How J.J. Abrams Went Renegade For 'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker,' Which He Says Is About "The Promise Of The Future"

With the Star Wars films constantly changing hands from director to director, it's difficult for some filmmakers to be beholden to fan expectations.

J.J. Abrams, who returns to direct Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker after introducing the sci-fi franchise to a new generation with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is feeling that pressure, especially on the heels of the rule-breaking, fandom-dividing film that was Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And while some are concerned that he may fall back on the rosy nostalgia that made The Force Awakens such a mammoth success, Abrams hints that he might be going rogue with the final film in the Skywalker Saga.

When J.J. Abrams revived the Star Wars franchise with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, it had been 10 years since a Star Wars film and 32 years since audiences had last seen the beloved original characters on the big screen. Expectations were high, and Abrams was able to gracefully walk that line with Episode 7, which was praised for its homages to the first trilogy while introducing a whole new generation of characters. But coming into The Rise of Skywalker, those old characters have fallen away, one by one, leaving the focus simply on the new generation. And with that shift, Abrams felt more free to make a Star Wars movie how he wants to.

"[O]n seven, I felt beholden to Star Wars in a way that was interesting—I was doing what to the best of my ability I felt Star Wars should be,"Abrams told Vanity Fair in an in-depth cover story about The Rise of Skywalker. But that changes with Episode 9, he said:

"Working on nine, I found myself approaching it slightly differently... It felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, Fuck it, I'm going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something."

The Rise of Skywalker will not "long for the past; they're more about the promise of the future," Vanity Fair notes, with the "young generation, this new generation, having to deal with all the debt that has come before," Abrams said. He added:

"And it's the sins of the father, and it's the wisdom and the accomplishments of those who did great things, but it's also those who committed atrocities, and the idea that this group is up against this unspeakable evil and are they prepared? Are they ready? What have they learned from before? It's less about grandeur. It's less about restoring an old age. It's more about preserving a sense of freedom and not being one of the oppressed."

It seems like Abrams is taking to heart one of the most famous lines from Johnson's divisive The Last Jedi: "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to." As different as Johnson's revolutionary approach to the Star Wars franchise was compared to Abrams' nostalgia-infused The Force Awakens, Abrams said he was actually emboldened by the big swings that Johnson took. "Having seen what Rian did made me approach this from a place of instinct and gut," Abrams told Vanity Fair. "I was making choices I knew I would not have made on VII, some story-wise, but more in terms of directing. I found myself feeling less like I'm going to try and do something that feels like it's [only] true to the specifics of this franchise or the story."

But for fans worried about whether Abrams taking creative liberties like Johnson would result in a fractured Skywalker saga, don't worry. Abrams revealed that in meetings with The Force Awakens and original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan as well as Rian Johnson and George Lucas, they settled on an ending that was specifically designed to bring the nine-film series to a satisfying conclusion. "If a kid is watching all nine movies," Abrams said, "he or she sees this one path, this inevitability and that's the challenge of this movie."

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters on December 20, 2019.