One of the most exciting announcements of the post-Disney-buyout era of Star Wars was the news that Looper’s Rian Johnson would be writing and directing Episode VIII (and possibly Episode IX as well). Even if you’re one of the fans unhappy with the decision to let J.J. Abrams direct Episode VII, Johnson’s hiring is a compelling reason to get excited about a return to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away. During a recent podcast appearance, Johnson was unsurprisingly tight-lipped about his plans for the franchise — he told the audience, “I’m really excited about all the things I can’t tell you.” He did, however, talk about why he took the job and what he’s doing to prepare for it. Hint: it involves the movie Twelve O’Clock High.
Johnson Skyped in to the 500th episode taping of the Filmspotting podcast this past Saturday, joking that he still can’t believe he’s been given the keys to the Star Wars franchise. “I can only assume it was a clerical error, like in the movie Brazil,” said Johnson. “There’s a Brian Johnson out there who is really mad.” Well, unless that Brian Johnson directed Looper, Brick, and a trio of outstanding Breaking Bad episodes, that’s one clerical error I’d prefer remains uncorrected. And it’s part of a larger pattern of Disney hiring talented, up-and-coming directors for their Star Wars films, including Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle’s Josh Trank.
An invite into the Star Wars sandbox has got to be a dream come true for any filmmaker who grew up loving George Lucas’ space opera. As reported by the Chicago Sun Times, Johnson said he took the Episode VIII job because “the thought of it made me so completely, joyfully happy. I wanted to to play in this world, of literally the first movie my dad put me in the car to see.” Johnson is already in San Francisco and working on the early pre-production for his Star Wars sequels. Naturally, he wouldn’t talks specifics about his Episode VIII plans, but he did reveal one thing he’s been doing to prepare: watching movies. Johnson said it’s “kind of like summer camp,” and that he and his team are screening various movies nightly — presumably flicks which are thematically or stylistically influences on his vision for Episode VIII. The two most recent entries at the time were the Gregory Peck WWII epic Twelve O’Clock High and the 1959 Russian film Letter Never Sent, which is about “four geologists [who] are searching for diamonds in the wilderness of Siberia” (via IMDb).
Johnson even threw a bone to Star Wars fans who like the controversial prequels, saying, “there was something really beautiful about [them].” Of course, he followed that with the tongue-in-cheek claim that “With these films, I am trying to hearken back to the original Star Wars…Christmas special.” He then added, “We do have Jefferson Starship.”
Last but not least, Filmspotting co-host Josh Larsen asked Johnson in what order he would recommend watching the existing six Star Wars films. “I would do (Episodes) 4–6 then 1–3,” he said. “Storytelling-wise, 4–6 were constructed without the knowledge of the past.”