×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘The Director and the Jedi’

Anthony Wonke's documentary about the making of "The Last Jedi" works best when it concentrates on its title subjects.

Director:
Anthony Wonke
With:
Rian Johnson, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Kathleen Kennedy, Benicio Del Toro, Frank Oz, Ram Bergman.

1 hour, 35 minutes

One can easily discern an informative and affecting documentary short — maybe 20 or 30 minutes long — embedded amid the ungainly sprawl that is “The Director and the Jedi,” a SXSW Film Festival world premiere offering set for wide release March 27 as a bonus behind-the-scenes feature on the home-video release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

As its title might indicate, the film works best whenever director Anthony Wonke narrows his focus to concentrate on the complex working relationship between Rian Johnson, the rising young filmmaker who dove into the deep end of the pool by accepting the challenge of writing and directing “Episode VIII” of the “Star Wars” franchise, and Mark Hamill, AKA Luke Skywalker, who remained a good soldier, despite serious misgivings, even after being told his iconic character would be a battlefield casualty in Johnson’s scenario.

Wonke also grabs attention — and tastefully plucks heartstrings — with interview snippets and on-set sequences devoted to Carrie Fisher, who passed away shortly after completing her scenes as the heroic Gen. Leia Organa (née Princess Leia) in “The Last Jedi.” Her character’s significance to the franchise — and, by extension, to pop culture in general — is respectfully noted by Fisher’s collaborators, who liken Leia to a feminist role model, and gently kidded by Johnson, who pauses a beat after giving Fisher an introductory close-up. (He holds the shot, he tells her, in order to allow time for the audience to applaud enthusiastically.) It’s a bit distressing at first to see just how frail Fisher looks while addressing an off-camera interviewer. But then she pipes up with a bleeped vulgarity (yes, some words are bleeped here) when asked to describe Johnson, and a viewer can’t help smiling at her sass.

Trouble is, there’s a great deal more to “The Director and The Jedi” than affectionate glimpses of Fisher and Hamill, and that turns out to be a decidedly mixed blessing. “Star Wars” completists and movie buffs of all stripes may be fascinated by such inside-baseball details as the casting and costuming of extras, the designing of creatures and weaponry, and the budget-conscious debates over whether CGI would be preferable to practical animatronic effects. And there is amusement to be found in a brief sequence that underscores how debilitating it can be to literally lose sleep while participating in the making of a blockbuster.

As a whole, however, the documentary winds up being at once too much and not enough. Johnson and producer Ram Bergman sporadically talk about adjusting to the move from small-scale features “Brick” and “Looper” to a “Star Wars” spectacle, but their words are vague and their anxieties appear checked. Likewise, Johnson briefly describes his overarching vision of “The Last Jedi” as a journey from adolescence to adulthood — but he doesn’t expand on that. (It would be interesting to examine whether some of the longtime “Star Wars” fans who absolutely hated “The Last Jedi” did so in response to its underlying theme of letting go of the past.) The director speaks glowingly of newcomers who joined the franchise in the previous episode, “The Force Awakens.” But of that group, only John Boyega is represented here in on-camera interview segments.

Still, the documentary’s final farewell to Fisher is quite touching. And Hamill repeatedly delights, whether he is cracking jokes and sharing anecdotes between takes, or explaining why, although he “fundamentally” disagreed with Johnson’s concept of Luke Skywalker for “The Last Jedi,” in the end, he set aside his reservations and followed his director’s lead. “It’s not my character to decide,” he says philosophically. “It belongs to other people. They just rent it out to me.”

All of which makes it even more of a joy — especially, though by no means exclusively, for decades-long “Star Wars” fans — when Johnson finally reveals to Hamill the official title for the film that had heretofore been known only as “Episode VIII.” “The Last Jedi,” eh? “Oooh!” Hamill responds, sounding like a child who’s just been told that, from now on, every other Tuesday will be Christmas. “That means me!”

SXSW Film Review: 'The Director and the Jedi'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Documentary Spotlight), March 12, 2018. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Walt Disney Studios release of a Lucasfilm Ltd. production. Producer: Tylie Cox.

Crew: Director: Anthony Wonke. Screenplay: Tylie Cox. Camera (color): Neil Harvey. Editors: Dominic Laperriere, Garrett Price. Music: Antony Partos.

With: Rian Johnson, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Kathleen Kennedy, Benicio Del Toro, Frank Oz, Ram Bergman.

More Film

  • Britney Spears Musical

    Britney Spears Musical 'Once Upon a One More Time's' Film Rights Land at Sony

    Sony Pictures has won screen rights to the Broadway-bound “Once Upon a One More Time,” a fairy tale featuring classic songs from Britney Spears, sources have confirmed to Variety. John Davis’ Davis Entertainment will produce the film along with Spears and her manager, Larry Rudolph. Neither a writer nor a director has yet been attached. [...]

  • ‘Girl On The Train’ India Remake

    ‘Girl On The Train’ Indian Remake Set at Reliance Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    India’s Reliance Entertainment will produce the official Indian remake of Tate Taylor’s 2016 film “The Girl On The Train.” Ribhu Dasgupta, who is currently completing Netflix series “Bard Of Blood,” being produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, will direct. Parineeti Chopra (“Kesari”) will star. Production will commence at U.K. locations from mid-July. Based [...]

  • 'Avengers: Endgame' Cast Gets Hands and

    Watch Live: 'Avengers' Cast Gets Hands and Feet Cemented at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood

    The Avengers have left an indelible mark on popular culture and now they are doing the same to the cement floor outside of the TCL Chinese Theater. Watch the livestream video of “Avengers: Endgame” cast Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans,  Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige imprinting [...]

  • Zachary Levi

    'Shazam!' Star Zachary Levi to Host 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards

    “Shazam!” star Zachary Levi will be suiting up next for the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards in June. Levi will emcee the award show on June 17 at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. Nominees will be announced in the coming weeks. Fresh off DC Comics’ latest blockbuster, Levi is no stranger to [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    'Spotlight' Director Tom McCarthy Remembers Steve Golin as 'A Warrior and a Mensch'

    It was a brutal process to get “Spotlight” made. The movie was dead at least three times before we shot it because of financing problems, studio problems, deadlines, actors’ availability and the time of year we could shoot. There were moments when Steve and I were just going at it. We’d have hilarious late-night correspondence. [...]

  • "A War Within"

    SF Studios Scoops International Sales to 'Grandpas,' 'A War Within' (EXCLUSIVE)

    SF Studios has scooped international sales rights to Santiago Requejo’s heartfelt comedy drama “Grandpas” and Kasper Torsting’s WWI-set Danish love drama “A War Within” in the run up to Cannes. Both films are third-party pickups. “Grandpas” is a high-profile Spanish movie starring Carlos Iglesias (“Crossing Borders”), Roberto Álvarez (“Talk to her”) and Ramón Barea (“Everybody [...]

  • 'Gemini Man' First Trailer Drops With

    Will Smith Faces Off Against Himself in Ang Lee's 'Gemini Man' Trailer

    Will Smith battles a familiar antagonist in the official trailer for Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” — himself. Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media dropped dazzling new footage of the futuristic sci-fi drama, scored to a haunting version of “Forever Young,” that sees Smith playing an elite assassin. Things get tricky when he finds out the man [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content