With The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, directors J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson created two very distinct Star Wars movies; Episode VII was a purposeful return to the classic era, while Episode VIII was essentially a deconstruction of that ideal. This distinction can be felt throughout the movies’ developments, all the way to the pair’s directing style on set.
The differences between Abrams and Johnson’s movies have been debated heavily since The Last Jedi hit, with the criticisms of the former for his alleged plot retread of A New Hope making way for the latter coming under fire for ditching many of the plot threads set up by The Force Awakens. While few can agree on Episode VIII, what nobody would dispute is that the two creators approached Star Wars from very different, equally evocative angles.
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Screen Rant recently talked with Chris Corbould, practical special effects supervisor on both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. He worked closely with both Abrams and Johnson, getting a clear distinction between how the two operated:
“Both J.J. and Rian had their own style on each film. J.J. is a livewire of a guy – million miles an hour, you know? All ideas stream out of his head every minute of the day. Spontaneity is a big part of working with J.J. I think that reflected in Force Awakens. Rian is a slightly different character. He is very quiet, he’s a very sweet man. He’s methodical, he wrote the script and we pretty much shot the script, which is pretty uncommon these days. So very different styles and I think that reflected in the separate films. But both great to work with – amazing times.”
This differing style can be seen in how the pair of movies came together. The Force Awakens evolved a lot from its early development stages (naturally given it was a soft reboot of Star Wars), but under Abrams changes kept coming even after the movie had shot: in reshoots, he added several key visual elements after suggestions from the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ava DuVernay. Conversely, Rian Johnson’s version of The Last Jedi was written before the previous movie even released, and production went so smooth the picture was wrapped months ahead of release. It’s easy from these productions – and interviews with both filmmakers – to sense these unique personalities and approach, but is nevertheless fascinating to discover how pronounced it was on set.
Of course, as Corbould makes clear, both experiences were positive ones, which is reflected in a general reaction to both resulting movies. While there’s been a backlash against The Last Jedi and specifically Johnson’s bold creative choices with much-loved characters – with it even suggested that Abrams will revert some of them when he returns for Star Wars 9 – Lucasfilm is seemingly happy with both. After all, they are the only directors aside from George Lucas to direct more than one Star Wars movie (Episode IX and a brand new trilogy respectively).
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available now on digital download now and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from March 27.