We're now over three months past the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga as well as the Sequel Trilogy. The response to the film has been incredibly polarized, with many fans defending the movie's choices countered by a heavy amount of detractors. Since its December 20th release, co-writer Chris Terrio has given multiple interviews about the nature of the film's production, as has one of the editors, Maryann Brandon. Many fans have acused J.J. Abrams and Terrio of retconning choices made by The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. In a recent interview, Brandon and her frequent collaborator Mary Jo Markey have reasoned that it was Johnson who undid the direction of the Sequel Trilogy.
Quotes gathered from an interview with podcast Light the Fuse via Digital Spy have revealed Star Wars editors Maryann Brandon's and Mary Jo Markey's thoughts on how Rian Johnson took the direction of the Sequel Trilogy's story in The Last Jedi. Below is what Brandon, who worked on both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, had to say:
It was a different take on the Star Wars saga. To Rian's credit, he stuck to what he wanted to do, and he wanted to deconstruct the film and go a different direction, and I know it's controversial, but isn't that good? He brought new elements.
She followed up on that thought by concluding that a singular vision for the trilogy was needed:
[It feels] very much like, in hindsight, that the trilogy, the last part of the trilogy, needed one vision.
Markey agreed with sentiment, giving a less diplomatic critique of Johnson's film:
I couldn't agree more. It's very strange to have the second film so consciously undo the storytelling of the first film. I'm sorry, that's what it felt like.
Interestingly, she goes further to say that this approach was not at all taken by Abrams in The Rise of Skywalker:
I don't even feel like that's true about the third film. It took where the second film ended and tried to tell a story, I didn't feel like it was consciously trying to... it didn't feel that way.
Brandon wrapped up the line of questioning by saying Abrams and Terrio were left stuck between a rock and a hard place as they wrote the finale to the trilogy and saga:
It was polarising and it was hard for JJ and the writer to know what to do with it. It's like someone else writing the middle of your novel.
WHAT THIS MEANS
There's a lot to deconstruct here, but more background on the entire picture is needed first. The overal story of the Sequel Trilogy has been one of the biggest problems for fans unhappy with the final result. J.J. Abrams was originally only meant to direct Episode VII, but the dismissal of Colin Trevorrow presented the opportunity for him to return and finish what he had started. It's been said many times that Johnson had no mandated story elements to include in Episode VIII and that he was given a completely blank slate to work with. Abrams has issued public praise for Johnson's work, as well as a few jabs during the press run leading up to The Rise of Skywalker's release. Both directors have claimed they love one another's sequels to their pictures, despite largely unfounded rumors that they didn't get along during their story discussions. At the end of the day, we have to look no further than Abrams' follow up to The Last Jedi to know how he truly felt about the direction of the story.
The editors' comments are interesting for multiple reasons. Abrams and Chris Terrio have been very careful to dance around the topic of The Last Jedi and avoid issuing outright criticisms, although Abrams briefly grabbed headlines when he said Johnson's subversive nature was a "meta approach" to telling a story. For his part, Johnson certainly did take the story in some unexpected directions. The shocking demise of Supreme Leader Snoke, Rey's parentage, and a darker take on Luke Skywalker all seemed to "go in the opposite direction of what the audience expected", as John Boyega said. Abrams himself has said that Johnson's depiction of Luke was what surprised him most, and knowing that he originally intended to end The Force Awakens with rocks levitating around a powerful Luke Skywalker before being asked to change that tells us he and Johnson clearly weren't on the same page in that regard, as Luke was cut off from the Force in The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson has said that he wanted to tell a story that was "a little shocking". There were some threads from The Force Awakens that went untouched in the followup, and tones of the two films differ greatly. Although Markey said that The Rise of Skywalker built off of what Johnson set up in The Last Jedi, there are many things in Episode IX that certainly seem to undo what Johnson did as well. The revelation that Rey was a Palpatine was a major change to her previous "nobody" lineage, and the return of the Emperor seemed to be a result of Johnson's decision to kill off Snoke. Kylo Ren, set up to be the main villain of Episode IX, was overshadowed by Palpatine, while Luke's "see ya around, kid" line was never followed through.
It's fair to say that both directors had different visions for how the Sequel Trilogy should play out. Lucasfilm's lack of a clear plan/roadmap for the trilogy has a lot to do with the drastically different takes by the directors. Perhaps Abrams, Johnson, and Trevorrow all needed to be present during the story conferences when things were being kicked off to plot the course for the entire trilogy and be on the same page? The comments by Abrams' editors are interesting and may give some insight into how the director feels as well, and will defintely stoke the flames of the 'Abrams vs. Johnson' argument. Although the situation has devolved into finger pointing, the trilogy as-is really plays off as retcon city in many ways in all of the films, with no single person at fault. It's all a moot point now as the trilogy is finished, but in time more candid interviews like this will surely occur that will give us an honest look at how the key figures feel about the nature of the Sequel Trilogy's creation.