Rian Johnson flashes back to Rashomon

December 27, 2017 Jeff Goldsmith

Writer-director Rian Johnson reflects on how a classic film influenced his Star Wars: The Last Jedi narrative.


Here’s a brief excerpt from this article from Backstory Issue 30 for your reading pleasure:

(Spoiler Alert: Only read this if you’ve seen the movie)

As the Force connections did continue, Johnson tackles the question left over from Force Awakens as to just why Kylo revolted against his Jedi Master Luke. When Luke first explains to Rey what happened, he says he sensed a darkness growing inside Kylo and, when he went to confront him about it, wound up being attacked unprovoked and left for dead. When Kylo and Rey talk via a Force connection, Kylo reveals in a flashback that while he slept, Luke fired up a lightsaber and was ready to kill Kylo, which prompts him to topple his hut on top of Luke and leave Skywalker for dead. Finally, when Rey confronts Luke on the truth, the Jedi Master admits he did light up his saber ready to kill Kylo but had a last-minute turn of heart and paused—something Kylo could never have known since all he saw was a threat and then attacked. Such a complicated differing of perspective tied to one moment that leaves all characters universes apart from one another with differing versions of their own truths harkens back to a film by one of George Lucas’ favorite filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. What Johnson essentially did was boil down the entire grudge between Luke and Kylo into a very complicated misunderstanding, which also happened to allow for the dark side of the Force to gain ground.

The filmmaker is quick to explain that it all came down to character motivations. “I was searching for something that would be on the one hand a credible motivating factor for both Luke and for Kylo in terms of Kylo hating and blaming Luke so much and Luke feeling deep down inside that Kylo is a result of a failure on his part,” Johnson says. “So it’s searching for that. But then the Rashomon-style telling, it’s all about who it’s being told to, which is Rey. It’s all about the dramatic development of her understanding of the situation. From A to B to C. So the first telling is from Luke, and he’s kind of not telling the whole truth but it lines up with her perception of Kylo as this bad guy who just tried to kill his master. The second telling is when Kylo and she are starting to talk more and she’s starting to actually listen. And there’s a vulnerable moment—it’s the flipside of Kylo saying, ‘No, Luke tried to murder me.’ And then the last thing we get is Luke’s perspective, or Luke’s actual truth, which is kind of a balance of the two and backs up where her head is at, which is, yes, you messed up and it is now too late for him. So it’s all about the shape of Rey’s development in terms of her perception of both Kylo and Luke.”

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