“Just ruining all the magic here.”
As you undoubtedly know, Episode VIII in the ongoing Star Wars saga is one the highest-grossing films of all time and is universally loved by everyone whether they’ve seen it or not. There’s definitely no irrational and childish backlash against its female-led heroics or interpretation of the film universe’s fictional psychic ability, the Force. Nope. We’re all on the same page with this one. The film hits Blu-ray next week, and in addition to numerous extras including a fantastic feature-length documentary with its writer/director it also includes a commentary track. So of course we gave it a listen.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Commentator: Rian Johnson (writer/director)
1. He’s watched the film numerous times, but the one element that never gets old for him is the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” opening with John Williams‘ fanfare.
2. The opening crawl is the very first thing he started writing for the script and the very last thing he finished before having to hand the film over.
3. He gives a shout out to Craig Mazin (writer of Identity Thief) for helping tweak some of the opening crawl’s language. “He’ll be infuriated I called him out because there are still some grammatical things that he thinks are iffy.”
4. They apparently re-record the opening fanfare with Williams for each new film as opposed to simply re-using a previous version. “If you listen to all the movies every single one of them has a slightly different take on the mix of the fanfare. Some are brighter, some are warmer, The Force Awakens one has a lot of kind of sharper tack to it. We went with kind of like a warmer type feel.”
5. The film originally opened with a tilt-down to something that looks at first like a planet but is quickly revealed to be Finn (John Boyega) awakening in his sci-fi medical bubble. He changed his mind as it felt “too clever and took too long” to get to the action. It was moved to 12:52.
6. He points out Kate Dickie in an early cameo and adds that her co-star in The Witch, Ralph Ineson, also has a small role here but ended up on the cutting room floor outside of a brief glimpse of him in white at 1:35:05. The scene is available as part of the disc’s deleted scenes.
7. The opening joke — General Hux’s (Domhnall Gleeson) issues during his call with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) — was something Johnson insisted on keeping as he wanted the film to be fun despite the expected heaviness of being the trilogy’s second chapter. “It’s gonna be okay to laugh at this movie.”
8. He saw a lot of potential for humor in the character of Hux and admits to playing with him “in a slightly more comic way.”
9. “Poe in The Force Awakens is a fantastic and very charismatic hero,” he says, so he wanted to find a weakness in the character here. “The notion of turning from a hero into a leader seemed like a really interesting thing to me.”
10. They re-used the Star Destroyer bridge set for the Dreadnought bridge, but they distinguished it by lighting it “like a submarine” with red lights.
11. He and Lucasfilm’s story group watched several films in preparation for writing and making this one including 12 O’Clock High which directly influenced the creation of the bomber scene.
12. “I wanted them to be just big cows,” he says about the bombers, “like not very maneuverable so the fighters have to protect them just like they did back in the day.” He doesn’t get into it, but none of that should really matter in space right? Aerodynamics are a moot point as there’s no air to push against or displace meaning the ship’s physical design (in the traditional aerodynamic sense) won’t affect its speed or maneuverability.
13. The stunt performer standing in for Hux — well, falling for Hux — actually hit his face on the floor at 12:32 and broke his nose.
14. The idea that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) would toss the light saber away made sense to Johnson. It stems from him thinking about why Luke would be on this faraway island in the first place. “He knows his friends are fighting this good fight. He knows there’s peril out there in the galaxy, and he’s exiled himself way out here.” He knew the answer couldn’t be mere cowardice and instead would be something more positive.
15. Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) throne room is a big, practical set. Everything there is real aside from Snoke himself.
16. He’s a “huge Adam Driver fan,” and one of the first things he decided was that Kylo Ren’s mask would have to go sooner rather than later. He ended up smashing the helmet himself by stomping on it for its close-up at 19:56.
17. “It’s time for the Jedi to end” wasn’t the line that Johnson had written. His own was more convoluted and less concise, but when the marketing team cut the trailer and shortened it he loved it. He went back and edited the film to match.
18. He cut a scene showing Finn return Poe’s jacket that explains where the stitches came from, but it’s available on the disc’s deleted scenes.
19. The best advice he got from anyone before filming began came from J.J. Abrams’ editing team who told him “In every single scene just shoot a cutaway of BB-8, and you’ll never regret it.”
20. He points out Hermione Corfield as one of the pilots before making a startling confession. “I’ll cop to the fact that we just re-recorded that bit because I said Hermione Granger the first time. Sorry Hermione.” Commentary tracks are edited!
21. Regarding Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) space walk Johnson recalls Kathleen Kennedy’s reminders that Leia is a Skywalker too. She has powers, presumably beyond just sensing the loss of a loved one, “and we never see them manifest.” He says she realizes at this moment that she has more work to do, “and almost through instinct, almost like you hear about parents when their kids are caught under cars being able to get Hulk strength and lift them up, that’s kind of what I wanted this moment to be.”
22. Johnson cameos at 33:50 as the gloved hand pulling the dice down from where they were hung. The original script for The Force Awakens featured a shot of Han Solo entering and hanging them up, so this was meant as a call back. The scene was cut from The Force Awakens, so now it’s a call back to A New Hope.
23. Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) was originally much more “hippie dippy,” but they readjusted her character in editing and with pick-up shots.
24. Rose Tico was originally more of a “grumpy Eeyore type,” but once they cast Kelly Marie Tran in the role her infectious spirit took over leading him to re-write some of her scenes.
25. The scenes where Kylo and Rey (Daisy Ridley) “see” each other and converse across the galaxy were filmed with the opposing actor just off camera. So Driver was in Ireland (where the island scenes were filmed) although we never see him there, and Ridley was off camera on the ship sets.
26. He wanted to approach the idea of “the Force” by explaining that it’s not a super power. “It’s not like making things float, it’s not like an Iron Man-type superpower that you get, or Iron Man doesn’t have super powers, I know I know I know I know. Iron Man’s suit does everything.” So he gave a gentler, more spiritual explanation of it all, “a little bit of a reset on it.”
27. The casino shot that moves across all the tables is inspired by Wings. (The silent film from 1927, not the equally memorable 90s sitcom starring two future lead actors in Stephen King miniseries.)
28. The rock that Rey accidentally cuts off the cliff-side is a real landmark on Skellig Michael island called the Wailing Woman. They obviously weren’t allowed to actually sever it so “it’s still there if you go out to Skellig.”