If there’s one complaint that fans have about the new Star Wars trilogy across the board, it’s that the story wasn’t completely planned out across all three movies. Instead, Lucasfilm intended to have different filmmakers tackle each chapter, simply picking up where the last movie left off. That means fans were left with a trilogy that felt a little disjointed, and a recent interview with J.J. Abrams seems to imply that he agrees the new Star Wars trilogy would have benefited from plotting all three movies from the beginning.
After bringing Star Wars back to the big screen with The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams stepped away for Rian Johnson take over with The Last Jedi. The second film in the trilogy divided fans rather dramatically, with some being vocally dissatisfied with how the sequel picked up the dangling threads of The Force Awakens.
Following the death of Carrie Fisher, wrapping up the trilogy proved to be an even bigger challenge than usual. Lucasfilm opted to bring J.J. Abrams back to finish it instead of letting director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly follow through on their vision, which featured General Leia Organa as an integral part of the conclusion. That meant Abrams had to figure out how to reconcile what began in The Force Awakens and the decisions that Rian Johnson made in The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker was the result, for better or worse.
J.J. Abrams is currently making the rounds to talk about the 10th anniversary of Super 8, and Collider specifically asked him whether he felt the Star Wars trilogy would have benefitted from having a plan from the very beginning. That precludes the idea that Abrams had his own plan, even if he wasn’t intending on sticking around beyond The Force Awakens. But considering the direction that Star Wars ended up going, the question still stands. Here’s what Abrams had to say:
“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.”
You’ll notice that Abrams never specifically mentions Star Wars in this response, and this perspective may apply more to his work in television than blockbusters, especially since the small screen medium allows for audience perspective and reaction to more directly impact the direction of the story. Abrams continued and elaborated a bit more on the benefits of planning but being flexible:
“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].”
In the case of Star Wars, there’s no doubt that J.J. Abrams had at least some idea of where the story would go after The Force Awakens. In the case of The Rise of Skywalker, he’s even said that bringing back Emperor Palpatine was part of that plan, and that may have also included Rey being his descendant. But surely the new Star Wars trilogy didn’t unfold exactly as Abrams had envisioned it years ago. Even so, Abrams stresses the importance of having an idea of where you’re going instead of just winging it. Abrams concluded:
“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.”
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