A common complaint lodged against Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that the film was too familiar, and a bit too safe. Now co-writer/director J.J. Abrams is kind of admitting he agrees with those assessments to a certain degree.
Abrams is currently in the final stretch of post-production on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the third and final film in this new Star Wars trilogy, but also the final film in the entire Skywalker Saga that comprises the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and this sequel trilogy. Abrams didn’t intended to come back. He first declined the opportunity to direct The Force Awakens before coming around to the idea of establishing a new trilogy of Star Wars movies, but Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow was originally set to co-write and direct Star Wars 9. After two years on the project, however, Trevorrow left due to creative differences, and Lucasfilm turned to Abrams to come onboard, start the script over from scratch, and bring this thing home.
One of the reasons Abrams agreed to come back to the franchise may have been Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s Force Awakens sequel was divisive to some fans but drew immense critical praise, as the darker follow-up is a thematically rich, surprising, and immaculately crafted story of heroism that takes the franchise in unexpected but no less satisfying directions. And in a new interview with Total Film (via Games Radar), Abrams says he felt emboldened to shake things up for Star Wars 9:
“On this one, I let myself be, at least in the way I was approaching the thing, freer. In Episode 7, I was adhering to a kind of approach that felt right for Star Wars in my head. It was about finding a visual language, like shooting on locations and doing practical things as much as possible. And we continue that in Episode 9, but I also found myself doing things that I’m not sure I would have been as daring to do on Episode 7.”
Abrams credits The Last Jedi and specifically Rian Johnson for inspiring him to veer from the well-worn path of George Lucas and craft his own story and visual language:
“Rian helped remind me that that’s why we’re on these movies – not to just do something that you’ve seen before. I won’t say that I felt constrained or limited on 7, but I found myself wanting to do something that felt more consistent with the original trilogy than not. And on 9, I found myself feeling like I’m just gonna go for it a bit more.”
It’s honestly kind of refreshing to hear Abrams readily admit that with The Force Awakens, he was attempting to mimic not only the story structure but also the visual language of Lucas’ Star Wars. While some dug that The Force Awakens was a conscious echo of A New Hope, others felt that was a bit of a wasted opportunity—why resurrect the franchise all these years later if it’s just going to chart the same path? What Abrams did unequivocally nail was the introduction of new, compelling characters, and Johnson took that ball and ran with it for The Last Jedi, deepening the complex relationship between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Now, in The Rise of Skywalker, it sounds like Abrams is following these new story threads more than attempting to mimic or echo story points from the franchise that were previously put to screen.
We’ll see how it all ends when The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on December 20th. For now, Star Wars fans can take heart in knowing that the brand new Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian is now live on Disney+.