J.J. Abrams Talks Star Wars Plans, Prequels, & More


J.J. Abrams recently sat down with /Film while promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here are the highlights:

On going their own way from George Lucas’ treatment: “No. I came on board and Disney had already decided they didn’t want to go that direction, so the mandate was to start from scratch and tell a story that was the continuum… And Kathleen Kennedy brought on Larry Kasdan and Michael Arndt, and it was those people I began working with.”

On how different the film is from what Lucas had planned: “I can’t quantify that, but I can say that the spirit of it, the feeling of it, the continuum and telling a brand new story set in a world that just like VI from V and V from IV would feel like a continuum, is always the thing Larry and I wanted to do. But it was very much about answering the questions: What do we want to feel? Why are we telling this story? Who are the characters that have any meaning or relevance or make us feel something? Because Larry had created some of the greatest lines in Star Wars, with Yoda and some of the great sequences, he had been living with Star Wars for decades. He was the dream collaborator to say “Where would we be now? What would have happened from the remnant of the Empire? Where is the republic now? What happened to Han, Leia, Luke and all these characters that we’ve come to know and love?” So he was the dream person to have in the trenches with you.”

On balancing the development of one film vs. planting seeds for the rest of them: “We didn’t write a treatment but there are countless times we came up with something and said “oh, this would be so great for Episode VIII!” or “Thats what we could get to in IX!” It was just that kind of forward moving story. But we knew this had to neither be a backwards moving nostalgic trip only nor a beginning of a movie without a satisfying conclusion, and that was part of the balancing act — embracing what we have inherited and using that where and whenever possible to tell a story that hasn’t been seen yet. We also knew that certain things were inevitable in our minds but that didn’t mean it would be inevitable for whoever came in next. When Rian [Johnson], who I admire enormously and adore, came on board, we met and talked with him about all the things we were working on and playing with, and he as a spectacular writer and director has taken those things and has written an amazing script that I think will be an incredible next chapter, some of which incorporating things we were thinking of and other things are things we could never of dreamed of.”

On what he thinks about the prequels: “All I’ll say about the prequels is if you ask someone around the age I was when the original trilogy came out, “What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?” they will tell you one of the original trilogy. If you ask someone around that age when the prequels came out, they will say one of the prequels. And it’s scientifically proven and undeniable. The original trilogy was for me what Star Wars felt like. And it was what Star Wars was. The prequels had a different but apparently equally powerful draw for so many people, and in some cases a more powerful draw. What I loved about the original trilogy is how real it felt. I still to this moment can’t believe how it felt to look at the desert of what was supposed to be Tatooine and seeing these two droids walking along and no fantasy genre film had ever, in my experience, looked like that before. And suddenly this was real. And it made all the other sets look real. I remember seeing the sandcrawler and all the scenes that took place in front of those giant treads and feeling like “that’s impossible, they’re real!” And it’s because they actually built that piece of the sandcrawler. I remember seeing the hangar and not knowing where and how the matte painting begins and the in-camera shot ends. It was so miraculously visually authentic and it was one of the reasons why Kathleen Kennedy and I decided very early on, that’s what this movie needs to feel like. Which is why when it would have been easier and cheaper and faster to not go to Abu Dhabi, it wouldn’t have looked as good if we hadn’t. It would have been easier not to travel to Wales or to Ireland, Iceland or to build all these sets, exterior and interior, that we did. There are a lot of other ways to approach the movie that I think would have been okay, but it was so important that we made this movie feel authentic as much as possible. Now, what I’m describing doesn’t automatically make it any good but it was a piece of the puzzle that George got so unbelievably right in those first three films and it was really important to us that we adhere to that.”

On the “chosen one” aspect of the prequels and if that changes in this film: “I do. I will just say this. I would never presume to question anything George Lucas says is canon in Star Wars. And our job was not to negate or undo… A lot of people who are critics, and I respect all of them, of Star Trek, the ones that we did, said we destroyed what they loved and negated everything. And we worked hard to clarify that we are not saying that ourStar Trek over-rides a thing of the original Star Trek — it was a parallel timeline. I never wanted to negate canon that fans held so dear. And because I love Star Wars and have for too many years.”