J.J. Abrams Reveals Big Lesson Star Wars Taught Him

Kylo Ren and Rey lightsaber dueling in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

In early 2013, mere months after Disney officially purchased Lucasfilm from George Lucas, it was announced that J.J. Abrams had been hired to direct the first movie in a new Star Wars trilogy, what we now know as The Force Awakens. In the immediate years afterwards, the Mouse House brought aboard Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow to helm what would eventually be titled The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, respectively, but when Trevorrow departed the latter project, Abrams came back to wrap up the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. But it wasn’t just a matter of him sitting back in the director’s chair; he also had to rewrite the script with Chris Terrio to end this trilogy in a matter he saw fit. Abrams took away a big lesson from that experience.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ended up being met with mixed reception from fans and professional critics alike, with one of the main criticisms being that it didn’t feel like it meshed well with what Rian Johnson set up in The Last Jedi. While speaking with Collider about the 10th anniversary of his movie Super 8, J.J. Abrams was asked if he thought the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy would have benefitted from having a plan from the very beginning. Here’s how the filmmaker responded:

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].

Looking at J.J. Abrams’ resume, from the first two Star Trek reboot movies to TV shows like Alias and Lost, the man has been involved with planning plenty of stories over the years. While Abrams mentioned earlier in the interview that he’s learned that you have to plan things out as best as you can and “always need to be able to respond to the unexpected,” he also acknowledged that sometimes, he’s been in situations where following the plan ends up causing problems down the road. Sticking closely to something you hashed out at the beginning of the creative process might lead to not being flexible enough to adjust certain elements of a story later on.

However, overall J.J. Abrams has learned planning out a story as much as possible in the beginning is integral, rather than moving forward without anything in place, and it sounds like his time in the Star Wars franchise strengthened that belief. In his words:

You just never really know, but 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.

J.J. Abrams didn’t outright say that he feels the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy should have been handled this way, but one would imagine that the saga these three movies chronicled might have been better received overall had that been the case. Even if Lucasfilm had still been determined to use a different filmmaker for each movie, at least having a more concrete, three-part storyline structure would have helped things flow better, even if it meant each director was more restricted with the ways they could make unique changes. On the other hand, perhaps The Rise of Skywalker would have fared better on the critical front had Abrams more closely coordinated with Rian Johnson to ensure that Episode IX more seamlessly built off the groundwork The Last Jedi laid, as opposed to feeling weirdly distanced from it.

In any case, J.J. Abrams’ time in the Star Wars universe is now over, and he’s keeping busy nowadays with his projects as WarnerMedia, including a Justice League Dark series and new Superman movie. For those who can’t get enough of the Star Wars franchise, the next movie on the way is the Patty Jenkins-directed Rogue Squadron, which is slated for December 22, 2023. Learn what other projects set in a galaxy far, far away are coming up with our upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows guide.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.