Rian Johnson getting his own Star Wars trilogy is still very much a possibility, and it’s a project he deserves to have the opportunity to take on.
All the way back in November of 2017, we saw an announcement direct from Lucasfilm that Rian Johnson, writer, and director of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, would be at the helm of a brand new Star Wars trilogy with “new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.”
On top of that, Ram Bergman, producer and collaborator on The Last Jedi, was also confirmed to return with Johnson for this new project. They even released a joint statement at the time, saying they “had the time of [their] lives collaborating with Lucasfilm and Disney on The Last Jedi” and “can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.”
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The news came an entire month before The Last Jedi was even released and seemed to signal Johnson’s partnership with Lucasfilm was far from over. And yet, in the two and a half years since that announcement was made, the possibility of that very trilogy coming to fruition has seemed increasingly in doubt.
That all began with the visceral backlash from some fans, though certainly not all, against many of Johnson’s decisions in The Last Jedi. Emily Todd VanDerWerff of Vox tried to bring the varying angles together shortly after the film was released, saying “it’s a big, bold, complex film, full of contradictory notes, a little like Empire was. I suspect, in time, it will age just as satisfactorily, but it’s also possible I’m wrong. Loving it means letting go, just a little bit, of some rosy past and embracing a future that might lead to disappointment.”
Much of that backlash was simply that fans didn’t get what they’d entered the theater wanting, but even Johnson emphasized some of the reasoning behind his decisions in an interview with Alissa Wilkinson of Vox on the day of The Last Jedi’s release.
"Especially when your job is to make a good movie, and making a good movie means drama, and drama means throwing roadblocks in the way of the easy answers and the expectations. That means in some ways you’re going to be butting up against your own instincts as to what you as a fan want. You have to defy wish fulfillment in order to tell a good story — especially to tell a good second act of a story, which is what the middle chapter basically is."
It was entirely possible that when we finally got the conclusion to The Skywalker Saga with Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, the final product would take the decisions Rian Johnson made and carry them forward to the finish line. Except that’s not at all what J.J. Abrams decided to do.
Perhaps the most glaring retcon by Abrams came when he changed Rey’s origin story, which Johnson had masterfully presented. Rather than going with what just about every fan expected, her having important lineage, Johnson presented the most difficult and devastating possibility: Rey is nobody.
This flew in the face of what we saw when Luke Skywalker was revealed to be the son of Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back, which most fans expected some version of, but it’s important to note that The Last Jedi had no business repeating the story beats of Empire Strikes Back. It’s not a remake.
Two other major plot points from The Last Jedi were also completely erased by Abrams story decisions in The Rise of Skywalker. The lightsaber that once belonged to Luke Skywalker was destroyed in the throne room conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren. On top of that, Ren destroyed his Vader-esque mask to try and grow beyond his grandfather and forge his own path.
In The Rise of Skywalker, the mask and the lightsaber were simply repaired as if those moments never happened. Also a glaring decision, Abrams just to make Rose Tico, a key part of The Last Jedi, nothing more than an afterthought in The Rise of Skywalker.
While The Rise of Skywalker co-screenwriter Chris Terrio insisted in an interview that their intent was never to sideline the character played by Kelly Marie Tran, it doesn’t exactly ring true considering vocal fans who viciously harassed Tran over her character’s role. It seemed, yet again, Abrams had chosen to discard Johnson’s decisions.
Despite the best efforts by Johnson and Abrams to insist that they have no ongoing beef over the way the trilogy was handled, the evidence of creative differences is quite clear for the world to see, even if they were dealt with professionally by both sides. As the saga continued to unfold, and fans and critics alike weighed in from all sides, Johnson’s reported trilogy seemed less and less likely.
However, Johnson himself has pushed back on that more than once since then. Back in early December 2019, he insisted of rumors the trilogy had been axed “until it’s up on StarWars.com, don’t believe it.” Then in January 2020, Johnson reiterated that he’s “still talking to Lucasfilm.”
On top of all of that, the original premise announced via StarWars.com seems to have more and more weight considering comments by Johnson recently in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s Natalie Heltzel [H/T John Trent of Bounding Into Comics]:
"“I don’t really think in terms of universes or in terms of creating worlds or whatever. That’s not that interesting to me. The only thing that is interesting to me is story. And the story specific to, like whether you are writing a Star Wars film that’s part of a three movie trilogy or a quote unquote original thing like Knives Out, you are still telling a story that is new to the thing that you are doing that it has to work within the context of that movie. So, to me the notion of what’s the entire galaxy or world that you are creating or something, I can’t imagine getting excited about creating that. To me what I’m excited about is creating a two hour long experience for an audience to have in the theater. And that means how they engage moment to moment with the story and the characters that are on the screen. And that doesn’t change in either one of those.”"
While Johnson’s words have been taken by some to represent his disregard for Star Wars lore and to signify their belief in the mistakes he made in The Last Jedi, it actually reinforces why he movie stands out as the best film of The Skywalker Saga. Both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker get so wrapped up in trying to drop easter eggs and clarify miscellaneous lore that neither was as good a film.
Johnson challenged the status quo with The Last Jedi, and some fans have eviscerated him for it. However, a new trilogy with entirely new characters in an unexplored part of the galaxy would seemingly remove all of the potential landmines vocal fans have placed.
There are two already established regions of the galaxy this could be referring to. The first, Wild Space, refers to the unmapped expanse beyond the outer rim. The second are the so-called Unknown Regions, which are technically on the visible map of the galaxy, but have yet to be explored and therefore what lies there remains unknown.
Both of these provide settings relatively within the framework of established canon, while leaving lots of room for Johnson to create something completely new and disconnected from the stories and characters we know today. On the other hand, he could go even further off book with something not even as acknowledged as these two things, which again would leave him a massive amount of freedom.
Despite the continued vocal disdain from a small pocket of fans, The Last Jedi remains critically acclaimed and beloved by a large part of the Star Wars fandom. Add to that the unfortunate ways in which Johnson’s decisions were undone with The Rise of Skywalker, and it’s quite clear he deserves the opportunity to go all-in with a trilogy of his own. Officially, that’s still the plan, and we can only hope it remains true.
Want to re-watch The Last Jedi? Watch it now on Disney+.