Spoilers for The Last Jedi ahead. Aside from mountains of questions, fruit for new theories, and tons and tons of serious feels, there's one thing a great Star Wars movie offers, and that's callbacks and references to the rest of the Star Wars universe at large. In The Last Jedi, references and easter eggs are numerous, but one in particular stands out because technically, it has nothing to do with the movies: I'm talking about the huge Star Tours reference in The Last Jedi battle on Crait.
"Yes! Yes!" he yells, when I ask him if the Millennium Falcon's ride through red, shard-ridden salt canyons on Crait was meant to directly echo the classic Disneyland and Magic Kingdom ride. He gleefully confirms that the it is in fact, "the comet scene in Star Tours."
But apparently, not everyone who worked on the film with Johnson was on board with this non-film reference. "It’s something that, occasionally in FX reviews, that everyone would sort of look at me and give me a side eye view," Johnson says with a laugh. But even if the moment could rightfully accused of leaning a bit into the signature Star Wars brand of camp, the moment is pure joy and nostalgia. It hearkens back to the original iteration of Star Tours so many fans grew up with before Disney debuted the new ride, which is replete with multiple adventures, visits from Poe and Finn, and after the release of The Last Jedi, a visit to Crait according to the Disney Parks website. This should be a proud moment for Johnson, who says he has extremely fond memories of the original ride.
"I remember lining up for the original Star Tours when I was a kid waiting for three hours in line — I saw that original one so many times," he says.
Of course, one of the great things about The Last Jedi is that it manages to weave in so many references without waving them in viewers faces — fan service with subtlety and self awareness, if you will.
In one moment, R2-D2 plays the now 40-year-old recording of then-Princess Leia begging Obi-Wan Kenobi to help her for Luke, as a way of convincing Luke to play Obi-Wan to young Rey. "Cheap shot," grumbles Luke, offering the audience their own likely inner monologue, and bringing everyone along on this self aware fandom train.
Another recurring theme is that of Han Solo's dice — a sigil of Luke's fallen friend, Leia's lost love, and Kylo Ren's betrayal of his father. The dice — a reference many fans might not have even spotted in the original films — not only reward fans who do remember them, they actually serve a purpose to connect three family members torn apart by anger, fear, and the Dark Side.
But the way Johnson tells it, all these references — even the Star Tours one — were more or less organic to his process.
"I mean for me, I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid, so I have lots of stuff that I love that is good to see in there. I just kind of didn’t think about it, it’s not like I made a list of I wanna see this I wanna see that," he says. "I kind of just started telling the story and any time there was, you know, it’s kind of like you realize the story needs something, you reach into your bag and if one of the things you love fits the story you get to use that. So it kind of happened organically."
And from one fan to another, Mr. Johnson, that's exactly the way it should be.