Rian Johnson Explains That Catering to Fans Is a Mistake That Could Backfire

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To cater to fans or not to cater to fans… that’s the question. I recently had the opportunity to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and J.J. Abrams definitely caters to the fans… he does it big time. He and Lucasfilm really wanted to try and make a film that they thought the fans would love. While I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t like how Abrams played it as safe as he did.

Director Rian Johnson recently talked to Radio.com, and in that interview he was asked about the idea of catering to fanservice and the level of influence fans should have on the process of making something. This is something he’s not a big fan of. He would prefer the creative process not be tied to what the fans want:

“I think approaching any creative process with [making fandoms happy] would be a mistake that would lead to probably the exact opposite result. Even my experience as a fan, you know if I’m coming into something, even if it’s something that I think I want, if I see exactly what I think I want on the screen, it’s like ‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me.”

That’s pretty much how I felt about The Rise of Skywalker. While I enjoyed it, the more I thought about it, the more neutral I felt about it. I don’t find myself really thinking about it as much as I thought about what The Last Jedi delivered. Johnson goes on to say:

“I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard, I want to have things recontextualized, I want to be challenged as a fan when I sit down in the theater. What I’m aiming for every time I sit down in a theater is to have the experience [I had] with Empire Strikes Back, something that’s emotionally resonant and feels like it connects up and makes sense and really gets to the heart of what this thing is, and in a way that I never could have seen coming.”

Whether or not you’re a fan of Johnson, I think he’s right. I like to be shocked, surprised, and challenged by the movies I see. Here’s a fact… regardless of what you think about The Last Jedi, people will still be talking about it for years to come. Look how long they’ve been talking about it already for better or worse. I don’t think we’ll see that with The Rise of Skywalker. I don’t think it will have quite as much of an impact on the fans because it heavily services the fans.

I get wanting to please the fans, but in a way, doing that dulls the impact of the story being told. I like the unexpected, and while I was watching The Rise of Skywalker, I kept thinking about how many of the plot points were things that had already been discussed at great lengths online in the fan communities. While I had a fun time watching the film, I wish that Abrams would have taken more risks and done something with it that the fans didn’t see coming.

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