The Last Jedi Helped J.J. Abrams Do Bolder Things on The Rise of Skywalker

Something something past die, something something have to.
Image: Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very fun film, but one of its most common critiques is that it essentially re-does A New Hope for a new generation—similar themes, similar arcs, similar aesthetics, just remixed. J.J. Abrams is not one to shy away from acknowledging that, but he does think his time away from Star Wars helped him realize he can do more for the final entry in the saga.

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Speaking to Total Film about his approach to returning for The Rise of Skywalker—something he hadn’t planned on before Colin Trevorrow departed the project—and how the long shadow cast by the saga’s original trilogy, one of the most beloved movie franchises on the planet, influenced his approach to directing The Force Awakens.

“In Episode 7, I was adhering to a kind of approach that felt right for Star Wars in my head,” Abrams told the magazine. “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.”

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That in and of itself is an interesting prospect, especially considering the reaction to The Last Jedi’s own attempts to offer a more daring approach to the galaxy far, far away, the ramifications of which, better and worse, are still being felt in Star Wars fandom today. But for a certain subsection of fans uneasy about The Last Jedi’s own approach to Star Wars storytelling that is eager to have Abrams return and somehow “reclaim” the sequel trilogy from Rian Johnson, you might be disappointed to learn that it was Johnson’s work on the middle chapter that pushed Abrams to be bolder in the first place.

“Rian helped remind me that that’s why we’re on these movies—not to just do something that you’ve seen before,” Abrams continued. “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.”

What Abram’s idea of “more” really entails remains to be seen, although we’ve perhaps glimpsed some of it already in the form of that shocking shot of a dark Rey in the D23 footage, or even literally in the swathe of Star Destroyers and Resistance ships teased for The Rise of Skywalker’s climactic battles.

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But if you were expecting Return of Return of the Jedi, then maybe Abrams will be offering something more by the time you settle into your movie seat on December 20.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

The difference is Abrams has proven he understands what makes Star Wars special. Johnson labored under the incorrect and arrogant delusion that there was something about Star Wars that needed fixing. Star Wars doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ because it was fucking great to begin with. Johnson could have done TLJ in a more considered and respectful way and kept the majority of his story beats. Instead he approached it with a glib middle finger raised to the fan base that has sustained and supported Star Wars for its entire life. TLJ was an unapologetic mockery, a disdainful prank played on the people who grew up with Luke Skywalker being one of their goddamn heroes. And of all the sins of TLJ, of which there are legion, the character assassination of Luke stands as the most brazenly hateful of them all.

I was done with Star Wars after TLJ. It felt bad. But i caught Solo on Netflix and a modicum of faith was restored. A fun, unpreachy star wars that is both true to the characters and introduces some great new ones? What a breath of fresh air! Rise of skywalker failed to reel me in until the latest trailer. I’m cautiously optimistic. Hopefully Abrams can undo some of the damage Johnson wrought upon this universe and give us a truly great ending to one of the most storied sagas of all time.