Studio: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Director: Anthony Wonke
Writer: Tylie Cox
Producer: Tylie Cox
Stars: Rian Johnson, Ram Bergman, Kathleen Kennedy, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis
A documentary camera goes behind the scenes of production as Rian Johnson films “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” sits atop a bevy of possibilities for intelligent takeaway conversation. The bittersweet swan song for Carrie Fisher and her lasting legacy within the space opera saga. Prominent new roles for Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro, and Laura Dern furthering character diversification. The speculative significance of Rey and Supreme Leader Snoke having origins less epic than what many hyped themselves up to expect.
Unfortunately, because the online era virtually demands dumping on anything emphasizing the first word in ‘popular culture,’ the dominant discourse regarding “The Last Jedi” instead has to do with the controversial conclusion to Luke Skywalker’s arc. Backlash began with the usual complaints of “ruined childhoods” and culminated in over 100,000 people signing a pointless petition to have “The Last Jedi” stricken from “Star Wars” canon. Now it is next to impossible to discuss the eighth film in the main series without some mention of what “should have” happened with Luke versus what actually did occur.
We need another random two cents added to this dopey debate like Tatooine needs another grain of sand. I’m throwing my pennies in anyway.
Like many born in the latter half of the 1970s, I grew up worshipping all things “Star Wars,” and pretty much still do. Han Solo was the character I wanted to be like, but Luke Skywalker was the character I felt closer to. Even when factoring all of the comics, cartoons, games, and media I consumed as a kid, Luke still lands near the top spot on my list of favorite fictional heroes.
With “The Last Jedi” anticipation running hot on opening day, I excitedly texted my girlfriend who was going to see the movie with me, “I can’t believe I get to see a brand new Luke Skywalker adventure tonight for the first time in 35 years!” When the screening let out later that evening, still well before fanboy furor inflamed the internet, I then said to her while walking to our car, “well, that’s not how I wanted to see things turn out for Luke, but storytelling-wise, I understand why they did it and I’m all in with wherever the creators choose to continue taking this tale.”
I don’t say this with any intentional air of snooty superiority. But this is a rational response of reconciliation between the child I was, whose imagination had few sensible boundaries or external concerns, and the adult I am, who understands narrative necessities and responsible franchise stewardship.
Mark Hamill, no surprise, gets it too. Early in the feature-length documentary “The Director and the Jedi,” Hamill recalls, “I told Rian … I fundamentally disagree with your concept of this character … Now having said that, I’ll do everything within my power to realize your vision. (Because Luke Skywalker) belongs to other people. They just rent it out to me.”
As suggested by the title, “The Director and the Jedi” presents itself as a behind-the-scenes curtain pullback framed with Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill at its core. It isn’t actually an exposé of their creative collaboration, however. In fact, there isn’t a single scene of the two men discussing Luke Skywalker together. So if you’re expecting to see heated head-butting between Johnson and Hamill, keep in mind that while “The Director and the Jedi” plays as a standalone entity, it serves a primary purpose as a home video bonus feature. In other words, this is Disney diplomatically acknowledging a difference in initial approaches between two artists, but there is no real fuel for the fire of Luke Skywalker’s polarizing final fate.
‘Superficial’ isn’t the right one-word description for “The Director and the Jedi” because it implies fluffy filler, which the film doesn’t really have. Although it also doesn’t do a deep dive or get into anything gossipy, the documentary is an entertainingly insightful, just broadly basic, look at the impressive effort that goes into envisioning an epic.
While the conflict over Luke’s character comes up in short teases every 25 minutes or so, the real meat of the movie zeroes in on how enormous scope funnels through Rian Johnson’s singular focus. Stunt setups, creature creation, set construction, location logistics, casting, and costuming all get their due as “The Last Jedi” comes together from pre-production through the last day of filming. If we didn’t know better, someone might get the idea that making a “Star Wars” movie is surprisingly straightforward, given that what few tribulations we are privy to, such as unexpected fog while shooting on an Irish island, are overcome with only minor complications.
More often we see producers bemusedly musing or raising eyebrows about what could go wrong. Call the film insincere for not divulging the bad with the good, but remember once again, “The Director and the Jedi” is more of a promotional piece than an unfiltered development diary.
The impression we come away with instead is much better anyway, which is that this is a tight-knit group of passionate people motivated by hard work and genuine camaraderie. Watching adult cast and crewmembers jump in a Lego Star Wars-themed bounce house for Rian Johnson’s birthday, we’re reminded that many of these artists grew up with “Star Wars” no differently than we did, and their collective commitment is matched only by the sincerity of their childlike spirits.
New appreciation for their detailed craftsmanship comes from seeing Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega speculate in amazement over which creatures are practical puppets and which might be people in suits. When Mark Hamill chokes up at seeing Frank Oz operate Yoda again firsthand, and the creature crew essentially crowds around like giddy kids, we’re lost in the same nostalgic reverie over how special a new “Star Wars” film truly is. By the time the documentary winds down with an intimate look at Luke and Leia’s last moment together, it’s impossible not to feel every emotion well up in light of how Carrie Fisher’s passing alters that scene’s dynamic.
All of the above remains what is most important about “The Last Jedi’s” significance, which is ultimately how “The Director and the Jedi” connects us to what makes “Star Wars” meaningful. Rian Johnson’s final bite about the Luke Skywalker bit highlights how small that topic is in the bigger picture. Johnson says, “Luke’s big thing … is taking on that mantle of becoming a symbol of hope and inspiring a whole new generation. He genuinely believes the light needs to find another hero. I wanted Luke’s death to be on Luke’s terms. I wanted it to be peaceful, to feel like a victory.” It is. “The Last Jedi” is too, and “The Director and the Jedi” provides a brief glimpse at how Johnson’s film wins its creative war.
Review Score: 75