Features and Columns · Movies

Watch ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ Then Watch These Movies

Recommendations that inspired Rian Johnson in the making of ‘Episode VIII’ and more. 
Last Jedi Bombers
By  · Published on December 16th, 2017

To Catch a Thief (1955)

In the Empire interview where Johnson reiterated the influence of Twelve O’Clock High, he also again names Three Outlaw Samurai (“for the feel of the sword-fighting, and the general sense of pulpy fun”) and then adds a title that wasn’t in the bunch cited at Celebration. Perhaps he kept Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief for himself to view alone. He says it “was a great film to rewatch, for the romantic scale and grandeur.”

More specifically, To Catch a Thief with its fancy French Riviera setting inspired some of the look and feel of Canto Bight — Johnson told Vanity Fair the place is “a Star Wars Monte Carlo-type environment, a little James Bond-ish, a little To Catch a Thief.” There is no jewel theft or cat burglar, though it’s easily imagined that such a plot could happen there in a side story (maybe involving Benicio Del Toro’s DJ character), nor is there a nod to the iconic scene with a romantic buildup between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant intercut with fireworks. But for more on the film’s presumed connection to The Last Jedi, watch Wayward Jedi’s video.

There are a few more movies that need acknowledgement for their connection to parts of the Canto Bight sequence. One is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which gets an Easter egg moment in the utterance of a “27 B/6” violation (see Vulture for details). Another is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the score for which seems to be referenced when Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) are riding the freed Fathiers in a chase that evokes the bicycle getaway in Steven Spielberg’s movie. Also, the whole freeing of the Fathiers is being called a Free Willy moment, for better or worse.

Hardware Wars (1978)

Not only does Johnson pay tribute to classic films and the original Star Wars movies and the latter’s homages to the former, but he also recognizes the history of Star Wars parody. The Last Jedi begins with a big comedy bit that feels more Spaceballs than the typical humor found in the franchise. Then there’s the shot of a clothes iron that first seems like it’s a spaceship — Johnson has personally confirmed to me (and to Mike Ryan at Uproxx) that it’s an intentional homage to Hardware Wars.

This award-winning 13-minute short, which plays like a trailer and also lampoons The Wizard of Oz and Sesame Street characters, is probably the first real Star Wars spoof, arriving on the festival circuit only a year later. It’s at least the first famous one, and also George Lucas’s favorite. Personally, having been shown a projected print of the film in elementary school in the early ’80s, it’s pretty much been my standard for what a parody is supposed to be.

“That gives you a sense of how free of a hand I had in it,” Johnson told Uproxx. “I just came up with that gag during the script writing phase, actually. Because I was thinking we had to sell the transition to a ship, then I knew we had to transition to some kind of place where they had to find uniforms. So it was kind of, well, let’s shake it up a little bit.”

Hardware Wars opens with a spaceship that’s really just an iron then another that’s just a toaster and the film continues in the silliness from there with characters like “Fluke Starbucker” and “Ham Salad.” Yes, puns galore, and of course “Princess Anne-Droid” has cinnamon buns on the sides of her head, beating about a billion other similar gags to the punch. “May the farce be with you” with this one.

Looper (2013)

I don’t always like to recommend a film by the director of the movie at hand, unless the person is previously unknown or there’s a particular connection to an early little-known work of theirs. Looper is pretty well known — a box office hit, even, with more than 400K votes on IMDb. Of course, it’s like an indie compared to the size of a Star Wars movie, which will gross more domestically in three days than Looper took in worldwide in total. I suspect there are some people who still aren’t familiar with it.

The success of Looper, as a film and as a product, earned him the gig directing The Last Jedi, as well as the jobs for cinematographer Steve Yedlin, editor Bob Ducsay, and his regular actors Noah Segan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One more actor from Looper that Johnson appears to have brought along is Pierce Gagnon, who plays the telekinetic boy Cid in the original time-travel movie.

At least it looks like him. IMDB trivia says it’s him, but IMDb also credits the “stable boy” character to an actor named Temirlan Blaev. Exactly. It’s not him — Gagnon was in Twin Peaks: The Return this year instead — but is he supposed to look so similar? Is Johnson making a reference to his own movie with a lookalike kid with special powers to correlate the Force with TK? But why wouldn’t he just get Gagnon? Regardless, once you’ve seen Cid in Looper, you can’t possibly imagine him following a Jedi child would be anything like The Phantom Menace.

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2017)

I also don’t like to recommend the same movies more than once in these lists in at least a year, but for Bright Lights I have to make an exception. It was a good fit for the crop of movies to watch after Snatched (which most of you probably didn’t bother to see), and now it’s even more appropriate for this selection of movies to watch after the film actually dedicated to Carrie Fisher.

The documentary follows Fisher and her mother, fellow movie star Debbie Reynolds, in their day to day, as they live next door to one another and reflect on their careers and family. There’s a particular focus on Fisher’s childhood through adulthood growing up in the business, following in her mothers’ footsteps and going through hard times with substance abuse and addiction.

What could have been just a fluff piece profile, albeit an R-rated one due to Fisher’s crass language, is a wonderful character study with director Fisher Stevens at the helm. It has obviously had more attention because of its bittersweet release just after the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds, but it’d be essential viewing as almost a modern-day Grey Gardens (minus the squalor) in its look at Hollywood life and its portrait of a totally unique mother/daughter pair.

Pages: 1 2

Related Topics: , , ,

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.