Posted on Monday, November 9th, 2015 by Ethan Anderton
Even though J.J. Abrams has been a fan of Star Wars for a long time, he’s never been more engulfed in the galaxy far, far away than he has for the past two or three years. Given the Herculean task of delivering a new film in the iconic sci-fi saga that will launch a new era of Star Wars for fans both old and new, Abrams has had a lot on his plate, and a new extensive interview with the director gives us a glimpse into his mindset both as a filmmaker and as a fan.
Below, we round up some of the more fascinating quotes from Abrams, featuring his perspective on Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing, giving secrets to Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, working with the legendary John Williams and much more.
Cracking the Story
Wired really landed some good stuff in their JJ Abrams interview, pulling some fascinating stuff about how the filmmaker approached something as massive as The Force Awakens — a movie where even coming up with a title was a difficult task to complete. How does someone like Abrams tackle a movie like this?
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.
I asked questions like “How do we make this movie delightful?” That was really the only requirement [co-writer Lawrence Kasdan] 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.
A Movie for Fans New and Old
Obviously Star Wars already has a built-in fanbase, but how much consideration was given to how this movie will appeal to people who may not care about Star Wars? Or new fans who might experience the galaxy for the first time with this movie? Abrams took cues from the original film:
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.
For me, setting The Force Awakens 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi is key. It creates a situation where not even diehard fans really know the state of the galaxy, or what our characters have been up to this whole time. That also allows any non-hardcore fans to jump in and pretty much be in the same boat as everyone else.
Avoiding Pointless Fan Service
Abrams also set out to avoid including things that were cool or iconic about Star Wars just to appease fans. He wanted to make sure that every element of the movie was interesting and had purpose:
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.
On the next page, J.J. Abrams talks marketing and learning from his own mistakes.