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Rian Johnson on making a new Star Wars trilogy: ‘What is Star Wars’ after Skywalker?

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Apr 6, 2018, 10:25 PM EDT

What is Star Wars when all the familiar signifiers fall away? That’s the question Rian Johnson has been tasked with as Disney prepares to develop an all-new trilogy of mainline Star Wars films set, for the first time ever, outside the comfortable and thoroughly explored world George Lucas first introduced all the way back in 1977.

Luke Skywalker, Vader, Princess Leia, Han, Chewie, the Millennium Falcon, R2-D2, and the Death Star. The people, creatures, battle stations, planets, and spaceships we’ve come to know as cultural brand markings for all that is Star Wars logically must be reimagined when Johnson tackles an all-new film trilogy, set in some other time, yet still in that same galaxy far, far away.

If figuring out what makes Star Wars, well, Star Wars is an intimidating problem of the, ahem, first order, then Johnson’s up to the challenge. Speaking with IGN recently, The Last Jedi director said it’s a question that isn’t so much frightening as it is exciting.

“Once you get past the things that are the iconography of Star Wars — once you say, okay, if it doesn't have the Falcon; if it doesn't have someone with Skywalker as their last name; if we don't go to Tatooine, what is it? What is it at its essence?” he posited.

Johnson said he still doesn’t have the answers, explaining that the creative team is still “just at the very beginning of figuring out what this new thing is going to be.” But he said paring away the circumstantial trappings of the Skywalker saga to reveal the essence of what’s eternally consistent about the Star Wars universe, no matter the specific tale to be told, is a huge part of the appeal of making new stories.

“It's a really exciting question, and I think it's something that has to be answered at some point,” he said. “So let's figure it out.”

Back in November of 2017, just as The Last Jedi was ramping up for its record-setting theatrical release, Disney handed Johnson the keys to an entirely new, canonical Star Wars film cycle, giving him a blank canvas to "introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.”

Since then, Johnson’s made it clear the creative process is “totally wide open” and that he’s not completely dismissive of incorporating familiar elements — including established characters — into the lore of his new Star Wars sandbox.

Early work on the new trilogy is already underway, with Johnson and production partner Ram Bergman confirming as much to the red carpet press at last month’s Empire Awards. But between now and the premiere of whatever’s next once the 40-plus-year Luke Skywalker story arc has finally been put to rest, we’ve still got one more film to go: J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX is in development now for a December 2019 release.