For Rian Johnson, writing and directing Star Wars: Episode VIII is simply a return to his origins as a filmmaker. And, by origins, he means the earliest of his early days.
“For me, personally, I grew up not just watching those movies but playing with those toys,” Johnson explained on the latest episode of The Talkhouse podcast, “so growing up, the first movies I was making in my head were set in [the Star Wars] world.” He said that, although he’s just starting to write the movie, “honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing, it’s just joyous,” with his history with the franchise giving him “a direct connection [with the material], … almost like an automatic jacking-in into childhood in a weird way, I guess.”
The episode sees Johnson talk with Terry Gilliam about the experience of working on the franchise, which he likens to “dancing on top of the avalanche a little bit.” Admitting that’s he’s still figuring things out as he writes, he warned about the dangers of giving in to nostalgia too much. “I think you can probably go to the wrong place by feeling too responsible to it,” he said. “You have to keep your head loose enough, I think, to tell a story you actually care about.”
That last element is central to all of the new Star Wars movies, he feels. “[Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy] and her whole creative team have been so insistent on all the filmmakers they’ve been hiring for these new movies: ‘We want you to take it, and turn it into something that you really care about,’” he said. “We’ll see how the process plays out, but so far, that’s a big part of the reason I’m in it, because that just seems like their attitude towards it. It’s really exciting actually.”