Rian Craig Johnson (born December 17, 1973) is an American film and television director, producer, and writer.
He seems to often cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Noah Segan for roles, even if it is just for a cameo appearance. He is also known for directing Looper and a trio of Breaking Bad episodes — one of them being "Ozymandias", which has been hailed by critics and audiences as one of the greatest episodes of television ever made.
He is One of Us, since apparently he likes Game of Thrones, and is interested in working on Doctor Who. He directed Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, and was later hired to develop a new trilogy of films unrelated to the Skywalker Saga before the release of the film. However, his trilogy was in Development Hell for a long time before being cancelled. He is also known for his acclaimed mystery films Brick, Knives Out, and Glass Onion.
Also may or may not be Mr. Plinkett's disgraceful son, though he certainly loves but fears the◊ repairmen fixing his VCR.
- Brick (2005)
- The Brothers Bloom (2008)
- Breaking Bad (2010, "Fly"; 2012, "Fifty-One"; 2013, "Ozymandias")
- Looper (2012)
- Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Knives Out (2019)
- Glass Onion (2022)
- Poker Face (Peacock TV series; 2023)
Tropes applying to his works include:
- Ambiguous Ending: Most of his films leave their main characters facing an uncertain fate, often with a question of what a young person is going to do with a newfound and revolutionary power. This can lean from hopeful (Broom Boy and the Resistance in The Last Jedi), to wavering between good and evil (Cid in Looper), to vengeful (Knives Out and Glass Onion).
- Anachronism Stew: Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper and Knives Out all feature this to varying degrees, bordering on Ambiguous Time Period. In the first it's part of the Film Noir homage. In the second it's to give the film the feel of a timeless tale. In the third it's to establish how impoverished the characters in the future are. In the last it’s because he’s setting an Agatha Christie-style mystery in the Present Day.
- The Cameo: In Rogue One, as a Death Star technician working on the superlaser during the single-reaction ignition sequence. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, meanwhile, had a cameo as a Resistance soldier on Crait in Johnson's The Last Jedi.
- Deconstruction: The Last Jedi is a deconstruction of several Star Wars tropes and characters, most prominently the idea that just because you're fighting bad people doesn't make you unambiguously heroic, the fact that as long as there are Jedi, there are going to be Dark Side users opposing them (thus making things worse), the idea that you have to be special to learn and use the force and the whole idea of Luke Skywalker being a wise and nearly flawless hero thirty years after leading the Rebellion to victory after the Battle of Endor.
- He really does not like the Jerk with a Heart of Gold archetype. In The Last Jedi and Knives Out, he plays with audience expectations and teases that certain characters might have redeeming qualities that could excuse or make up for their negative qualities, only to then subvert that completely. Illustrating that jerks would realistically have something very seriously wrong with them to have those kinds of behavior patterns.
- Brick is a Deconstructive Parody of classic Film Noir while also being a teen movie.
- The Brothers Bloom combines romance and comedy with a caper plot.
- Knives Out takes the classic whodunit scenario and makes it a political thriller comedy film where the main protagonist has to cover up her tracks.
- Genre Deconstruction: Brick and Knives Out specifically.
- Genre Roulette: Johnson likes to tackle a bunch of different genres.
- Brick is a Film Noir teen movie.
- The Brothers Bloom is a caper comedy.
- Looper is a science-fiction action thriller
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a space opera and a Deconstruction of the Star Wars franchise in general.
- Knives Out is a murder mystery crime comedy thriller.
- The Heart: Amidst a cast ranging from flawed to selfish to malicious, there is usually at least one character who is truly loving and compassionate, like Rose in The Last Jedi, Marta in Knives Out, and Helen in Glass Onion. Oftentimes they're distinguished by being a Working-Class Hero unlike the others in positions of privilege, and despite their kindly personality they aren't above breaking the law and getting destructive in order to bring down the villains.
- Meta Fiction: His genre stories often feature characters who are aware of the conventions of the setting they’re in and try to break them or exploit them.
- In The Last Jedi, the cyclical war of the Dark Side versus the Light has become so recurring that the galaxy views it as inevitable. The rich war profiteers at Canto Bight benefit from the predictable wars by selling weapons to both sides. Inversely, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker both attempt to break the cycle, Luke by refusing to train more Jedi and Kylo by killing anyone trying to shape his fate. The protagonist Rey, aware of her growing significance in these grand cosmic wars, presumes this means she must have some kind of noble parentage, in an attempt to convince herself that her harsh abandonment on Jakku was for a reason. She also argues with Luke on whether the Jedi Order had a positive or negative effect on the galaxy, in a manner that mirrors actual fan debates about the Jedi's actions in the previous films.
- In Knives Out, the victim Harlan was an author of murder mystery novels, and his housekeeper Fran was a big fan of the genre. Both of them get into trouble by trying to take advantage of mystery tropes, Harlan by creating an unnecessarily complicated coverup that would’ve been fine if he had just dialed the hospital, and Fran by trying to play the part of the intrepid detective only to fall as well to the murderer.
- In Glass Onion, Miles Bron hosts a murder mystery party, and is eager to play along famed detective Benoit Blanc, who has no patience for such games and worries someone might try to take advantage of the Ten Little Murder Victims setup to commit a real murder. Warning Miles turns out to give Bron the idea to do exactly that himself. And try as Benoit might to treat this murder case not as a fiction but as reality, he couldn’t resist the trap of presuming a complex scheme and motive when real murder plots tend to be far less complicated.
- Production Posse:
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Noah Segan regularly appear in Johnson's films. (Most of the lead cast of Brick manages a cameo during the party scene in The Brothers Bloomnote , a trick Johnson laments he could only pull off once). Gordon-Levitt is notably absent from Knives Out, however, apart from a brief voice cameo.
- Steve Yeldin has served as cinematographer on each of Johnson's films. Nathan Johnson, Rian's cousin, has composed each of his films besides The Last Jedinote . Bob Ducsay has edited all of Johnson's films besides Brick and The Brothers Bloom.
- Signature Style: He loves subverting audience's expectations, using a quirky directing/editing style, which involves off-kilter camera angles/composition, fast-paced dynamic camerawork, rapid-fire editing, and quick pans. LOTS of quick pans. He even used this style in The Last Jedi.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His films range all over the place.
- Brick and Looper lean closer to the cynical side.
- The Brothers Bloom has its foot planted on the idealistic side.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi leans to the idealistic side but falls more toward the middle compared to other Star Wars movies.
- His Benoit Blanc mysteries lean in different directions. Knives Out is overall idealistic while Glass Onion is a bit more on the cynical side.
- Subverted Trope: Johnson is obsessed with subverting audience's expectations. When talking about The Last Jedi, he admitted himself wanting to subvert the audience's expectations regarding the followup to many things J. J. Abrams set up in The Force Awakens, such as Luke being full of Heroic Self-Deprecation and the Broken Pedestal when Rey meets him instead of a more classic Old Master who's ready to keep the Master-Apprentice Chain up (however, this could be thought of as following through with Abrams's set-up of Luke disappearing to an island in the middle of nowhere). Then there were the massive expectations regarding Rey's Mysterious Past... and it's revealed she's the daughter of nobodies — or at least that's what Kylo Ren said. It's pretty safe to say the following developments in The Rise of Skywalker had no input from Johnson.
- Trolling Creator: In July 2016, when finalizing The Last Jedi, Johnson tweeted a photo of himself holding a sign saying "Your Snoke theories suck", alluding to the abundant Fanon that followed the release of The Force Awakens. Snoke gets killed off in The Last Jedi without anything to explain his backstory whatsoever.