Ask any Star Wars fan who lived through the original trilogy’s initial theatrical release and there’s a 90% chance The Empire Strikes Back is their favorite. Attack of the Clones, not so much so there’s a 50/50 chance of a middle Star Wars film being the best one. If director Rian Johnson’s thoughts on Empire are any indication, The Last Jedi is poised to be the new trilogy’s best too.
“I think Empire is just the most beautiful,” John son said. “All the films are beautiful but for my taste, I think the cinematography in Empire is the most gorgeous of the whole series.”
Cinematographer Steve Yedlin and Johnson studied the lighting of The Empire Strikes Back.
“It’s also pretty daring in terms of how dark they were willing to go, literally dark, and how gorgeous they went with some of the choices and the shading of the lighting,” Johnson observed.
That is where The Last Jedi’s similarities end though. Johnson still made a Rian Johnson movie.
“I realized we’re going to take visual cues lighting-wise and design-wise from the previous movies, but I need to just shoot this movie the way that I would shoot a movie,” Johnson said. “If I’m not engaged with it and I’m not trying to tell the story the way that really makes me excited, then it’s not going to be up there on the screen. I cut myself loose camera movement-wise and shot-wise from trying to imitate the past and just tried to tell the story as excitingly as I could up on the screen.”
The Last Jedi cast saw some parallels to The Empire Strikes Back just by virtue of being a continuing story.
“Often with a second chapter in a story of three, because the first one sets the tone and the world and the characters, it introduces them, in the second one you don’t have to spend so much time doing that,” Oscar Isaac said. “You can really just go into the story to what’s happening.”
Perhaps like The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi splits up our Force Awakens trio on their own adventures.
“Because people responded well to John [Boyega] and I as a team, I was nervous about not being a team so much in this one,” Daisy Ridley said. “The film was a challenge to be in different combinations of people. So in itself we’re already in different situations with different people and learning about and meeting them for the first time.”
Boyega welcomed the challenge.
“All the characters are under intense pressure,” Boyega said. “So it’s a time in which everyone has their own specific reckoning. There’s a lot going on.”
Isaac added that no one gets to coast in The Last Jedi.
“I think what Rian’s done so incredibly well is he’s challenged deeply every single character, including the droids, the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced,” Isaac said. “That’s how you’ll be able to really get to learn about them on all sides of the spectrum, from light to dark. He’s found a way to get to the central point of that character and try to challenge them as best as he can.”
Another difference between The Last Jedi, and George Lucas’s entire trilogy, is that it’s no loner the droids’ point of view.
“It was different in The Force Awakens,” Johnson said. “It’s different in this also. We don’t quite have so much the Hidden Fortress kind of worm’s eye view of the story that we started with in those movies. With his, different story, had different needs so we are much more with our leads the whole time.”
The original Star Wars followed Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. That element remains in The Last Jedi.
“The Hero’s journey is not about becoming a hero,” Johnson said. “It’s not about becoming Hercules. It’s about really adolescence. It’s about the transition from childhood into adulthood and finding your place in the world.”
It’s just Star Wars children grow up with light sabers and The Force.
“You have these new powers that you’re feeling inside yourself for the first time,” Johnson said. “You don’t know what to do with them. You don’t know who you’re going to get help from and who’s going to be unreliable. It’s about navigating those very tricky waters that we all have to navigate. That’s why it’s so universal.”
Despite the myriad similarities and differences, Johnson hopes The Last Jedi has one main goal in common with The Empire Strikes Back.
“It also means that it makes you come out of the theater wanting to run in your backyard, grab your spaceship toys and make them fly around,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to go to some intense places in the movie but I hope also it’s fun, it’s funny.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens December 15.