J.J. Abrams On Adding His Mark On The Star Wars Legacy

Today is Star Wars day as the movie officially opens and people everywhere will flock to the theaters to see the movie this weekend. (I have my tickets!) For my final Star Wars interview post, it seem fitting to share what the movie’s director J.J. Abrams had to say about how the movie came together. 

JJ Abrams The Force Awakens Interview

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Director J.J. Abrams

J.J. Abrams list of credits reads like a list of my favorite TV shows and movies. His work is everywhere, and it is superb. Tackling the project of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was no easy task. In fact, it was such and overwhelming undertaking for an admitted Star Wars fan that when he was first approached he turned it down. That’s right, he told Kathleen Kennedy no. Luckily for us, Kathleen Kennedy is a persuasive woman and the rest will go down in Star Wars history. 

I realized this is 30-some years after the fact, the main characters would have been born 10 to 15 years after that movie. Looking back on what we know of the story, that would be ancient history for kids who were 19, 20 years old. What do they know? What do they believe? And what do they believe in? And the idea of finding these young people who exist in a Star Wars universe was so compelling to me, and that feeling of re-discovering a world and a feeling that was so powerful for me growing up was undeniable. 

JJ Abrams Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars
While I have always been a Star Wars fan, it amazes me how my daughters have become uber fans from such a young age. At just three years old, my youngest was captivated by the galaxy and fell in love with the saga. And they aren’t the only ones. Like so many kids J.J. Abrams grew up as a Star Wars fan, and he recognizes the unique ability for the stories to capture kids of all ages, including himself as a young boy.

It was something that meant so much to me for so long. The thing is that it’s because it’s been ingrained in sort of all of our conscientiousness for so long that it’s become a birthright to just know Star Wars, you know. You’re sort of born, you know what a light saber is, Darth Vader, you understand that. At three years old, kids talk about Star Wars in a way that is so eerie, ’cause you think how could you possibly know so much. And somehow they do and even those kids who haven’t played the games are seen the shows, I don’t know how it is that they understand Star Wars immediately.

But as the director, he wasn’t just a fan he was in charge of seeing the movie from a new point of view and shaping the direction of not only The Force Awakens but the other stories to come as well. 

My job wasn’t to be a fan boy or an 11-year-old kid. It was to be a nearly 50-year-old movie director, so I tried to approach this thing from a point of view of obviously acknowledging how much I love what George Lucas created, but understand that being a fan doesn’t make the story work. Being a fan doesn’t make the scene any good. Being a fan is great but we all had to be storytellers and filmmakers.

JJ Abrams Star Wars Set
As with all great movies, and certainly Star Wars, music plays an important role in the movie. In addition to the score with John Williams, J.J. Abrams worked closely with Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the music for the cantina. (Did you know J.J. Abrams is also a musician?!)

So we started collaborating on this music and we both use the same music software and we have dropbox and we would send files back and forth. And we came up with this piece of music, actually two pieces of music for this sequence, and to get to work with him was preposterously fun.

The big question for me is always whether or not to see a movie in 3D. I know 3D is awesome, but it can leave me with a headache and my kids aren’t huge fans. So it is a debate. After listening to J.J. Abrams gush about the 3D in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I am glad we have 3D tickets. 

I’m not always the biggest 3D fan, but I will tell you there are things in this movie that I actually felt were shockingly better in 3D. There are literally shots that I couldn’t believe I saw things in 3D that I hadn’t seen in 2D. It was so strange, and I know this might sound like I’m selling the 3D, and to anyone who doesn’t really care, see it in 2D. Don’t see it in 3D, it’s okay. I was amazed at how great that looked. 

BB-8 Star Wars The Force Awakens
One of the many things that makes Star Wars movies so imaginative is the use of puppetry to bring alien creatures to life. Although many things can now be done in CG, J.J. Abrams recognized the importance of puppetry and its ability to create the right emotion and used that along with CG to create characters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

I remember looking around and there were just puppeteers under every table and poking through things and there were just all these people there were basically invisible but they were performing these characters that Neil and his team created. And I remember feeling like “Oh, my God. It’s like we’re on the set of a Muppet movie.” It was so cool, and I realized, of course, Frank Oz, and this Venn diagram of what Jim Henson and his workshop did, and what George Lucas did, not only to overlap obviously in Yoda, but that there was a kind of creative, homespun, do it yourself genius that was when the Muppets were brought to life, of course, they were playing these sort of often plush, comedic characters.

