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SYFY WIRE Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

J.J. Abrams: Star Wars expectations are a pressure cooker - and that’s why Episode IX will be a diamond

By Benjamin Bullard
Luke and Leia in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Thank George Lucas’ immaculately executed creative vision for making, in Star Wars, a movie universe that fans instantly recognize when they see it. The galaxy far, far away occupies the rarest of air when it comes to getting the lore, look, and feel just right — and with every new installment, the immense pressure only increases to meet impossibly high expectations.

It’s enough to make even a seasoned Star Wars veteran want to run and hide. In a sprawling new interview with Fast Company, director J.J. Abrams said he initially turned down the invitation to direct the upcoming (and still untitled) Episode IX — despite having already pulled off a blockbuster with The Force Awakens.

Between the pressure of making a new Star Wars movie from scratch in just two years’ time; of iterating on Rian Johnson’s sharply defined story vision in The Last Jedi; and of doing it all in the film meant to serve as the final sendoff to a Skywalker saga more than 40 years in the making, “I felt a little bit like I was playing with fire,” said Abrams.

“Like, why go back? We managed to make it work. What the hell am I thinking? And there was a moment when I literally said no, and Katie [McGrath, Abrams’ wife and Bad Robot co-CEO] said, ‘You should do this.’”

Turns out, he said, she was right. While giving his directorial involvement in Episode IX a solid round of due humility, Abrams said he believes all the pressure actually helped make not just a good film, but something “incredibly special.”

“[T]ruly, finally — now that I’m back, the difference is I feel like we might’ve done it,” he said. “Like, I actually feel like this crazy challenge that could have been a wildly uncomfortable contortion of ideas, and a kind of shoving-in of answers and Band-Aids and bridges and things that would have felt messy ... I feel like we’ve gotten to a place — without jinxing anything or sounding more confident than I deserve to be — I feel like we’re in a place where we might have something incredibly special … And more than anything, I’m excited about what I think we might have.”

Episode IX finished filming in mid-February, so Abrams’ well-informed hindsight encompasses the full scope of all the story and all the visuals that’ve been committed to film for the movie. While Abrams offered no new hints about the story, he said his partnership with new-to-the-franchise writer Chris Terrio (Justice League) distills, in his view, the best way to approach the high-wire act of stepping up to the creative plate in the Star Wars universe.

Right from the start, “the first thing I did was reach out to a writer who I’ve admired for years, Chris Terrio, who I didn’t really know, to say, ‘Listen, would you want to write Star Wars with me?' And he screamed," probably from equal parts fear and excitement, said Abrams. “And what I realized in that moment was, I hadn’t been aware until then that I needed to work with someone who would scream at the prospect of working on Star Wars.”

Abrams sounds confident that Episode IX has the chance to be a transcendent movie, even by Star Wars standards — but will it make fans scream for all the right reasons? We’ve waited decades for that answer, and at last we’re only months away. Star Wars: Episode IX makes the jump to theaters on Dec. 20 — and be sure to stay on top of all things new in the galaxy far, far away starting April 11, with SYFY WIRE's weekend-long coverage of Star Wars Celebration 2019.