Some long thoughts on a few #Gates
Right, I’m back and plan on reopening my asks soon-ish. Before I do that, though, I just want to address a few of the big dramas that unfolded in my absence. This is mainly so that I won’t end up addressing these questions through various ask replies, so if I don’t respond to your message it’s probably because I’ve said the last thing I’m going to say about it here. Onward!
As we have previously established thanks to a tweet from David Kamp with the full, unedited transcript of the excerpt of the interview pertinent to romance, the published Vanity Fair article did not fully reflect what Rian was actually trying to say about the question of romance in Episode VIII. The Vanity Fair article said this:
FIVE THINGS THAT ARE NOT IN THE LAST JEDI
A big, central-to-the-plot romance. For all the fan-fiction fantasies of “Reylo” (an imagined union of Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren) or “Stormpilot” (the same, for John Boyega’s ex-stormtrooper Finn and Oscar Isaac’s pilot Poe Dameron), Johnson says that The Last Jedi offers “no one-to-one equivalent of the Han-to-Leia, burning, unrequited love. In our story, that’s not a centerpiece.”
And this is what was actually said between Kamp and Johnson in the interview:
Now, what initially seemed to rule out any inclusion of romance in The Last Jedi actually suggests something quite different - Rian seems to be saying that he was keen to include a big, sweeping romance, but that when it came to it the characters didn’t seem to be in the right place for that to happen. He doesn’t at all rule out subtle traces of romance or flirtation (as Kamp highlights in his tweet), thus the classic ‘wait and see’-style response.
It is also very important to point out that the references to Reylo and StormPilot were clearly Kamp editorialising. While terms like ‘imagined’ and ‘fan-fiction fantasies’ sting to anyone familiar with all of the misogynistic BS female fans have to deal with for daring to be interested in the human relationships in these stories, as I see it the references to popular ships are simply there to provide context for the mainstream audience and boost SEO rankings. Rian Johnson has been very emphatic about distancing himself from Kamp’s phrasing, and the full quote makes it clear that no specific relationships were raised in the context of the original interview.
So, while I still think we need to be cautious and keep expectations for an overt Reylo romance in The Last Jedi low (as Rian says, there is no central romance plot in his film), I certainly think that the full quote should relieve the anxiety that love and attraction won’t be in play to some extent. Although I don’t think that we’re going to get a Reylo kiss (that’s my opinion re. The Last Jedi - come back to me after December to get my thoughts on Episode IX), it clearly isn’t out of the question that The Last Jedi will progress Rey and Kylo so that they are ready for a full-blown romance in the next film. I can’t stress enough that Rey and Kylo end The Force Awakens on different sides, with Kylo having killed his father and Rey having just slashed Kylo’s face open. They both have huge personal journeys to go on (Rey has to come into her own in the Force, and Kylo has to wake up to Snoke’s evil and show remorse for his terrible mistakes) before they can truly go on a journey together. Essentially, to progress from the current state of affairs to a consummated love affair in the space of a single movie would, to put it mildly, be pushing it.
Speaking for myself, I would be ecstatic if The Last Jedi simply shows Rey and Kylo developing empathy and perhaps even compassion for each other. Rey has already defeated Kylo in a duel, so their journey together going forward won’t simply be one of antagonism - as J.J. said in his commentary (which was recorded after he had read the script for The Last Jedi), Kylo is “a character who [Rey’s] going to have a very interesting relationship with moving forward”. In short, I have no fear that the dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren is going to remain static or be less important going forward. Rey and Kylo are crucial to each other’s stories, and we have every reason to believe that Rian is honouring that.
These are the tweets that started the famous #PlotGate:
Now, this actually didn’t worry me at all. But why would I - one of the people who has written thousands of words analysing the minutia of The Force Awakens - be unconcerned by the suggestion that Rian could do whatever the hell he wanted in The Last Jedi? Why am I not freaking out when there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the trilogy?
Well, the simple answer is that I’m not alarmed because these kinds of sentiments are far from new. From the very beginning, the narrative has always been that each filmmaker has a considerable degree of freedom to tell the story they want to tell. For a great explanation of how the early development of The Last Jedi worked, see this quote from J.J. Abrams from November 2015 (particularly the bold bits):
The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie. We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping. And as executive producer of VIII, I need that movie to be really good. Withholding serves no one and certainly not the fans. So we’ve been as transparent as possible. Rian has asked for a couple of things here and there that he needs for his story. He is an incredibly accomplished filmmaker and an incredibly strong writer. So the story he told took what we were doing and went in the direction that he felt was best but that is very much in line with what we were thinking as well. But you’re right—that will be his movie; he’s going to do it in the way he sees fit. He’s neither asking for nor does he need me to oversee the process.
There are endless quotes from J.J. and Kathleen Kennedy supporting this picture, and I think this is exactly as it should be. Rian is not making The Last Jedi in a vacuum - he is building it on the foundation set by The Force Awakens, and had a say on the development and presentation of that film so that it would weave seamlessly into his movie. Rian even reiterated this sentiment himself in the main Vanity Fair article on The Last Jedi:
J.J. and Larry and Michael set everybody up in a really evocative way in VII and started them on a trajectory.
Rian is insistent on stressing his independence as a filmmaker at every stage because people are keen to paint him as a slave to the Walt Disney Company’s whims. At every turn, he has to deal with people assuming that The Last Jedi will repeat the trick played by The Force Awakens by mirroring its famous and beloved antecedent - for The Force Awakens this was Star Wars, and people expect it to be The Empire Strikes Back for The Last Jedi. Understandably, Rian wants to stress that The Last Jedi is his baby - it’s infused with his own creativity rather than studio notes and nostalgia.
But, at the same time, that doesn’t mean that Rian can do whatever the hell he wants. I can almost guarantee that Rian would have received furious correctional notes if he had tried to pitch a story where Rey Rey Binks died in the second act. There will be certain strands established in The Force Awakens that The Last Jedi will nurture and evolve, and Rian will be taking pre-existing characters and relationships and building on them further. As Pablo appeased an anxious fan on Twitter:
In short, there absolutely is collaboration - between the individual filmmakers, and between the filmmakers and Lucasfilm. Rian is free to tell the story he wants to tell, but that story has a baseline in The Force Awakens and also has a responsibility to establish a platform for Colin Trevorrow to build on with Episode IX. The filmmakers are talking to each other, and there is absolutely collaboration and handoff between them so that these film will ultimately make sense as a trilogy as well as on their own terms.
In other words, I really don’t see much to worry about. I have seen nothing but praise for the script for The Last Jedi, and Rian’s filmography amply demonstrates his talent as both a writer and a director.
I’m as excited for The Last Jedi as I ever was, so I hope I’ve been able to put some people’s minds to rest with this. Bring on December!