'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Director on Rey Revelation and His Favorite Moments

Rian Johnson recalls screening the film for the first time: "There were so many moments I holding my breath to see how the audience was going to react."
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

[This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi]

The dust is just starting to settle on the big revelations of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

There's been a full month of dissection and debate surrounding the movie since its Dec. 15 release, and the huge hit has generated more than $1.2 billion at the box office so far. But before all of that, Heat Vision spoke with writer-director Johnson on Dec. 3, the morning after the Last Jedi premiere in Los Angeles, which was the first time the filmmaker had been able to show off his work to an audience. 

Johnson and Disney asked that portions of the conversation be held until now, so as to let fans watch the film unspoiled. This is an excerpt from that longer conversation, and we touch on the revelation of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) telling Rey (Daisy Ridley) her parents aren't anybody particularly special, the light-speed sacrifice of Holdo (Laura Dern), and the tiny but important exchange Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) had with Finn (John Boyega) after saving his life.

How did you land on the answer to the question of Rey's parents? 

It was hinted at in VII when Maz [Lupita Nyong'o] says the answers lay ahead, not behind, but it was something that was obviously still on Rey's mind and the audience's mind. It felt like a powerful thing that she was still holding on to this notion of the past defining her. And I guess I was entirely looking at it from a perspective of, what would be the thing that would be the most difficult for her to hear? The easiest thing for her to hear would be, "Yes, you are so-and-so's daughter," or, "Yes, here's where you fit into this. Here's the answer." The tougher thing to hear is, "You're going to have to stand on your own two feet. You're going to have to figure out what you're worth in this world yourself. Your place in this story is not going to be handed to you. You are going to have to find it." That to me was the most interesting and toughest thing for Rey.

Was there a moment you have been most excited for viewers to see at the premiere? How about that Rey/Kylo team-up?

That was a big moment I was looking forward to. But that was also a moment where the deck is pretty stacked. I wasn't holding my breath, "Is this going to play?" I felt like, "I can't wait to see an audience reaction to this." I was pretty confident in that moment. The [sacrifice] moment with Holdo was something I was holding my breath to see how the audience reacted, and I could not have been more thrilled with how the theater reacted to that big moment. And honestly, Kelly's final little moment with John, and then she passes out. There were so many moments I was holding my breath to see how the audience was going to react to it. Because this was the first time I was seeing it with an audience. I can't wait for opening night with a big crowd.

Speaking of that Holdo moment, what was the key to directing Laura Dern in this?

Laura, just YouTube search any interview with Laura. What you see is what you get: She is the most bright, lovely, open person. It's not like she's that way for the cameras and different in real life. That's her. She's one of my favorite people. I feel like just getting to become friends with her during this process is one of the true joys of it. She was so open to it. Especially she and Oscar [Isaac], who had the majority of their scenes together. They worked together so well they immediately got on. Laura was very excited about the arc of that character in terms of the audience's perception of the character. That's something we talked about a lot, that she had no vanity about. She was just really excited about the overall effect the character was going to have on the audience. That was really exciting.

Read more from our Rian Johnson conversation here.