Just who is Rian Johnson?

Photo of Rian Johnson via Starwarsnewsnet.com
Photo of Rian Johnson via Starwarsnewsnet.com

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ director isn’t a household name—yet

By Lauren Kelly, Graphics Manager


In 2015, when it was announced that Rian Johnson would be writing and directing Star Wars Episode VIII following J. J. Abrams’ work with Episode VII, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people said: “Who?”

Best known for 2012’s Looper, before getting this gig Johnson was far from a household name. However, with three widely-varied original films under his belt, Johnson and his work is worth learning about.

Johnson came onto the film scene in 2005 with Brick, a high school-set noir-tinged detective film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Most of the characters, particularly Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan, speak quickly and smartly, their code hard to parse on a first viewing. The muted tones and focus on dialogue set this apart from any other “high school” films, and Johnson’s unique take on the noir genre won him the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision.

His next film was 2009’s The Brothers Bloom, a conman story about two brothers, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, performing the fabled “one last con” on a rich and eccentric heiress, played by Rachel Weisz. The three, along with the brothers’ sidekick Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), travel around Europe and North America, and the film is filled to the brim with beautiful architecture, sets, and fashion. While on the surface this flashy and bright film shares little in common with Brick, the quick, clever dialogue and literary references are still front and centre. The ensemble play off each other adeptly, and any emotional turns feel earned. It may not have been a success, but it is an incredible romp through the genre and a fantastic exploration of the relationship between brothers.

Johnson’s most recent original film is Looper, a sci-fi time travel movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis playing younger and older versions of the same character, Joe. This concept won the film a lot of buzz, and it was by far the most commercially successful of Johnson’s three films. In Looper, time travel has been invented but outlawed, and it is solely used by criminals to carry out hits. When young Joe is delivered his old self to kill, Old Joe manages to get away. Like Johnson’s other films, while Looper may be a genre film, it is primarily a character-focused one, dealing with clever dialogue and the relationship between the younger and older Joe, as well as other side characters. It was Johnson’s work on this film that showed his chops in the sci-fi genre and won him the coveted role directing and writing Episode VIII.

Although Johnson’s work in film is impressive, his work directing television is also remarkable. Johnson directed three episodes of Breaking Bad, “Fly,” “Fifty-One,” and “Ozymandias,” some of the most acclaimed episodes in one of the most acclaimed shows ever. In fact, after it aired, “Ozymandias” was called one of the best television episodes ever made. His work on this show is awe-inspiring, and it shows what an incredible director he is.

While Johnson may not have been a household name before he was chosen to direct Episode VIII, he will be soon. And if you’re looking for something to do while you wait impatiently through these last two months before the release, watch these three fantastic films and re-watch those episodes of Breaking Bad. It will only make the new Star Wars that much sweeter, and you will get to enjoy some of the best genre-bending films of the 2000s.