The final trailer is out. Tickets are on sale. Character posters have been unveiled. Guys, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is almost here. The most anticipated film of all-time is now one month away and excitement has never been higher. With its release right around the corner, director J.J. Abrams (along with the cast) is now beginning to do a lot more interviews.
There’s no doubt that Abrams is an incredible director, but many believe that he hasn’t been the best at storytelling through the years. However, as part of a fascinating profile done by Wired, Abrams laid out the clear vision that was tackling The Force Awakens. He begins with letting us know that The Force Awakens should function as A New Hope did, where there is already a world set in place, but fans don’t need to see to care about the characters and the journey taking place:
“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.”
Star Trek Into Darkness was a fun and entertaining film, it was, but the one issue many had with it was the storytelling that took place. Abrams himself acknowledges that in the interview, but also goes on to say that the story was his main focus before filming began, and that came with a helping hand from Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan (The Emprie Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi):
“More than anything, I drew on personal experiences as cautionary tales, things that I didn’t want to do again. For example, I didn’t want to enter into making a movie where we didn’t really own our story. I feel like I’ve done that a couple of times in my career. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my work, but the fact is I remember starting to shoot Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness and feeling like I hadn’t really solved some fundamental story problems.”
One of the interviews best moments comes from the following, as Abrams clearly understand the scope of the story and what the entire franchise means instead of just his film:
“As a fan of Star Wars, I can look at those movies and both respect and love what they’ve done. But working on The Force Awakens, we’ve had to consider them in a slightly different context. For example, it’s very easy to love “I am your father.” But when you think about how and when and where that came, I’m not sure that even Star Wars itself could have supported that story point had it existed in the first film, Episode IV. Meaning: It was a massively powerful, instantly classic moment in movie history, but it was only possible because it stood on the shoulders of the film that came before it. There had been a couple of years to allow the idea of Darth Vader to sink in, to let him emerge as one of the greatest movie villains ever. Time built up everyone’s expectations about the impending conflict between Luke and Vader. If “I am your father” had been in the first film, I don’t know if it would have had the resonance. I actually don’t know if it would have worked.”
It’s well know that Abrams is as much of a Star Wars fans as you or I, that’s what made him a perfect fit for kicking off these new movies. But even so, Abrams admits that he had moments of geeking out seeing Harrison Ford dressed as Han Solo or a Stormtrooper, but continued to keep his focus on the overall story instead of the Star Wars eye candy:
“For example, when we were on-set and we were shooting a scene, it was always amazing to me to see Harrison Ford dressed as Han Solo. Or, wow, there’s a guy—a stormtrooper!—and he looks exactly like a stormtrooper. Remember the feeling of the villain stepping off his ship? Or the sound of the TIE fighters when they roar past you? We’ve all seen TIE fighters roar past us now for nearly 40 years; what makes that interesting? The point is, these scenes aren’t good just because those characters or things are there, even though it’s the greatest eye candy in the history of time.”
“We really tried to look at it from the inside out. What makes this story have a beating heart? What makes it romantic or fun or surprising or heartbreaking or hysterically funny? We simply approached this narrative from the point of view that this is a story about a young man and a young woman, not with the idea that we can do anything we want.”
A great example of the story being the focal point for Abrams and his crew is how he talks about the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and how a character like Han Solo isn’t the same character we last saw back in 1983:
“It was important that Han Solo be Han Solo but not feel like he’s playing a 30-year-old dude. When you’re 70, you will have lived a different set of experiences. That has to be apparent in who he is. Harrison was required to bring a level of complexity that a 30-year-old Han wouldn’t be required to have.”
Stepping away from the story and characters, Abrams continues to talk all things Star Wars. Here he talks about the sort of involvement he will have going forward with future movies, and the sort of tough task he had laid out in front of him:
“Working on this new movie has been as much about trying to set up elements of what is beyond what you’re seeing as it has been about telling a story that will be satisfying in and of itself. But it can’t feel like a cop-out—like we’re just setting things up and not resolving them.”
There’s no denying that that is probably the difficult task of all difficult tasks. But once Rian Johnson was hired on to direct the next installment, Abrams says he worked closely with Johnson to ensure that the series was going in the right direction:
“The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what [Larry Kasdan] 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.”
And apparently that went both ways, as Abrams revealed that Johnson did in fact have some input on The Force Awakens:
“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.”
Finally, Abrams says that he not only had to set up this trilogy’s story elements, but he had to cast all the key roles that will be major parts of future films, films that he will have much less to do with, comparing it to a very popular franchise that casted incredibly well:
“When you think about all that these characters go through, not just in this movie but knowing their work would continue, these individuals needed to be worthy bearers of this burden and opportunity to continue to tell the story. I think about the Harry Potter movies—that’s unbelievable that they cast those films the way they did. And for what, eight movies?! That was a miracle. They needed to be able to do everything, and they all killed it.”
All these details, everything above, that is everything that matters. Yeah, we love the names, lightsabers, and every nerd thing that goes on in the Star Wars universe, but knowing exactly what to do with the story and its characters is what made Star Wars… Star Wars. It’s fascinating and somewhat relieving to hear these kind of things from Abrams. He’s respecting the kind of material that Star Wars is and making sure the franchise gets back to its glory days.
My anticipation and excitement for this film has always been higher than any other movie for me, but this interview and these kind of words take it to a whole new level. Abrams didn’t just make the best case as to why he was the best for the job, but made the best case as to why Star Wars is back.
J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in a galaxy near you on December 18th, 2015.