For those of you living on the Outer Rim, today is referred to as Star Wars Day because May the Fourth (be with you) sounds like May the Force (be with you). In fact, the entire month of May is an important one for Star Wars fans. Every episode before the modern era of cinematic universes was released in May and May 25th marks the 40th Anniversary of the original release of the very first Star Wars movie, back in 1977.
With so many reasons to celebrate this month, I thought I’d have a retrospective of the previous films of The Last Jedi-helmer, Rian Johnson, in anticipation of the new film’s release this December.
I would describe Johnson’s debut as a high school crime noir film. IMDb describes it as follows: “A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.” I first discovered Brick when I was on a Joseph Gordon-Levitt kick (because swoon). He plays the role of Brendan with simmering brooding as opposed to typical teen angst. It probably helped that JGL wasn’t a teen at the time he made this movie. That’s not a bad thing; Johnson needed older actors to give the noir dialogue (which almost sounds corny to our modern ears) a certain gravitas. I don’t know how or why, but a high school is the perfect setting for a noir film. Stay away if you don’t like hearing “teens” talk like hardened gangsters, but if you yearn for something different when you go to the cinema, Brick will find a special place in your heart. I imagine all of Johnson’s films will find special places in your heart, especially …
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
I meant to watch The Brothers Bloom when it was first announced that Johnson would be directing the follow-up to The Force Awakens, but I didn’t think it’d be that interesting. I watched it for this post and realized I was completely wrong. If I hadn’t already been a fan of Johnson after Brick, this film would have totally converted me. It’s about two brothers (not those two brothers) who have been con men since they were wee youngsters. They grow up and become Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo and prepare one final caper so they’ll be able retire to the good life. As is wont to happen in final capers, things don’t go as easily as planned. You don’t expect movies featuring manic pixie dream girls (Rachel Weisz) to be legitimately thrilling as well as a rocky rides of emotions, but there were multiple times when I was watching The Brothers Bloom where I went from “ZOMG!1” to “aww you guys!” all within a few scenes. Weisz shines as the delightfully adorkable heiress who collects hobbies. At one point she introduces herself as an epileptic photographer. Yes, it might be a bit too quirky, but I challenge you to find a more touching and well-made caper film.
I didn’t really like this dystopian sci-fi thriller when I first saw it, but I’m not really sure why because I rewatched it for this post and loved it. Set in 2047, JGL (along with some decidedly off-fleek eyebrows) plays Joe, a hitman for the mob. The mob uses outlawed time travel to send targets back into the past where loopers like Joe take the targets out. It’s a well-paying gig, but every looper knows that the mob will close his loop one day, which is when the target ends up being the hitman’s future-self. In Joe’s case, his future self takes the form of Bruce Willis. I think my initial problem with Looper (other than the fact that JGL and Bruce Willis look nothing alike) was that the movie I saw wasn’t the movie that the trailer advertised. I wanted more of the cat-and-mouse between Willis’ Joe and JGL’s Joe. While there is still a fair amount of that in the first hour, I don’t think I was expecting the film to turn into an exercise in existentialism. Nevertheless, with my expectations tempered, I was able to enjoy the film for what it actually was and will likely revisit it again soon.
In addition to directing a music video for The Mountain Goats, Johnson is also behind arguably some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad (“Fly”, “Fifty-One”, “Ozymandius”). He also directed an episode of Terriers, whatever that was. From his work, it’s obvious Johnson is a competent director with a keen eye for story structure, a knowledge of thrifty camerawork and the superb ability to elicit the entire spectrum of emotions. He makes damn good movies and that makes me very hopeful for The Last Jedi.
For example, take a look at this gorgeous shot where the Brothers Bloom share a tender moment:
Can you imagine Rey having another flashback (Forceback?) about Luke talking with Kylo Ren about balancing the Force and it’s shot like this? I’d applaud in the theater! Johnson employs a similar backlit shot in Looper, so it’s a visual mechanism he’s comfortable with. Speaking of Looper, what if Johnson plays with that cat-and-mouse style and applies that to The Last Jedi? Maybe Kylo is searching the galaxy for Luke and Rey at the behest of Supreme Leader Snoke and the pair have to go on the run!
Can you imagine how cool a noir-inspired Star Wars movie would be?!
All right, I’m getting dangerously close to fanboying here, so I’m going to just reign it in and watch the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi again!
It looks like fans who decried J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens as a derivative retread of A New Hope needn’t worry about The Last Jedi being a retread of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s so much cool new stuff in there! You’ve got Jedi Master Luke Sywalker, Rey doing that thing the Rainmaker did in Looper, dreamy Poe Dameron running somewhere, and a planet with red dust where there’s …
Wait a minute. Watch the trailer again. Go ahead, your boss isn’t back from lunch yet. That planet with the red dust looks awfully white to me. And what’s that on the horizon?
Well, even if The Last Jedi is a heap of bantha poodoo that ends up being a shallow retread of Empire, at least it will look gorgeous.
May the Fourth Be With You!Check out Rian Johnson's filmography
Ross used to work as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He still loves reading books and watching movies, but won’t be rambling about the two as often here anymore.