The force is strong with this one: Earlier today, it was reported that writer-director Rian Johnson would write and direct Star Wars: Episode VIII, taking over from Episode VII helmer J.J. Abrams. The 40-year-old Johnson — who’s spent the last decade crafting brainy, twisty films like Brick and Looper — is the latest name attached to the new trilogy, which will take place thirty years after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Johnson’s been a fan-favorite for a while now, yet when he was asked last year if he’d ever be up for joining the franchise, he doubted he’d be one of Lucasfilm’s candidates. “I don’t think I’m on those sorts of lists,” Johnson told Digital Spy. “On the one hand, it’s Star Wars, it would be very hard to say no to. On the other hand, for me, I’m really enjoying just writing my own stuff, and right now that’s what I’m doing.” Perhaps Abram changed his mind by using a Jedi mind-trick.
Meanwhile, there’s no release date yet for Episode VIII, which gives you plenty of time to learn about the newest addition to the Star Wars empire:
1) He’s got a thing for mind-twisting sci-fi.
Johnson’s most recent film was 2012’s Looper, an aptly named time-travel thriller in which Bruce Willis plays an assassin facing off with his younger self. Critics loved the film’s giddy embrace of temporal paradoxes and its emphasis on character development ( Looper enjoys a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). And it also placed Johnson on the short list of directors who can make dense, intelligent science-fiction accessible to a mainstream audience.
2) He directed some of your favorite episodes of Breaking Bad.
Johnson helmed only three episodes of the acclaimed drug drama, all of them standouts: The claustrophobic “Fly,” the tense “Fifty-One,” which won him a Directors Guild Award; and the final season’s “Ozymandis.” The latter episode was hailed by Bad creator Vince Gilligan as “the best episode we ever had or ever will have.”
3) He loves Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The 33-year-old actor has appeared in three of Johnson’s films, including the director’s neo-noir breakout Brick (2005) and Looper (he also had a brief cameo in Johnson’s 2009 caper The Brothers Bloom). Might there be a role for the sprightly actor in Episode VIII? We could definitely see him leading a Mos Eisley Cantina sing-along.
4) He’s going to be busy for a while.
Episode VIII is one of several new Star Wars films in the works: Episode VII hits theaters next December, while a spin-off from Godzilla director Gareth Edwards from Godzilla director Gareth Edwards is set to be released December 2016 (another spin-off flick, from Chronicle helmer and Star Wars die-hard Josh Trank, has also been announced). That means Johnson’s installment likely won’t arrive until late 2017 — about two and a half years from now. That’s a long time to wait. But knowing Johnson, maybe he can find a way to time-travel eager Star Wars fans into the future.
5) He’s a heck of a karaoke singer.
Need proof? Here’s Johnson and film writer Aaron Hillis performing a version of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Yoda” in 2012:
Photo: Getty Images