George Lucas used the same technology to create what appeared to be living, breathing flesh and blood characters. And it was so wonderful to have that, and as the shoot continued, the biggest, advantage was in BB-8, who is our new droid, who in scenes with the other actors, Daisy and John and Harrison, this droid was alive, was expressive, was passionate, curious, helpful, afraid, daring.

He was literally on camera, in scenes doing everything that you could have ever dreamed of. We could have worked with our extraordinary computer graphics department at ILM and made that work, but it never would have looked quite right, quite as good, quite as real.

We use CG for BB-8 not to bring BB-8 into the shot but to remove the puppeteers. So we, we use CG quite a bit to actually get rid of legs poking out from the bottom of a creature, wires, rigs, arms and stuff like that, but it was really an amazing thing to have all those creatures and BB-8, the most important one, live and present and in the frame and in the shot. So that when there where CG creatures, when there were things that we couldn’t do physically, there was a standard to match, which was actually captured on film.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Director JJ Abrams
Being here to help relaunch this saga for a new generation of families, and you’re kind of passing the torch to future directors that are going to be exploring this in different offshoots and what not, will you be able to really sit back and enjoy it as a fan now without thinking of what your creative stamp would be as the saga continues?

In creating Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has helped to restart the Star Wars legacy, but there are many more Star Wars stories to come and next time J.J. Abrams will get to watch as a fan like the rest of us. And he told us that he is excited to continue to enjoy the story and see where other directors take it. 

I knew getting involved in this project that it was an honor to be asked, and I knew that my role would be as temporary guardian of this saga. I knew also as I was working on it that if the movie works, what a great time to step down. And if the movie doesn’t work, who wants me to work on the next one anyway. So it was win-win.

I’m really looking forward to telling original stories that I’ve been sort of wonderfully and happily sidetracked with the movies I’ve been working on, but I do look forward to working on something that doesn’t need to have a number in the title. And I cannot wait to see what the directors who are named and being discussed will do in this universe coming up, because there’s some really talented people I know are doing extraordinary things. So it’s very exciting, and to get to work with Larry Kasdan to begin what we knew was the start of a trilogy, was a rare thing in a movie, which is to start a story that you know needs to be satisfying, in and of itself, but also is the beginning of a larger tail. So that was really cool to get to do.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Cast
Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduces fans to a very diverse cast, including both a female lead and villain. As a mom of girls my family is very excited to see a female lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and my daughters will be surprised to learn there is also a female villain (really cool). This inclusive cast was one that both Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams talked about being important from the early stages of planning.

It was really important when we began working on this script, that this movie feel and look a little bit more like the world than one might have thought. And when I say one might have thought, I don’t know who that one is, but I’m sure that person’s out there because when people say thank you for this, it sort of means that they haven’t seen it like this before on some level. I know that looking at the story from the very beginning, Rey was, and she wasn’t always named Rey, but Rey was always at the center of this story.

We knew we wanted to have female Stormtroopers, and there are, in the movie, but we knew we wanted to have the head of the Stormtroopers be an important character, and we thought well why not have her be female. And Gwendoline Christie’s name came up and I was already a fan, but just thought “Oh, my God. That would be unbelievable if that was possible.” 

So we have good guys and bad guys who are not guys. We have female humans and non-humans.

JJ Abrams Daisy Ridley Star Wars The Force Awakens
Coming full circle from originally saying no to taking on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams is now very proud of the movie and the people he worked alongside making the film. And when he talked about his excitement for the movie, I got even more excited to see it! 

But anyway, I will tell you that the experience of working on this movie, really has been nothing sort of shocking to me, because it kept living up to it’s potential in a way that didn’t really feel like it would. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it’s never too late, I guess, for that to happen, but regardless of what the reception is or what the result of the movie is, I know for a fact that when you see the movie, you will be seeing truly extraordinary work by thousands of people. And it is something I will be grateful for forever.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Opens In Theaters December 18

For more Star Wars: The Force Awakens coverage, don’t miss my previous posts. And stay tuned for more Star Wars all week.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

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