How Star Wars’ Most Controversial Director Insulted George Lucas

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

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As you might expect, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has spent a lot of time justifying his storytelling decisions when it comes to Luke Skywalker going from galactic hero to grumpy hermit. At one point, he compared Luke’s development to the hero’s journey of characters like King Arthur, saying that such stories go to “darker places…because myths are not made to sell action figures; myths are made to reflect the most difficult transitions we go through in life.” In this way, Rian Johnson seems to be directly insulting George Lucas, a man who built an entire empire by selling myths as action figures.

Luke As King Arthur

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In order to fully understand Rian Johnson’s snub of Star Wars creator George Lucas, you need to understand the full context of his quote. He compared the Luke Skywalker of the Original Trilogy to King Arthur, a mythic character who “pulls the sword from the stone and he’s ascendant — he has setbacks but he unites all the kingdoms.”

However, he believes myths about such characters “as they get into middle-age and beyond” get necessarily darker because such tales “are made to reflect the most difficult transitions we go through in life.”

Luke Wrestling With Age

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In other words, the grumpy Luke Skywalker we see in The Last Jedi is meant to be going through such a transition, wrestling with his own growing irrelevance and whether the Jedi really have a place in the galaxy anymore.

It’s an understandable direction, especially since the director pointed out in another interview that if Luke was still acting like he did in Return of the Jedi, he would basically just be an older version of Rey.

However, we can’t get over Rian Johnson insulting George Lucas by implicitly saying he is more interested in creating modern myths rather than selling action figures like Lucas did.

Lucas And Merchandising

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Just in case you’re one of the few young Padawan fans who doesn’t know the tale, Lucas turned down a larger directing salary for the first Star Wars movie in exchange for both the sequel and merchandising rights.

Getting the rights to the sequels helped Lucas begin making films with almost zero Hollywood input, starting with The Empire Strikes Back, though that sequel came close to bankrupting him.

However, retaining exclusive merchandise rights helped Lucas eventually earn billions from the sales of toys, comics, video games, and so much more.

One And The Same

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Long before Rian Johnson directed The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans debated how much of movies like Return of the Jedi were driven by the need to tell a great story and how much of it was driven by George Lucas’ need to sell toys.

All these decades later, though, it’s clear that this is a false division: this visionary director managed to create both a modern myth and a merchandising empire at the same time.

Johnson, however, seems to think this is a binary decision where he as a filmmaker must choose between making myths and selling toys.

Worst Of Both Worlds

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Now, we don’t want to sound like shills here–certainly, the Disney era of Star Wars has focused way too much on selling toys and way too little on telling great stories.

But Rian Johnson’s quote underscores that he either has no respect for how George Lucas built his empire or simply doesn’t think you can create characters that will captivate toy-loving kids and myth-loving adults at the same time.

The ironic final result is that he gave us the worst of both worlds: a Luke Skywalker who makes for a poor action figure and an even worse mythic hero.

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