With JJ Abrams and The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm, in a way, went for an easy bet. A fanboy favourite, JJ Abrams’ big screen work fizzed with an obvious love for Star Wars. Hell, even his Star Trek movies owed a heftier debt to George Lucas’ classic space trilogy than they did Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s series. It was a bit like asking Oasis to cover a Beatles classic – brilliant, but you kind of know what you’re going to get.
But what about Rian Johnson? To say eyebrows were raised when he was named the director (and writer) of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi would be an understatement. This was a director who was certainly more arthouse than his predecessor, and, unlike the fantasy-steeped Abrams, only had one sci-fi movie under his belt. So what can we expect from the boy Johnson's first ever Star Wars flick...?
This film could be the new trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back
There’s some suspicion that, while Lucasfilm needed The Force Awakens to be reassuringly Star Wars in look and tone, they now have the freedom to go to darker, less familiar places.
There was a noticeable gear change between the light, poppy Star Wars and the darker and more emotional Empire Strikes Back, and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) has certainly teased that that change is similar to the one between Episodes VII and VIII.
“It’s great,” he said about the script to The Last Jedi. “It’s similar to how The Empire Strikes Back has a different tone. [Rian] trusts [that] his audience is ready for nuance and ambiguity. He’s not dumbing anything down.”
Luke could turn bad
Mark Hamill has been very vocal about clashing with his director over how Luke is being presented in The Last Jedi.
"When I read [Episode] VIII, I told Rian, 'I fundamentally disagree with virtually everything you've decided about my character,'" Hamill said in an ABC interview.
Which makes us ponder that Johnson’s Luke is very much not the Luke that we last saw (properly) in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Hell, even the one clue we have for the film - when Luke says “it’s time for the Jedi to end” – suggests that Luke is in a much darker place, psychologically, after his years in exile.
Could his failing of Ben Solo, AKA Kylo Ren, have been the catalyst for Luke to turn to the Dark Side? When Aunt Beru said in the very first Star Wars “he has too much of his father in him”, how much truth was there in her words? Is there a Darth Vader lurking deep inside the one-time Rebel hero?
Will The Last Jedi be more arthouse than blockbuster?
Johnson only has three other movies on his CV, and all three are defiantly independent in spirit. Brick and Looper are both low-key, character-based dramas with an eerie sense of reality, while The Brothers Bloom is a quirky comedy caper.
What clues do these movies tell us about his plans for The Last Jedi? Will it rely less on massive action set pieces (look back at The Empire Strikes Back and it’s remarkably action-light) and instead focus on character? Will it feel odder? These are questions it’s hard to answer at the moment with only two minutes and 12 seconds of footage to go on…
Will Johnson kill off any other major characters?
We’ve already seen Han Solo killed off, which was a massively bold move on Lucasfilm's part, but could Johnson’s movie throw us another curveball?
Will John Boyega’s Finn wake up from his coma? Will Rey survive the movie? Will the filmmakers finally have the courage to kill off Poe Dameron (he was meant to perish in The Force Awakens, only for Lucasfilm to change their minds just before filming was due to begin)? Will R2-D2 finally see himself thrown in the trash?
This looks as though it’s going to be a real Rian Johnson film
With all the headline-grabbing drama on the sets of Rogue One last year (when Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy stepped in to reshoot the final battle on Scarif) and Han Solo this year (when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go with only a month of filming left to go), the filming of The Last Jedi has, in contrast, been mercifully free of controversy.
That suggests that Lucasfilm are happy with what Johnson is showing them in the dailies and that he’s delivering what they signed him up for.
And with him on solo writing duties as well as directing (the first time a director has had sole writing credit on a Star Wars movie since George Lucas), this is very much a Rian Johnson film.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits Cineworld on 15 December.