J.J. Abrams talks about how the sequel trilogy could have benefited from a plan while also acknowledging how being able to adapt is necessary.
J.J. Abrams talks about the Star Wars sequel trilogy not being mapped out. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened in theaters in 2019 to much fan anticipation as it was set to wrap up the story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi as well as the entire Skywalker Saga. The film made $1 billion worldwide yet was seen as a disappointment by fans and critics alike, with criticism leveled at the handling of Rey and Finn’s character arcs, the return of Palpatine with no explanation, and the sidelining of Rose Tico, among other things.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had a troubled production. Original director Colin Trevorrow left the project in 2017 and Abrams was hired shortly after to direct the film, something he never planned on when he finished The Force Awakens. Abrams had to rework the script with writer Chris Terrio and get it ready to film by 2018, giving it the shortest pre-production period of any of the Disney Star Wars films. Episode IX was always intended to be “Leia’s movie,” but after the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher in December 2016, the story had to be reworked even more.
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In an interview with Collider, Abrams was asked if he thought the Star Wars films would have benefited from a plan in the beginning. Abrams spoke openly about his own experience working in television and how sometimes you need to adapt the story and be prepared for change. He does, however, acknowledge he learned the hard way that without a plan you don’t know what you are building towards.
“I feel like what I’ve learned as a lesson a few times now, and it’s something that especially in this pandemic year working with writers [has become clear], the lesson is that you have to plan things as best you can, and you always need to be able to respond to the unexpected. And the unexpected can come in all sorts of forms, and I do think that there’s nothing more important than knowing where you’re going…You just never really know, but having a plan I have learned – in some cases the hard way – is the most critical thing, because otherwise, you don’t know what you’re setting up. You don’t know what to emphasize. Because if you don’t know the inevitable of the story, you’re just as good as your last sequence or effect or joke or whatever, but you want to be leading to something inevitable.”
The question of how to outline a franchise has always been a difficult one. While fans point to the MCU as having a plan, the studio has often adapted and changed its course. Thanos and the Infinity Saga storyline wasn’t part of the original plan when Iron Man came out and was added in 2012 during the making of The Avengers. Teases like the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s treasure room had to be retconned out. Marvel Studios has handed off franchises to different filmmakers and writers and built from them. The original Star Wars trilogy is one that did have a plan when Lucas wrote it out, but the story did change numerous times. Darth Vader being Luke’s father and Leia being Luke’s sister are twists that weren’t present in the original drafts.
J.J. Abrams has expressed a desire to step away from large franchises for now, hoping to develop original films. He is also lending his hand as a producer to a number of high-profile projects like the upcoming Justice League Dark series and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new Superman film. Hopefully, he can take a lesson from Yoda in the Star Wars film that preceded The Rise of Skywalker: “the greatest teacher, failure is.”
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