J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy at this year’s Star Wars Celebration.
Image: Daniel Boczarski (Getty)

The similarities between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and A New Hope are as plentiful as they are obvious, because even though the newest trilogy introduces a whole slew of new characters, the story being told about bringing balance to the Force is the same. Respecting the original Star Wars films was always an important part of J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy’s approach to telling stories in the franchise, but with The Rise of Skywalker, the filmmakers are ready to lean into some new filmmaking sensibilities.

In a new interview with Vanity Fair, Abrams and Kennedy spoke at length about where The Rise of Skywalker fits in thematically and narratively within the whole of Star Wars, and how the film’s taking the franchise into directions that the previous films haven’t. Abrams explained that he approached The Force Awakens with the goal of trying to make what he thought a Star Wars film should be, and not necessarily the film he wanted to make.

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This time around, however, the director didn’t feel nearly as beholden to the original trilogy, which gave him the creative space to flex a bit more—all the while keeping the film’s focus on multiple generations of heroes and villains clashing:

[The Rise of Skywalker] felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, fuck it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.

This trilogy is about this young generation, this new generation, having to deal with all the debt that has come before. And it’s the sins of the father, and it’s the wisdom and the accomplishments of those who did great things, but it’s also those who committed atrocities, and the idea that this group is up against this unspeakable evil and are they prepared? Are they ready? What have they learned from before? It’s less about grandeur. It’s less about restoring an old age. It’s more about preserving a sense of freedom and not being one of the oppressed.

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Abrams’ freedom to shake things up a bit in the Star Wars playground comes at a time when parent company Disney is seriously rethinking its approach to releasing new films after its most recent turn to churning them out once a year.

Disney, Kennedy said, has every intention of capitalizing on Star Wars’ massive cultural cache that translates into big bucks at the box office. But she said that the studio also understands that it would be incredibly easy to lose the fandom’s faith by burning it out with too much content to consume:

[I] think that Disney is very respectful of what this is, and right from the beginning we talked about the fragility of this form of storytelling. Because it’s something that means so much to fans that you can’t turn this into some kind of factory approach. You can’t even do what Marvel does, necessarily, where you pick characters and build new franchises around those characters. This needs to evolve differently.

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Kennedy added that we’ve already experienced part of the evolution in the way the newer films have become more explicit with the parallels drawn between the First Order and real-world fascists—and how, even with those parallels firmly established, we’re still challenged to question our conceptualizations of “good” and “evil” in the universe:

Evil needs to feel and look very real. And what that means today may not be as black-and-white as it might have been in 1977, coming off a kind of World War II sensibility.

There’s a loss of innocence, a sense of innocence that existed in the 70s that I don’t think to any extent exists today. I think that has to permeate the storytelling and the reaction to the stories and how they’re set up. It has to feel differently because we’re different.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters December 20.

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