over scheduling difficulties.[12]

Personal life

"Before I made The Last Jedi, I had never had anyone hate me on the Internet. If during the course of a year I got one negative Tweet I would go into a panic. I'd be like 'Oh my god, someone out there doesn't like me. I need to fix this!' The thing is though, I am really really thankful. Because what that meant is that my sense of self-worth was attached to the notion of everybody liking me online. And the fact that this process has made me, out of survival, disconnect from that."
―Rian Johnson, regarding online criticism[src]

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 a positive impact on him, and he recalled playing with Star Wars toys. When A New Hope was released on home video in 1982, Johnson would often rent the VHS tape and watch it with friends. 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.[1] When Johnson went to see Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, he was at first disappointed, but over time, it became his favorite Star Wars movie.[13] In 2019, Johnson returned to Skywalker Ranch to mix his film Knives Out with a team at Skywalker Sound.[14]

Filmography

Star Wars

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YearTitleRole(s)Other notes
2016Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryActor (Uncredited, Imperial Technician); Special thanks
2017Star Wars Battlefront IISpecial thanksVideo game
2017Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last JediDirector; Writer
2018The Director and the JediSelfDocumentary
TBAUntitled Star Wars trilogyCreator

Other

YearTitleRole(s)Other notes
1995OmahaProduction assistant
1996Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!!Director; Writer; EditorShort film
1997Greater Than a TigerEditorShort film
1998PhyfutimaCamera operatorShort film
2001Ben Boyer and the Phenomenology of Automobile MarketingDirectorShort film
2002The Psychology of Dream AnalysisDirector; WriterShort film
2002MayEditor
2005BrickDirector; Writer; EditorDirectorial debut
2006Building 'Brick'Camera operatorVideo documentary
2008The Mountain Goats: Woke Up NewDirectorMusic video
2008The Brothers BloomDirector; Writer
2010TerriersDirectorTelevision series (1 episode: "Manifest Destiny")
2010The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to ComeDirectorVideo documentary
2012LooperDirector; Writer
2010–2013Breaking BadDirectorTelevision series (3 episodes: "Fly", "Fifty-One", "Ozymandias")
2014HitRecord on TVWriterTelevision series (1 episode: "RE: Trash")
2015BoJack HorsemanVoice actor (Bryan)Television series (2 episodes: "Yes And", "Out to Sea")
2018LCD Soundsystem: Oh BabyDirectorMusic video
2019Knives OutProducer; Director; Writer
TBAKnives Out 2Producer; Director; Writer

Published works

YearTitleFormatNotes
2017 The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi Book Foreword; with Phil Szostak

Bibliography

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  2. TwitterLogo Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) on Twitter: "I rewatched these eps (on @dave_filoni’s advice) early in the writing process, they’re so gorgeous and boundary pushing." (backup link)
  3. Polowy, Kevin (2017-12-07). 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi': Andy Serkis Reveals How Hugh Hefner Inspired Snoke. yahoo.com. Archived from the original on May 3, 2019. Retrieved on May 3, 2019.
  4. Breznican, Anthony (2017-05-04). Star Wars: The Last Jedi director asked for a droid swap in The Force Awakens. Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on July 1, 2020. Retrieved on May 4, 2017.
  5. Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi
  6. De Semlyen, Nick (2019-11-22). Star Wars: Colin Trevorrow On His Rise Of Skywalker Writing Credit And His Last Jedi Contribution – Exclusive. empireonline.com. Archived from the original on July 1, 2020.
  7. SWCustom-2011 Rogue One is the First Star Wars Stand-Alone Film, Rian Johnson to Write and Direct Star Wars: Episode VIII on StarWars.com (backup link)
  8. Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi commentary
  9. SWCustom-2011 8 Reasons Star Wars: Bloodline Will Be Essential Reading on StarWars.com (backup link)
  10. SWCustom-2011 The Last Jedi Novelization to Feature Deleted Scenes, Star Wars Day at Sea, and More! on StarWars.com (backup link)
  11. SWCustom-2011 Rian Johnson, Writer-Director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, to Create All-New Star Wars Trilogy on StarWars.com (backup link)
  12. Breznican, Anthony (2019-04-13). Lucasfilm Putting the Star Wars Movies 'On Hiatus' After This Year. Entertainment Weekly. ew.com. Archived from the original on May 3, 2019. Retrieved on May 3, 2019. "As [Benioff and Weiss] finish Game of Thrones, they're going to segue into Star Wars. They're working very closely with Rian."
  13. Ryan, Mike (2019-09-09). Rian Johnson On His Delightful Murder Mystery 'Knives Out,' And The Past And Future Of 'Star Wars'. Uproxx. upproxx.com. Archived from the original on September 10, 2019. Retrieved on September 10, 2019.
  14. Knives Out featurette: "Making a Murder"

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