Sorry, J.J. Abrams. When it comes to the new era of Star Wars movies, there’s Rian Johnson, and then there’s everybody else. Abrams may have kicked things off with The Force Awakens, but that film went through massive rewrites, then Disney argued with Gareth Edwards over Rogue One, took the Han Solo movie away from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and kicked Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow off Episode IX—and gave it to Abrams. But after Johnson finished the The Last Jedi, Disney actually gave him a gift: A entirely new Star Wars trilogy.
It’s arguably the biggest decision Disney/Lucasfilm has made about the franchise since they first announced the sequel trilogy back in 2012, and one which will have a massive role in shaping the Star Wars universe in the years and decades to come. Not only will it tell a non-Skywalker story, it’ll be the first films beyond (or maybe before) the original trilogy era that Disney has clearly felt most secure in setting its non-“Episode” films. Given how particular the company has been with its other directors, the fact that it has given Johnson an entire trilogy is proof of its confidence in him... and The Last Jedi.
“From the very beginning I had a very good relationship with [Lucasfilm president] Kathy [Kennedy],” Johnson told io9 earlier this week. “It was really collaborative and I felt very protected by her. And beyond the creative freedom I was given to find what the story was going to be, all the folks at Lucasfilm understood how personal the original films were for George Lucas.” This is what gave the movies their soul, Johnson explained.
“So [Lucasfilm] actively encouraged me, not allowed me, but actively pushed me to find what was personal about this story for me,” he said. “To find a story that was personal and would mean something deeply to me. And they nurtured that and protected that. I think the fact we all knew the movie we were making and were excited about it from day one [meant] we had a great experience.”
The experience was so good, in fact, that when Johnson was wrapping up The Last Jedi, he and his producer Ram Bergman, as well as top executives at Lucasfilm and Disney, said they didn’t want it to end. That’s when Johnson floated an idea.
“I was the one who said, ‘The thing that’s interesting to me would be a new trilogy, one story told over three movies, on that big canvas of the Star Wars world. But—go someplace new, meet some new folks, tell a new story,’ and they really responded to that,” Johnson said. Disney made the news official on November 9, 2017, announcing that Johnson would write and direct the first film in a new Star Wars trilogy, and help develop the other two.
Admittedly, at this moment Johnson doesn’t quite know what those films are going to be. In fact, he isn’t even sure how they will be categorized differently than the Saga films or the Star Wars Stories like Rogue One. “I haven’t figured it out yet,” he said. “It’s a really good question... For me the exciting thing about the new trilogy is the notion of how wide open it is and the idea of what can we create.”
The closest clue we will have to what his new Star Wars epic may include is likely arriving December 15, when The Last Jedi hits theaters—a title that Johnson has regularly admitted refers to Luke Skywalker.
Johnson nodded knowingly when we began listing the ever-growing number of Force-users in the new Star Wars universe who aren’t defined by an ethos like the Jedi or the Sith, like Rey, Kylo Ren, Ezra Bridger, Ahsoka Tano, and others. When we asked him if this new, gray area of the Force could be a major factor not just in The Last Jedi, but the new trilogy to come, Johnson gave a telling smirk.
“We’ll see when we get into the movie a little bit,” Johnson said. “I think for me I was just trying to follow the through line of Luke and where Luke’s head was at, and part of that is going to be about the Jedi. It’s going to be about their place in the universe. But I don’t want people expecting there’s gonna be some definitive answer in this movie either. To me it’s all about where the characters get to and why they have to get there.”
Johnson does admit, though, that the Force and people using the Force are a crucial part of what makes Star Wars for him (“It’s like gravity,” he says. “It’s always there”), and that he is not at all worried about committing potentially a decade of his life to making new Star Wars movies. “I had such a good time doing [Last Jedi],” he said. “It’s a world that I feel very comfortable playing in and the potential for storytelling in it really gets me excited.”
For Johnson, Star Wars simply has a fundamental power to it. “[It] comes from being tied to myth and tied to the stuff that really matters inside all of us,” he explained. “This sounds cheesy when you say it out loud, but it’s really true. This is the stuff that really has punch, story-wise. Not just that it’s cool or it looks cool but that it can really engage with... big audiences on a big, popular level. The fact you can do something [with it that’s] powerful and truly interesting and inspiring that can reach that many people.”
He paused. “And it’s Star Wars, man. Come on.”