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Guide to understanding Star Wars: The Last Jedi starts with the 2005 movie Brick

Let’s just talk about Rian Johnson for a second, okay?

With a new trailer and poster, it’s finally time to start getting excited for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Unlike The Force Awakens, which had a pretty well known director at its helms, people might not be as familiar with Rian Johnson’s work.

Johnson has been around for quite some time, and gained a bit of notoriety with the release of Looper in 2012. Looper, which starred Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was able to not only bring in great reviews, but managed to hold its own at the box office, pulling in $176.5 million worldwide on a film that had a $30 million budget. Johnson’s technique — and use of visual effects in Looper — helped build his fanbase with those who may not have heard of his previous work, but that’s not the movie you should watch in anticipation of The Last Jedi.

If you really want to see what Johnson is capable of, you should watch his best movie: the 2005, strange and independent film, Brick.

Brick follows a high-school loner named Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who infiltrates his way into an illegal crime ring at his school following the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). The characters — or caricatures, rather — that he comes into contact with throughout his story feel plucked out of the ‘50s. There’s a charm to the antiquated world these modern kids live in, and the anachronistic nostalgia they have for a world long since passed.

Brick is the closest thing to a teenage version of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown; a noir-film that could exist on the beauty of its shots alone if you removed the dialogue. With the dialogue, however, Brick is one of the most captivating films. Johnson uses his young cast to tell a story much older than the characters they’re supposed to be playing. There’s an eloquence to Brick that most films, independent or otherwise, targeted at teens don’t have. But it also comes across entirely non-chalant, like this was the movie that Johnson was always supposed to make.

And in many ways, it is. Brick is a movie that was never going to be successful or shoved under a microscopic lens in the same way The Last Jedi will. It’s only because of that freedom that Johnson was able to make the film he did. The exploration of film that he wanted to experiment with can be seen in Brick. Each scene is a poster, each line is well-thought out and defined. Each actor knows their place in the story and no one tries to outdo the other.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, all bloodied, walks through a parking lot in Brick Image: Focus Features

Brick is the type of movie that could work as a silent feature, but what will stick with most audiences long after the movie ends is the story Johnson manages to tell in under two hours. Johnson is a true student of film, and it’s clear from Brick that whatever story he’s attacking will pay tribute to the stories that came before it. That’s why Polanski’s Chinatown and Brick are so often paired together; it almost feels like the sequel that people were waiting on, although with a flair that’s so uniquely his.

Brick is a weird movie, made even stranger by the story and narration that guides the viewer through the world they’re entering, but Johnson doesn’t try to exaggerate anything. Instead, he lets the characters speak for themselves and the actual setting of the story exist without explanation. Johnson doesn’t overstep his place in the movie and, as a director should, just sees that the best possible version of the story he wants to tell comes to fruition.

It’s the type of movie that could have been a total failure. Just experimental enough for critics and audiences to write off and unknown enough that the studio didn’t have to do anything with it. Instead, Brick became one of the most beloved cult films of the past 15 years, and it’s what indebted cinephiles to Johnson’s work. There’s a reason Johnson’s appointment of The Last Jedi was met with excited applause and cheers. Johnson has proved himself time and time again — seriously, just go watch Looper again and remember why you love this director — that he can handle whatever he’s handed.

The Last Jedi will be his toughest and most watched project yet. It may be the biggest thing he ever does. Although I’m confident The Last Jedi will be one of my favorite Star Wars movies because of Johnson’s intimate directing style, I’m also going to prepare for the launch of a new Star Wars chapter the only way I know how: I’m going to go home, make a bowl of extra-buttery popcorn, turn off the lights, and settle in with Brick.

It’s a movie that made me fall in love with what film can do and I’m ready for The Last Jedi to do it all over again.

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