J.J. Abrams wasn’t supposed to direct Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, so perhaps that’s why he felt more freedom to change up his style and get a bit looser with his approach to the Star Wars franchise. Originally, Colin Trevorrow was set to direct Rise of Skywalker (and still earned a “story by” credit), but when he departed over creative differences, Lucasfilm lured Abrams back to the franchise.
The Star Trek filmmaker has admitted that he felt daunted by the challenge of making The Force Awakens, with the weight of not only setting up a new story with new characters, but also honoring what George Lucas had created and acknowledging the story that’s come before. With Rise of Skywalker, however, Abrams is bringing the Skywalker Saga to an end, while picking up the baton from Rian Johnson who took the franchise in unique and challenging directions with The Last Jedi. As a result, it sounds like Abrams felt more freedom to change things up on the day and trust his actors to know their characters inside and out.
This per Oscar Isaac, who revealed on SiriusXM’s EW Live that for Rise of Skywalker, Abrams was a fan of shooting scenes in “oners” or long takes, which in turn gave the actors more freedom. Indeed, instead of shooting traditional coverage where you shoot one side of a conversation then change the setup and shoot the other side—which in turns gives the director many options in the editing room to play with the scene—Abrams apparently shot a number of scenes in long takes, which removes the ability to cut around the conversation. That puts the onus on the actors to really nail each scene, and Isaac relished the opportunity:
“A lot more scenes were shot in oners… What that meant was [Abrams] was giving up a bit of control, because when you do it that way you can very much control peoples’ performances. But when you do it in these long takes, people are talking over each other and you can’t cut around stuff, so I think it meant that he trusted the performers, he trusted that we understood who the characters were, and he let those dynamics play out in real-time with each other, and I think that was a lot of fun.”
Isaac noted that Abrams was more willing this time around to play with a scene or allow the actors to try a different approach:
“What’s amazing is that a movie of this size with all this pressure you’d think that he’d be micromanaging it to such an extent that you wouldn’t want to lose control over it as the person leading everything. But I found that he was willing to shake things up and try something else and let’s try a different line here. If I came up after a few takes and said, ‘Can I try doing it like this with this kind of energy?’ and he’d say, ‘Go for it’ and sometimes it would work and often it wouldn’t work at all and we’d go back to what we were doing before, but the fact that he was willing to make space for that was really exciting.”
I’m interested to see how this translates to the screen, if at all. I don’t think anyone blames Abrams for being controlling or overprotective on The Force Awakens since it was on him to create these new characters and then make them compelling enough to exist in this universe. Keep in mind, in the original script, Poe Dameron died in the first act of The Force Awakens—it wasn’t until after Isaac signed on that Abrams decided to let Poe live, which also explains why Poe really doesn’t have much to do in TFA.
But I am interested to see those oners. It doesn’t sound like Abrams is going full Sam Mendes in 1917 here or something. Instead, I expect these oners are more like Steven Spielberg’s oners, which you don’t even really notice as they’re instead more performance-based rather than technically or visually striking.
We’ll see for ourselves when Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters on December 20th. For more on the film, click here.