When Lucasfilm’s trilogy-capping Star Wars 9 was in a precarious position and needed a new director fast, the conversation with J.J. Abrams didn’t initially go as planned. The “conclusion to the Skywalker saga” was originally to be co-written and directed by Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow, who worked on the project for over a year. But in the wake of the disappointing release of Trevorrow’s drama The Book of Henry, the filmmaker subsequently departed Star Wars 9 over “creative differences.” Not too shortly thereafter, it was announced that Abrams would be returning to finish the story he started, but in a new interview he reveals he initially hesitated to return to a galaxy far, far away.
“I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t the guy, ya’ know? I was working on some other things, and I had something else that I was assuming would be the next project, if we’d be so lucky. And then Kathy Kennedy called and said, ‘Would you really, seriously, consider coming aboard?’ And once that started, it all happened pretty quickly. The whole thing was a crazy leap of faith. And there was an actual moment when I nearly said, ‘No, I’m not going to do this.’”
It was Abrams’ wife and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath who convinced him he should return:
“To ask to have that happen again, I felt a little bit like I was playing with fire. Like, why go back? We managed to make it work. What the hell am I thinking? And there was a moment when I literally said, ‘No,’ and Katie said, ‘You should do this.’ And my first thought was, has she met someone? And then I thought, she’s usually right about stuff. And when she said it, I think that she felt like it was an opportunity to bring to a close this story that we had begun and had continued, of course.”
Abrams admits it was a daunting prospect given that Star Wars 9 already had a release date, and revealed that he did indeed toss out the previous script that Trevorrow was working on:
“To have no script and to have a release date and have it be essentially a two-year window when you’re saying (to yourself), you’ve got two years from the decision to do it to release, and you have literally nothing . . . . You don’t have the story, you don’t have the cast, you don’t have the designers, the sets. There was a crew, and there were things that will be worked on for the version that preceded ours, but this was starting over.”
Abrams says that’s why he turned to Oscar-winning Argo writer to come aboard and co-write the screenplay:
“And because this was such a mega job, I knew at the very least I needed a cowriter to work on this thing, but I didn’t know who that cowriter would be. There was nothing. So the first thing I did was reach out to a writer who I’ve admired for years, Chris Terrio. who I didn’t really know, to say, ‘Listen, would you want to write Star Wars with me?’ And he screamed.”
The Force Awakens filmmaker goes on to say another daunting challenge was picking up where Rian Johnson left off in The Last Jedi:
“It was a completely unknown scenario. I had some gut instincts about where the story would have gone. But without getting in the weeds on episode eight, that was a story that Rian wrote and was telling based on seven before we met. So he was taking the thing in another direction. So we also had to respond to Episode VIII. So our movie was not just following what we had started, it was following what we had started and then had been advanced by someone else.”
On top of that, Abrams reiterated what everyone’s been saying about Episode IX—that it closes the chapter on the entire Luke Skywalker saga:
“So there was that, and, finally, it was resolving nine movies. While there are some threads of larger ideas and some big picture things that had been conceived decades ago and a lot of ideas that Lawrence Kasdan and I had when we were doing Episode VII, the lack of absolute inevitability, the lack of a complete structure for this thing, given the way it was being run was an enormous challenge.”
Now that they’re in post-production and Abrams is back in the Bad Robot offices, the director says he thinks they pulled it all off.
“Strangely, we were sort of relentless and almost unbearably disciplined about the story and forcing ourselves to question and answer some fundamental things that at the beginning, I absolutely had no clue how we would begin to address. I feel like we’ve gotten to a place—without jinxing anything or sounding more confident than I deserve to be—I feel like we’re in a place where we might have something incredibly special. So I feel relief being home, and I feel gratitude that I got to do it. And more than anything, I’m excited about what I think we might have.”
No doubt fans are curious to see what that might be, especially in the wake of The Last Jedi. Will Abrams retroactively change revelations from Johnson’s film—e.g. Rey’s true parentage—or did he and Terrio pick up the baton and forge ahead, keeping Johnson’s story intact? As a fan of The Last Jedi I’m hoping it’s the latter, but we’ll find out when Episode 9 hits theaters this December.
In the meantime, look for plenty more Star Wars 9 information to arrive this weekend during Star Wars Celebration, including a possible first teaser trailer.