REVIEW: The Director and the Jedi (2018 – Documentary)

The following is a review of The Director and the Jedi — Directed by Anthony Wonke.

You can’t talk about Star Wars right now. I mean, sure, you have the ability to talk about the franchise, but the vocal minority of the Star Wars fandom has become rather toxic. As someone once put it, no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. As a big Star Wars fan, I had always disagreed with that notion, but the first fan reaction that made me realize the truth in that phrase was the reaction to Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

In short, critics loved it (and I think the silent majority of fans did too), but a vocal minority was so upset with the way the central characters and anticipated twists were handled that they sought out to ruin the film’s reputation on social media and on easily manipulatable review aggregators.

The Director and the Jedi is a behind-the-scenes documentary — from BAFTA-winning TV documentarian Anthony Wonke — which was actually screened at the South by Southwest film festival prior to its release on the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Blu-Ray. It takes us through the entire production process and gives us unique opportunities to see main castmembers read through the lines for the first time, the title being revealed to a main character, more than one actor breaking down at the end of pivotal scenes, and much, much more.

I was a big fan of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but while I definitely could see some potential problems for sections of the fandom in the final product, I still don’t understand the venom with which some fans discuss the film. Some fans cling onto every word of criticism that Star Wars icon Mark Hamill utters, while they ignore the praise that director Rian Johnson has received from Hamill and others involved with this film.

One of the things that immediately made me interested in The Director and the Jedi was that this was a behind-the-scenes documentary with a title that suggested a focus on Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill, and that, perhaps, the title even suggested that the documentary would highlight some of their disagreements.

“He thought he was going to be the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy.”

And it pleases me to state that this documentary is willing and able to highlight some of their issues. Even though the documentary certainly does show Rian Johnson giddy with excitement, it also does highlight Mark Hamill’s problems with Johnson’s version of his character, as well as highlight other potential problems with the film. Hamill isn’t the only one presented here who disagrees with Rian Johnson’s vision.

Therefore I think that The Director and the Jedi marvelously positions itself in between either side of the fanbase. Both criticism and praise is highlighted here, even though this absolutely is, for the most part, interested in emphasizing Rian Johnson’s singular vision and his love for the world with which he now has gotten to play.

“I’m literally having the time of my life.”

The documentary also brilliantly crystallizes Hamill and Johnson’s visions of Luke Skywalker. Hamill has always seen Luke as the symbol of hope and optimism, and he finds the older Luke in The Last Jedi to be pessimistic and demoralizing. On the other hand, Johnson sees a regaining of hope in Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi. In a way, Johnson has taken the hermit character suggested by J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, and built a pathway for Luke to once again become the symbol of hope and new beginnings at the end of The Last Jedi. The documentary also does express, towards the end, this idea that Hamill trusts in Johnson’s vision, even if he does disagree with the way his character is written in Johnson’s film.

This is also a documentary that manages to hammer home the overwhelming production exhaustion. This is the biggest thing Rian Johnson has ever worked on, and the documentary shows him trying to cope with editing ‘on the go’ for Star Wars, while producer Ram Bergman, on whom there is a lot of focus as well, comes across as an absolutely vital part of the overall production.

There are some truly wonderful moments that I won’t ruin in a review, but which all made me choked up, so to speak. Ultimately, it is just a behind-the-scenes documentary, so it does not perhaps have the scope that one would like. While it does include some comments from fans, there isn’t really a lot of attention paid to the vocal minority which strongly disliked the film. But this is a moving documentary that works as an example of the relationship an actor can have with an iconic role, but also as a stunning example of the work and the risk that goes into making this type of major film production.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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