For the third year in a row, Disney delivered a theme park world premiere for their third Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. Two years ago they took over two blocks and three movie theaters on Hollywood Boulevard for The Force Awakens, last year they dropped a jumbo jet sized X-Wing in front of the Pantages, and this year they parked a mutli-story sized AT-AT and two battle cannons in front of the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. What other studios in town pulls out this type of spectacle at their film events? It’s more than what we’ve seen at such upscale premieres this year including Blade Runner 2049, Justice League, and Spider-Man: Homecoming (but in all fairness, Illumination/Universal did have a carnival for Despicable Me 3 at the Shrine this past summer). In fact, this year’s Last Jedi premiere pulled in 6,300 attendees, which stands as a record among Disney’s three Star Wars premieres. Following the premiere, inside the Shrine, the after party was in the form of a two-floor casino reminiscent of a planet in the Last Jedi reminiscent of Macau, China with various photo ops with Stormtroopers, C3-PO, Snoke’s red guard, and Chewbacca — a true blast.
Before unveiling Last Jedi to Hollywood, Johnson told the packed house, “I want to dedicate tonight to Carrie, who is up there right now flipping me the bird, saying ‘Damn it Rian, don’t you dare make this night a solemn tribute’.”
Indeed, similar to Dark Knight‘s connection to the late Heath Ledger and Furious 7 to the late Paul Walker, Last Jedi will truly be a great catharsis for Fisher fans during the year-end anniversary of her death. Fisher fans will also be stoked by the expanded role of Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd as Lt. Connix in the sequel.
Speaking about that feeling, Adam Driver (aka baddie Kylo Ren) explained that watching the late Fisher on screen brought “a resonance to the movie which wasn’t the intent when we were shooting; it’s surreal to see her again. What Rian does with her character is very satisfying as a fan of the movie and for someone who knew her. It’s a great homage to her as a person.”
With Force Awakens belonging to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Last Jedi repping the pinnacle title for Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, Episode IX was intended to be the swan song for Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa. However, the stakes going forward for the next Skywalker family saga movie have changed. Still, the unfortunate passing of Fisher hasn’t created a daunting prospect for the Star Wars creators going forward.
“It’s definitely something that you can see with this story, we have set ourselves up to move forward. Missing her is important and we want to handle that in the most honorable way, so that’s what we’re really looking at more than anything.” said Lucasfilm boss and producer Kathleen Kennedy.
Word is that Last Jedi went through seven cuts, and the edit we watched last night was the one that stuck. At last year’s Star Wars premiere, Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn told Deadline that Rogue One underwent four to five edits.
The amazing feat is that Disney, similar to their Marvel movies, pulls off these amazing, critically-acclaimed, mass-appealing movies without any audience testing. This is largely due to the fact that they can’t afford any security breaches when it comes to buzz around their grade-A fare.
“Literally this is the first time I’m testing the movie,” Johnson told Deadline last night about Last Jedi.
“My whole life since I’ve been making movies, testing has been such a miserable process; why do we have to do it? Then when we weren’t allowed to do it, suddenly it’s like ‘can’t we put this in front of 300 people?’ But it’s the difference between ten trusted people and 300 strangers. The truth is you don’t know until you know. You do your best, show it to certain people to get their opinions, and trust your gut.”
“It’s a strong think tank, a brain trust and a lot of instinct, but it’s really frightening at the same time,” said Kennedy about the test-free quality control process for Star Wars movies.
The second title in each Star Wars trilogy is always a hard act to follow: 1980’s Empire Strikes Back raised the standards to an enormous level with its dark, cliffhanger sensibilities. Star Wars fans typically point to that movie as the quintessential title with George Lucas’s 2002, Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones falling greatly short. Judging from the audience response and sentiment last night, Johnson has truly delivered and broke new ground without spoiling too much. Check out premiere guest Patton Oswalt’s Tweet:
Kudos to Kennedy for hand-picking Johnson for the job, who made his mark with some of the best Breaking Bad episodes and riveting sci-fi fare such as Looper. “They called me,” said Johnson about getting the Last Jedi directing gig, “I did not ever think I would get one of these.” Johnson landed the gig a year and a half before Force Awakens opened as Deadline exclusively reported. “The writing is always the hardest part (of production) and when you’re building the frame with something special like this, you’re trying to serve so many characters and fulfill and work against so many expectations. Luckily we had the time to work on the script.” Instead of taking the reigns of Episode IX after director Colin Trevorrow departed, Johnson is overseeing a brand new trilogy of Star Wars movies. Still, with Last Jedi being so grand, why didn’t Johnson take control of the final chapter in the Skywalker saga? “It was never in the cards for me to do Episode IX, it wasn’t in my headspace.” Still no word as to what Johnson’s new trilogy will focus on in the Star Wars universe.
Said Kennedy about what she saw in Johnson for the Last Jedi job, “I always recognized that he had this eclectic, strong sense of storytelling, but what I didn’t know is how well he moved the camera and he is a beautiful cinematic filmmaker.”
Driver further praises Johnson’s gifts with complex storytelling: “It’s rare these days for a filmmaker to not sacrifice spectacle for the humanity. Rian doesn’t do that at all. The movie is very character-driven, everyone has high stakes. That’s not often the case with movies of this scale. It’s appealing to a mass audience, but he’s very much trusted the audience’s intelligence that they can handle ambiguity.”
Episode IX is currently in pre-production under Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and will start shooting this summer. Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters Thursday night with industry projections predicting a $200M start.
As Disney-Fox merger looms, many of the studio executives last night sidestepped the center attention in the VIP room, leaving the spotlight to the stars. Among those also attending last night in addition to the above were Last Jedi cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Benecio del Toro, Billie Lourd, Laura Dern, Warwick Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Tran Marie, Frank Oz, composer John Williams and Walt Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger, Walt Disney Studios chairman, Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman, Walt Disney Studios motion picture president Sean Bailey, president of marketing Ricky Strauss, Jon Favreau, Tessa Thompson, Shawn Levy, Edgar Wright, Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay, Minnie Driver, Zach Braff, Sofia Vergara, Joe Manganiello, and Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino.