photo credit: MomStart.com
Our coverage of the exclusive interviews from the STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS #StarWarsEvent concludes with Director J.J. Abrams. J.J. is well-known for his work on popular television and movies. From Alias, Lost, and Star Trek, he’s mastered the art of storytelling. This interview was one that we anticipated all day, since we knew how big of a Star Wars fan J.J. is, and how important it was to him to make a film that fellow fans would enjoy. Check out what J.J. had to say about the newest addition to the Star Wars franchise.
Does the fact that you were not quite 11 [when you first saw Star Wars] influence the way that you approach producing this film?
J.J.: I’m sure it did, because it was something that meant so much to me for so long. It’s been engrained in all of our conscientiousness for so long that it’s become a birthright to just know Star Wars.
But, 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.
The whole process was really about trying to love it, but also be hard on it, so that the story meant something and was emotional and not just a fan film.
There are always questions about why a director decides to take on a film, but this is amplified when a director like J.J. Abrams decides to take on a franchise deeply admired and obsessed over by generations. J.J. shares why he decided to take on The Force Awakens, and who convinced him to do so:
J.J.: It was Kathleen Kennedy, who I’ve known for a long time. She called and asked if I was interested in working on Star Wars. Of course, it was a very surreal question and it was very flattering. And my answer was no, partly because my wife and I had plans to take our kids away. Partly because I’d worked on a number of sequels, and it felt like enough is enough. And partly because I care about Star Wars so much, that the idea of taking it on felt like a kind of a thing that I couldn’t imagine, and intimidating.
So I said no thank you, and she said can we get together. I said yes. And when Kathy Kennedy and you get together, she’ll convince you of whatever it is she wants you to. And she just was amazing, and basically said this was going to be an opportunity to continue the story since Return of the Jedi. And 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? 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 was undeniable. After the meeting, I went downstairs, and found Katie, my wife, and I said I think I really want to do this.
photo credit: MomStart.com
Everyone’s fallen in love with BB-8 already. How did he come about?
J.J.: We knew we had a droid that was gonna be a critical piece of the puzzle, but we didn’t know if he was going to be sort of bi-pedal, like 3PO, or roll around like R2. And I just had this idea that if we had a sphere, and then a semi-sphere on top, you could get quite a bit of expression without a face.
And so I drew a sketch of BB-8, and I had the eye and little antenna and everything. It didn’t have a color pattern and it didn’t have all the critical details, but I sent that to Neal Scanlan and he began to come up with designs that would follow that. And it was amazing how quickly it looked like it could work. I didn’t know if they would be able to create something that could be performed on camera, which I knew was going to be important.
And they did, and I will never forget the first day that we came to their offices to see BB-8. We walked in and Brian, the puppeteer, came out and wheeled out BB8 on his rig. And literally within seconds, Brian disappeared. This thing was looking around, curious, and you could feel the soul because Brian was imbuing him with life.
How do you find the balance between the preservation of what Star Wars is, and integrating the new technology?
J.J.: This whole process has been going backwards to go forwards. This is 7. It needs to feel like there’s the continuum. But the important thing was recognizing what are the tenants of Star Wars, and the things that make Star Wars specifically Star Wars, and not one of the many attempts to rip off what George Lucas created.
The beauty of what we had was we actually inherited Star Wars. We could actually put TIE fighters, and lightsabers, and Star Destroyers, and it feel essential as opposed to derivative. But this was all about telling a new story, so the brilliant luck of having Lawrence Kasdan along for the ride is, he knew having written Empire and Jedi, having lived with it for decades, about that world and where it might have gone.
The most important thing was always, well, why are we doing this? What’s the point of trying a new Star Wars story? What do we want people to feel? And who are the main characters? And that was the most exciting part, finding this young woman. Rey, this character who, from the beginning, was a central role and voice in the story. To find this character Finn, who we started to fall in love with very early on, and to realize their story of discovering what their role is in this universe; not just any universe but the Star Wars universe. That was thrilling.
J.J. says that all of this development came before they even discussed what original characters would be added to the storyline. There are certain nods to the advancements that the universe has experienced over the past 30 years, like BB-8 having a sharper hologram than R2-D2. But, J.J. says that the essential part of bringing back the franchise with this story was to bring back the feeling that we as fans receive when watching the franchise.
photo credit: MomStart.com
We can only imagine what it feels like to direct and then see all of the hard work come to fruition. J.J. expresses how he feels about releasing this work into the world with these very wise words:
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. 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.
It is something I will be grateful for forever.
Wow. What an amazing interview, and a great testament to someone who is not only invested in his craft, but appreciative of the work that the crew created on a daily basis.
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