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(Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)

Film | Opinion

Hear Me Out: Rian Johnson deserves more respect in modern cinema

Modern movie criticism is a venomous game, where Twitter consensus rules opinion and the majority view rules all. Rarely are responses to modern movies balanced with nuance, rather they take an explicit approach with any given release being simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’. How was Spider-Man: No Way Home? Good. What about Jurassic World: Dominion? Pretty Bad. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi? The worst movie of all time, hands down. 

Indeed, there are few films in modern cinema quite as hated as the second movie in Disney’s modern sequel trilogy of Star Wars movies that capped off the Skywalker saga, taking the series to new depths of popular loathing. 

Made almost as if the director Rian Johnson had not seen the previous movie in the trilogy, The Force Awakens directed by J.J. Abrams, the filmmaker went about rewriting several parts of the foundations that the film left for him, changing long-established Star Wars lore in the process. One of the franchise’s most fascinating entries, The Last Jedi attempts to take the iconic sci-fi in a unique new direction, much to the delight of critics and the overwhelming dismay of fans. 

This has led to Rian Johnson being considered the Machiavellian nemesis of the Star Wars franchise, vilified for making a divisive piece of fiction that lacked the cliché of previous instalments to which audiences had become accustomed. Of course, the quality of the eventual sequel trilogy is the fault not of one director, nor of J.J. Abrams who helmed two instalments, but of Disney who never quite realised the weight of the franchise they were taking on (and likely still don’t). 

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With the filmmaker promised a whole trilogy of his own in the far-flung future, such fears for the future of the Star Wars galaxy have resurfaced, look to Johnson’s past filmography, however, and it’s clear to see such worries are unfounded. 

Winning the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the dawn of Johnson’s career tells you all you need to know about his ambition as a filmmaker, finding critical acclaim for his neo-noir mystery, Brick. A modern-day pastiche of the monochrome noir films of the 1940s, the film, starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an extraordinary experiment in genre that would establish the 31-year-old filmmaker as one of the most exciting prospects of American cinema in the early noughties. 

Making the middling comedy The Brothers Bloom in 2008, it wasn’t until his next collaboration with Gordon-Levitt four years later that Johnson would come back on the industry radar. Looper became a cultural favourite upon its release in 2014, with the mind-bending time-travel flick once again breaking new ground for the sci-fi subgenre, making sense of a complicated conceit that sets a new precedent for such movies.  

More recently, Johnson has even embarrassed such movies as 2022s stilted murder-mystery Death on the Nile with his modern reinvention, Knives Out, adding some contemporary slickness to a genre that has long suffered from the boredom of archaic convention. 

With his rich filmography considered, return to 2017 and the release of The Last Jedi and it becomes a little clearer as to what he was trying to achieve with the movie, in spite of whether it flourished or failed. 

Having trust in his creative vision, the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, has announced that Johnson will be given the keys to the Star Wars franchise once more in the future, this time with a trilogy of his own to play with. This prospect should not fill fans of the series with dread, however, as with the creative control of his own story from beginning to end, Johnson has the capabilities to shock, surprise, innovate and take the series to refreshing new heights.

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