Despite his staggering achievement as part of the Star Wars franchise, Knives Out is a reminder that Rian Johnson can do so much better without it. When Rian Johnson signed on to direct the eighth installment of the Star Wars saga, many had considered him a surprise choice for the job. He had made his name from slyly intelligent and stylish genre pastiches like the high school noir Brick and time-travel drama Looper, as well as acclaimed work on television series like Breaking Bad. While his expertise with speculative storytelling was undeniable, he’d never worked with anything on the grand scale of Lucasfilm like his predecessor J.J. Abrams.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ended up being critically adored and grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Johnson’s visual flair, a keen eye for genre detail, and willingness to go against the grain helped inject new life into the franchise and ensured it wouldn’t just be an endless recycling of nostalgia for installments to come. Unexpectedly, however, the film experienced a sharp backlash from some fans who were angry at the direction it took and how certain beloved characters, most notably Luke Skywalker, were portrayed. It’s tough to gauge how large this push back truly was but it was certainly loud and frequently violent in its rhetoric, with Johnson and actors like Kelly Marie Tran receiving a disturbing amount of harassment and abuse on social media. Some people have practically made an industry out of constantly bleating about how wrong Johnson’s film was.

Johnson is still attached to Lucasfilm to direct a new trilogy in the Star Wars canon, but questions over that project have intensified following the company’s recent decisions and choices to step back from the one-movie-a-year formula they had previously committed to. Truly, it would be a big loss for Lucasfilm to lose Johnson, a man who has helped to shape the direction Star Wars needs to go in to avoid becoming hopelessly cloistered around the same tiny corner of the galaxy. The problem is that, frankly, Star Wars may need Johnson more than he needs Star Wars, and with the release of his latest movie, Knives Out, he’s further proven that he may be better off without them.

Knives Out Is Classic Rian Johnson At His Best

Following the intense pressure of The Last Jedi, Knives Out felt like the perfect project for Johnson. The whodunnit murder mystery is a spot-on homage to the works of Agatha Christie, with plenty of references to Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. The entire ensemble is sublimely cast, often in ways that subvert audiences’ expectations of them (James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, is gloriously hammy with a Foghorn Leghorn-style Southern accent; Chris Evans is smug and spoiled; Toni Collette slyly parodies Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand), and everyone is clearly having the time of their lives.

Everything about the film is perfectly tuned, like a Swiss watch, but it never takes itself too seriously because, first and foremost, fun is the name of the game. That’s not to say it doesn’t take on weighty subjects. The packed narrative explores issues of immigration and white privilege, adding layers to the characters in ways that go beyond their statuses as possible killers. As with all Johnson films at their best, Knives Out is both retro and modern in its approach to well-trodden genre tropes. You watch Knives Out and understand how big a fan Johnson is of murder mysteries, yet still possesses the skill and imagination to expand beyond their obvious trappings. Hollywood doesn’t make a whole lot of movies like this these days (unless you count Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot reboot), but Johnson makes the perfect case for rebooting the whodunnit in the 21st century.

Rian Johnson’s Star Wars Trilogy Is Already Controversial

It seems ridiculous to refer to Johnson’s as-yet-unmade and mostly mysterious planned trilogy as “controversial”, but given the hostility that some Star Wars fans have leveled at the possibility of its mere existence, it’s not an inaccurate term to use. Granted, he’s not the only part of Star Wars right now that’s facing major criticism and questions over its future. From the moment the franchise was rebooted under the ownership of The Walt Disney Company, it’s faced an endless array of problems, even as movies broke box office records and introduced a whole new generation to Star Wars. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story faced massive reshoot problems. Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired midway through shooting Solo: A Star Wars Story and replaced with Ron Howard, and the subsequent costs from that film and disappointing grosses made it their first real commercial flop. Colin Trevorrow was taken off Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, forcing J.J. Abrams to take over, and, most recently, Benioff and Weiss of Game of Thrones fame stepped away from Lucasfilm to focus on their massive Netflix deal.

It’s a lot of flux for a major franchise to deal with. Indeed, by comparison, Johnson’s continued presence in Lucasfilm is one of the company’s sturdier aspects. Still, there seems to be very little forward momentum with this Johnson trilogy and it already feels like a pattern is forming in regards to how Disney and Lucasfilm operate. With the success of The Mandalorian on Disney+ and a planned Obi-Wan Kenobi series for the streaming service, the company seems more interested in expanding the franchise’s potential through television than film, and it certainly seems like a safer financial bet regarding sheer corporate synergy. The truth is that we know very little about Johnson’s trilogy or his plans, let alone Lucasfilm’s long-term strategy, and the longer we wait, the more that anti-fandom froths at the mouth in ways neither the company nor Johnson himself need or want.

A Knives Out Series Will Be More Fun

One of the most appealing aspects of Knives Out is how well it lends itself to a full-on series of films, akin to the Poirot or Miss Marple books, with Craig’s Benoit Blanc moving from location to location and solving mysteries involving an eclectic group of strangers. Imagine a whole Knives Out movie series where each film includes a new death and a cast of big-name actors having an absolute ball as Craig deduces which one of them is the murderer. Half the fun of old Poirot and Miss Marple episodes were in the opportunity to see new locations, watch prominent actors, and figure out the intricate machinations of the latest case. There’s a clear gap in the market for more of that on the big screen and nobody seems better suited to it than Johnson.

Johnson’s work on Star Wars has been exemplary, but nobody would blame him if he decided to sit out many more years of being abused on Twitter and having every aspect of his life picked over by people who will never like or agree with him. As fandom hostilities have grown ever more violent and panic-inducing, Johnson has had to deal with a lot of unnecessary nonsense, most of which he can’t even respond to or criticize without further fanning the flames. This is, sadly, a now-expected part of the gig when a director, actor, or creative figure signs onto a major franchise, but that doesn’t mean anyone should have to put up with it. Whatever creative powers Lucasfilm gave him – and the way he used them was truly exciting – there’s nothing quite as satisfying as being able to do and create whatever you want, free of the micromanaging that is expected from an agonizingly monitored multi-billion dollar franchise. Whatever Rian Johnson does with his future will inevitably be worth keeping up with, but he certainly doesn’t need Star Wars to take him far.

Next: How Knives Out Responds To Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Backlash