Star Wars: The Last Jedi proved to be a polarising piece of cinema. Many adored it, helping it make $1.3 billion at the global box office, but there were some who felt cheated by filmmaker Rian Johnson’s treatment of the characters and seeming dismissal of the film’s predecessor.
Whether those doubters’ criticisms are justified or not is for no one to decide; film is subjective after all. But with making-of documentary The Director And The Jedi, the opportunity arose to help them understand Johnson’s vision, as well as offering up a glimpse at how 2017’s highest-grossing movie went from casual rehearsals in a Pinewood Studio garden to cinemas worldwide.
It’s curious then that it glosses over some of its more “controversial” material. Hamill’s disagreements with how Johnson wrote Luke Skywalker are touched upon during giggle-filled on-camera interviews but are never fully examined. Similarly, Johnson’s anxieties over continuing the Star Wars legacy, as well as jumping from smaller flicks such as Brick and Looper to this, are mentioned very briefly; in a worried glance when told George Lucas wants a word or in a nervous laugh when the budget contracts come through. These are the obstacles we really want to know how they overcome; not the difficulties of working out Laura Dern’ filming schedule around her Big Little Lies shoot.
The Director And The Jedi spends very little time talking about Episode VIII’s plot too; the thing that arguably ruffled the most feathers. We see Johnson and cast filming several emotional scenes from the film, emphasising how he wanted to focus on that as much as the action but that’s all. The most insightful moment is perhaps when Johnson shares his excitement about exploring Kylo Ren, a villain he describes as someone we can relate to and as a human embodiment of adolescent rage. It’s a fascinating take which sadly, winds up being little more than a vague statement.
Nevertheless, seeing the inner workings of any film production is always a treat for those who are interested in the industry and it’s particularly interesting to see behind the curtain on a movie of this scale. This documentary shines when it showcases creative departments such as costume, hair and makeup, and creature and droid design; the latter of which was tasked with sculpting, painting and flying the sea cow, via helicopter, to Ahch-To (AKA Skellig in Ireland). They were also responsible for hand-gluing every crystal on each vulptex and hairying-up the beautiful fathiers. Considering how many practical effects made it into the final cut, it’s brilliant to see their work up close.
Same goes for the set designs, of which there were a staggering amount; over 120. Memorable ones that are highlighted during the documentary include Canto Bight’s casino and the tree which holds the Jedi texts.
The Director And The Jedi also mixes in a few interviews with cast members, the most notable being the late Carrie Fisher. In fact, the documentary dedicates a fair chunk of its time to her, outlining not only what Leia meant as a character but also how amazing Fisher was to work with. Johnson himself tears up as he explains that while Episode VIII obviously didn’t mean to be a goodbye to her, he hopes that some moments in the film make clear how much she meant to them.
Just like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this documentary wears its heart on its sleeve and while it could have delved deeper, it’s likely to put a smile on your face. It’s as much an entertaining tribute to the effort that goes into making such a huge blockbuster, as it is to one of Hollywood’s nicest filmmakers.