Get this: JJ Abrams thinks the most recent Star Wars trilogy, which he helped launch successfully with 2015’s The Force Awakens, should’ve had a long-term plan.
Abrams was director of two of those Star Wars films, including 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, so he saw from the inside the impact of not having a strategy. The films were divisive with fans, and suffered creatively by not sharing a single narrative voice as Rian Johnson stepped in to direct The Last Jedi.
Collider spoke with Abrams and asked him about Star Wars and whether not hot having a plan from the beginning was a hurdle…
“I’ve been involved in a number of projects that have been – in most cases, series – that have ideas that begin the thing where you feel like you know where it’s gonna go, and sometimes it’s an actor who comes in, other times it’s a relationship that as-written doesn’t quite work, and things that you think are gonna just be so well-received just crash and burn and other things that you think like, ‘Oh that’s a small moment’ or ‘That’s a one-episode character’ suddenly become a hugely important part of the story. 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.”
“There are projects that I’ve worked on where we had some ideas but we hadn’t worked through them enough, sometimes we had some ideas but then we weren’t allowed to do them the way we wanted to. I’ve had all sorts of situations where you plan things in a certain way and you suddenly find yourself doing something that’s 180 degrees different, and then sometimes it works really well and you feel like, ‘Wow that really came together,’ and other times you think, ‘Oh my God I can’t believe this is where we are,’ and sometimes when it’s not working out it’s because it’s what you planned, and other times when it’s not working out it’s because you didn’t [have a plan].”
“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.”
Abrams doesn’t actually mention Star Wars in his answer, and he tries to keep it general, but the interviewer asked him specifically about the trilogy. I’m not the first to say it but it’s clear having two filmmakers telling vastly different stories alienated fans and caused much of the polarized reaction. You had one set of people who liked the more traditional approach favored by Abrams, and others who appreciated Johnson taking a more adventurous route. Neither is inherently wrong, they just couldn’t gel together to make a cohesive, satisfying Star Wars story.