Knives Out shows the skill in subverting expectations that Rian Johnson brought to the table when he turned Star Wars on its head with The Last Jedi.
While critically successful, Star Wars: The Last Jedi still doesn’t have the kind of wide acceptance from fans that you’d expect. Despite the critical acclaim, and a large section of the fandom truly enjoying the film, The Last Jedi remains one of the most polarizing parts of the Star Wars universe.
Since making The Last Jedi, the next project Rian Johnson focused on was his 2019 mystery thriller Knives Out. With a star-studded cast including Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette, Frank Oz, and more, Knives Out sought to honor the great mysteries of Agatha Christie and others that inspired the film.
Some of the mystery thrillers and comedies that Rian Johnson was influenced by included The Last of Sheila, Murder on the Orient Express, Something’s Afoot, Murder by Death, Death on the Nile, The Private Eyes, The Mirror Crack’d, Evil Under the Sun, Deathtrap, Clue, and Gosford Park. For as much as Knives Out learns from them, it also uses that knowledge to subvert expectations and provide something altogether different from its predecessors.
Like any classic mystery thriller, Knives Out presents a traditional whodunit with several twists and turns along the way. Boosted by excellent performances all around, it takes a winding path to a powerful and surprising finale.
Without spoiling anything, in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet, Knives Out shows us Rian Johnson’s skill at setting things up in one way and then going a completely different direction than you’d anticipated. In its own way, Knives Out actually shows us exactly why Rian Johnson was able to make something so special with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson discussed his process in writing Knives Out as a stand-alone piece compared to writing The Last Jedi, which joined an already established universe. While his comments were seen by some as a sign of what Johnson did wrong, they tell us exactly why The Last Jedi was able to become such a magnificent film.
“I don’t really think in terms of universes or in terms of creating worlds or whatever. That’s not that interesting to me,” Johnson said. “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,” he said.
It’s easy to look at his words and draw the sudden conclusion that Rian Johnson didn’t care about Star Wars and didn’t care about the universe existed in, but as he points out he had to work “within the context of that movie.” On top of that, Johnson has said before how big of a Star Wars fan he was, and he surely brought that knowledge to the table.
In the same ways that Johnson allowed himself to be influenced and inspired by classic mysteries for Knives Out, he allowed himself to be influenced and inspired by the Star Wars universe for The Last Jedi. However, rather than trying to recreate something that had already been done, he took that inspiration and tried to craft a truly unique and powerful story with those experiences in mind.
Knives Out excelled both because of how it was like and unlike its predecessors, and the same can be said for The Last Jedi. While some of the louder sections of the fandom still dislike The Last Jedi, time has been kind and seen more and more fans come out to express their love of the film and thank Rian Johnson for his work.
Just last month, #ThankYouRianJohnson started trending on Twitter as fans sent an outpouring of appreciation to Johnson for The Last Jedi. In the tweets, we can see just how powerful Rian Johnson’s approach to the film was for so many fans.
There will surely always be some fans who still shout from the top of their lungs exactly what they didn’t like about The Last Jedi, but time has been kind to Rian Johnson. I suspect it will continue to be, and The Last Jedi will more and more see the recognition it deserves from a wider and wider portion of the fandom in the coming years.
Stream Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Disney+.