Being tasked with relaunching the Star Wars franchise is an awesome and intimidating task — just ask J.J. Abrams.
The director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens sat down with Wired for a positively massive interview (seriously, go read the full thing) about everything from the next sequel to his Mystery Box approach to keeping everything super-secret. The conversation is a fascinating peek into Abrams’ creative process, and also provides some intriguing details about a film destined to be one of the biggest of the decade.
First up, Abrams touches on the challenges of creating a film that will serve as its own standalone story, while also relaunching a franchise destined for myriad new sequels and spinoffs over the next several years. Turns out it was a team approach, and Abrams credits everyone from Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) to the creative folks at Disney.
Here are some choice excerpts:
“We wanted to tell a story that had its own self-contained beginning, middle, and end but at the same time, like A New Hope, implied a history that preceded it and also hinted at a future to follow. When Star Wars first came out, it was a film that both allowed the audience to understand a new story but also to infer all sorts of exciting things that might be. In that first movie, Luke wasn’t necessarily the son of Vader, he wasn’t necessarily the brother of Leia, but it was all possible. The Force Awakens has this incredible advantage, not just of a passionate fan base but also of a backstory that is familiar to a lot of people. We’ve been able to use what came before in a very organic way, because we didn’t have to reboot anything. We didn’t have to come up with a backstory that would make sense; it’s all there. But these new characters, which Force is very much about, find themselves in new situations—so even if you don’t know anything about Star Wars, you’re right there with them. If you are a fan of Star Wars, what they experience will have added meaning…
The collaboration, for me, was an education in storytelling and doing so with clarity, with efficiency, brevity—wit. It was a little like taking an extended master class. And because he’s also a director, he knew what I was going through in prep and in production, and he allowed for my needs. Sometimes those needs were practical, other times they were creative needs or feelings I had. But he was there to help that process, the same way I would have been if I had known he was directing. It was always about moving this thing forward in the right way, about making this movie the right way. I can’t say enough about him.
So I tried to not forget the mistakes I’d made, but I also tried to focus on things that I find inspiring about cinema. I asked questions like “How do we make this movie delightful?” That was really the only requirement Larry and I imposed on each other: The movie needed to be delightful. It was not about explaining everything away, not about introducing a certain number of toys for a corporation, not about trying to appease anyone. This has only ever been about what gets us excited.”
For anyone looking beyond this December, Abrams also gave a meaty update on the state of Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, slated to open in 2017. The first draft of the script is complete, and Abrams has made a point to loop in Johnson so the transition is smooth between the two chapters. Check out an excerpt from that portion below:
“The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie. We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping. And as executive producer of VIII, I need that movie to be really good. Withholding serves no one and certainly not the fans. So we’ve been as transparent as possible.
Rian has asked for a couple of things here and there that he needs for his story. He is an incredibly accomplished filmmaker and an incredibly strong writer. So the story he told took what we were doing and went in the direction that he felt was best but that is very much in line with what we were thinking as well. But you’re right—that will be his movie; he’s going to do it in the way he sees fit. He’s neither asking for nor does he need me to oversee the process.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens Dec. 18. Check out some new behind-the-scenes photos from the flick, courtesy of Wired, below.