Attention Star Wars Nerds: Rian Johnson Says 'The Last Jedi' Was Supposed to Be Funny
Here’s an unfunny Star Wars joke – how long does it take for a diehard fanbase to get over a movie that was aimed at children but didn’t quite land with older fans? Actually, there's no punch line. But once Rian Johnson lands on one, he’ll tell us.
The Oscar-nominated writer and director spoke to GQ earlier this week about his most iconic films, including the sci-fi thriller Looper, the neo-mystery Knives Out, and this space movie he made called Star Wars: The Last Jedi – for those who are unfamiliar with that last one, it was a little sci-fi fantasy film that was the eighth installment of a pretty popular series. There were a few tweets about it.
Johnson addressed one small part of the mountain of criticism he has received since The Last Jedi premiered in 2017 – Johnson described a slightly infamous scene at the beginning of the movie wherein the cheeky resistance pilot Po Dameron razzes the ruthless General Hux with playful jokes as “essentially Star Wars,” explaining, “Anyone who thinks that slightly goofy humor does not have a place in the Star Wars universe, I don’t know if they’ve seen Return of The Jedi.”
The much-maligned writer and director of The Last Jedi explained that humor had been an essential part of the Star Wars universe for a very long time before he added a few frog nuns and “Yo mama” jokes to a film that his bosses clearly produced with the intention of selling a new generation of children on the idea of Star Wars and the lovable, laughable and, most importantly, merchandisable creatures and characters that inhabit its universe.
“Even the first movie, they’re in the heart of the Death Star and they’re trying to do this desperate gambit to get out with their lives and save the princess, where they’re pretending that Chewbacca is their prisoner,” Johnson explained of Star Wars: A New Hope. “The little imperial droid comes up, Chewbacca roars at it, and the droid, like a scared dog, goes screeching and wheels away.”
Johnson defended the style of The Last Jedi’s humor as fitting for the tone of the franchise saying, “The slightly self-aware element of gleeful humor is something that is part and parcel to Star Wars,” then qualifying the statement with, “We get very serious in the movie as well, and I think that brazen balance of those things is also something that is part of Star Wars.”
Said Johnson, “I know there are Star Wars fans who somehow think that Star Wars was a serious thing, like the Batman movies or something.” But that’s never been what the series is about – the earliest recorded Star Wars gripes were about the dreaded Ewoks, those tiny anthropomorphic teddy bears who brought a humorous and playful element to the sacred original trilogy that was derided by the series’ first salty adult fans.
Johnson is right that humor is an important part of a series that has always been aimed at the younger generation. The director and writer explained his own story of when he first encountered the series as a child, fondly remembering how deathly serious and terrifying the dramatic sequences in Empire Strikes Back were to a young watcher. Humor balances out those moments and maintains the levity and wonder that continues to capture the imagine of each new generation of Star Wars fans.
All that being said, a lot of the criticism of the scene in question between Po and Hux hasn’t been about the intention of the scene, but rather the execution – yes, Star Wars is supposed to have humorous moments, but jokes taken straight from talk radio prank calls don’t exactly tickle everyone’s funny bone.
Johnson wants fans and haters to know that Star Wars has always been funny – to which some of the latter may reply, “Yeah, unlike ‘Yo mama’ jokes.”