Star Wars: The Force Awakens – JJ Abrams Interview

We asked the man behind The Force Awakens how he pulled it off

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The Force Awakens is getting incredibly positive reactions. How does that feel?
It feels incredible to have been involved in this at all. Our goal was to make a move that felt like it was a continuum [of the original trilogy] and, in order to do that, we needed to go backwards and unabashedly embrace elements people knew, because it had been nearly 40 years; that's what introduced new characters, new worlds and new conflicts.

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How did you balance the technological advancements of the past three decades with the lo-fi spirit of the original trilogy?
Well, we were very lucky to have essentially every tool available to us, so the question was: how do we use every tool? You can do a lot more to break up concrete with a jackhammer than you can a hammer, but sometimes a hammer's the right tool and so we tried to use the low technology wherever possible – I can't tell you how many times we asked "What would they have done?" It felt like that was always going to be the right answer. It's very easy to rely on the latest and greatest thing but sometimes it's overkill.

Having BB-8 onset was hugely important because it allowed us to capture him and know that was the performance instead of something else we had to figure out later. It also gave the other actors the chance to actually interact and perform with something that was there rather than pretending and hoping it'd work out later, as well as giving the visual effects a standard to adhere to; so when we were augmenting, there was a benchmark of what was actually authentic as opposed to what we believe authenticity would look like. 

Were you concerned about overdoing the references and call-backs to the originals?  
There are certain moments – the holo-chess set moment being one of them – where it felt like a reach. But whenever we got to one of those moments, I would ask myself, "Would this happen?" I know that someone who is looking at this with less of a sense of humour might say it's pandering or fan-bait or whatever, but someone who understands the spirit with which, for example, the holo-chess was introduced at all, might feel like it's not just a fun reference but something they believe could happen.

If you've never seen Star Wars, of course it won't mean the same thing to you, but it'd still be a funny moment that works on its own terms. Episode IV was the very first movie – you didn't need to see the prequels to understand what was happening in it and that's sort of the approach that we took.

You've directed a Mission: Impossible film, two Star Trek films and now a Star Wars film – do you relish the pressure of tackling beloved franchises?
I don't relish it but I also don't get crushed by it; part of it is when there's an opportunity that feels like the right one. With Star Wars, it was an undeniable opportunity of a lifetime. There are certain kind of pressures that I don't want to go through and I'd rather not have to withstand, like working with an actor who might not be the nicest guy.

A pressure like 'can we tell a story that's worthy of what George Lucas created?' that's a fun pressure – "You mean I get to work with these people on this kind of a story in this world with these resources with this kind of expectation?" The expectation becomes one piece of a massive, mostly exciting, opportunity as opposed to some kind of burden.

If you could induct one Lost character into the Star Wars universe, who would you choose?
Firstly, I will say this about Lost: when I worked on it with Damon Lindelof, we had a whole bunch of ideas where this thing would go. I went off to work on M:I-3 during the first season and Damon continued – with Carlton Cuse – to write all six seasons and I feel like they created such amazing characters, many of which we never could've dreamed of; ones we didn't even know were necessary.

If you'd asked us when we were shooting the Pilot would they ever leave the island to come back to the island, we would've thought you were insane. So we had ideas but what they did was discover things, frankly much in the way Gareth Edwards is now doing on Star Wars [he's directing Rogue One, the first of a planned series of spin-off prequels] that I don't think I could have come up with in a million years.

For whatever reason, Hurley was my first answer and I don't know why. It feels like he would so fit in this world because he feels like, in the greatest way, like the original series of films did; a place where wonderful, well-worn, relatable and funny characters exist. I don't know quite what his role would be but he seems like someone who could easily fit somehow. His costume might need to change but his personality wouldn't.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is out now

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