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

J.J. Abrams opens up about The Rise of Skywalker's new Leia scenes, plus George Lucas' disappointment

By Josh Grossberg
J.J. Abrams

With less than a month to go before The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters, it's safe to say J.J. Abrams is no doubt feeling like he's about to make the Kessel run.

No stranger to high-pressure blockbusters after guiding 2015's The Force Awakens to over $2 billion at the box office, the A-list director is opening up about the challenge of bringing the Skywalker saga to a successful conclusion; the origins of Princess Leia's new scenes in Episode IX; and Rey’s seemingly effortless Force abilities among other fascinating revelations.

With Carrie Fisher's tragic passing in December 2016 before she could film what was supposed to be a key role for Princess Leia in The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams had to figure out a way to bring closure to her legacy character's arc while paying respect to Leia Organa's place within Star Wars lore. To that end, the helmer went back to unused footage he shot of Fisher for TFA and, with a little ILM magic, repurposed those moments to craft what he hopes will be a satisfying resolution for Leia in the final chapter. And now we know a little bit more about the context of that footage, the last to feature Fisher.

In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Abrams revealed the Leia scenes from Episode VII ended up on the cutting room floor after he decided to trim some of what he had shot when the New Order destroys an entire solar system and billions of people.

"We originally had a character that we got to know who was on the Republic planet when it was destroyed," said the filmmaker. "But it felt a bit beside the point, and in the re-editing, we ended up losing this whole chunk of Leia scenes that we had prior."

Abrams admitted that such an Alderaan-like mass death sequence didn't pack as much of an emotional punch after losing the more intimate connection, but thankfully it enabled him to find a fitting end for Leia.

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Abrams also briefly touched on fan criticism that Rey was too much of a natural when it came to picking up the Force, unlike Luke.

"Yeah, spooky, right?" he said with a smile. "It’s a fair point. It’s not an accident."

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Perhaps we'll learn why that's the case in the final installment. Speaking of the difficulties in wrapping up one of the most iconic big screen sagas of all time, Abrams called Rise of Skywalker "more ambitious" than Force Awakens because he's having to work from a much larger canvas this time.

"It’s an ending. It’s not a beginning. It’s the end of not just one trilogy but three. It’s a far larger movie in terms of scale. Narratively, there’s much more going on everywhere I look — visual effects, more moving pieces," acknowledged the director. "It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever been involved in. By a lot."

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Aside from noting his surprise at how "dark" Luke was in The Last Jedi, Abrams also opined on Star Wars creator George Lucas' reported unhappiness over how The Force Awakens turned out.

"I've only had gratitude for George," said Abrams, echoing remarks Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy told Rolling Stone in a separate sit-down. "It’s probably a complicated thing for him. To decide you’re going to sell this thing that you created, that was your baby, to anyone — that must be more complicated than signing a check and smiling about it. But he’s been incredibly gracious. He’s been super-generous."

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With that in mind, Abrams met with Lucas early on in the development process of Rise of Skywalker and the two brainstormed various ideas so he could get a sense what Lucas thought was important. He then embarked on the movie with the goal of sticking "to some fundamental aspects of the story."

"It wasn’t a difficult thing to try and do. And again, he was really gracious. So I’m only grateful. Do I wish that [Force Awakens] had been his favorite movie of all time? Yes, I only wanted to do well by him," Abrams added. "I would just say that I have nothing but profound respect for the guy and am still truly, even more so now, working on these movies in awe of what he created."

Whatever happens when The Rise of Skywalker storms multiplexes on December 20, no doubt J.J. is sticking with Yoda's maxim: "Do or do not -- there is no try."