We interview the Star Wars director in Tokyo as he talks about the easiest and most difficult parts of writing an ending to the nine-film series.
Our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun is a pretty big Star Wars fan. How big? Well, obviously he’s seen all the movies multiple times. Not only did he attend the recent Star Wars kabuki play in Tokyo, but he sat flat on the theater floor, because he wanted to get closer to the stage than even the front row of seats. Oh, and his baby daughter, Rei? He chose her name because it’s pronounced just like Rey, the Jedi heroine who made her debut in The Force Awakens.
So when director J.J. Abrams recently arrived in Japan, obviously it was P.K. who we were sending to interview the director of the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. In addition to giving us an inside look into the difficulties of writing the script for Episode IX, Abrams even gave us a massive hint about one fan favorite who might be making her first-ever on-screen appearance in a mainline Star Wars film.
P.K.: So to start, J.J., as the director for the final Star Wars film, you’ve taken on a really difficult job, haven’t you?
P.K.: How did it turn out? To put it simply, do you think you’ve made a movie that Star Wars fans are going to accept?
Abrams: Well, whether a movie is good or not is up to the fans to decide, so I can’t say anything on that front, but I’m proud to have been involved with this project. I was able to work with a group of wonderfully talented people, and that goes not just for the cast, but the entire crew.
This project wasn’t just to create one movie, or even the ending of a trilogy, but the culmination of nine films. That comes with a lot of pressure, and sometimes the sheer presence of Star Wars was overwhelming.
Then I’d look around, though, and see what an incredibly talented group of people we’d assembled. The cast dug deep into their characters to deliver profound performances, and I believe that Industrial Light and Magic has produced the best digital effects in history.
The story has suspense and thrills, and also unpredictable developments. But what I kept thinking was, “I want to make an ending where everyone watching can think ‘This is what the ending of Star Wars should be like.’”
P.K.: That’s definitely important, giving Star Wars a suitable ending.
Abrams: But, is it a good movie? Will people accept it? That’s a decision for the fans to make.
P.K.: This time, in addition to directing, you also wrote the screenplay. Didn’t you feel a lot of anxiety? If I’d been in that position, I’d have been too nervous to write even a single line.
Abrams: The writing did take a lot of time. Surprisingly, though, the idea for “a suitable ending for Star Wars” came pretty quickly. It’s usually not like this for me, but this time it was the early part of the movie that was more difficult.
P.K.: Really? How come?
Abrams: The last part of an ending is easy. It’s the end, after all. But writing the beginning of an ending is the hard part. There’s something I think you should never do in a movie series, and that’s take the stance of “As you obviously already know” towards the audience.
I wanted to make this a movie that even people who’re watching Star Wars for the first time can enjoy. So within this single movie, I wanted to write its own beginning, middle, and ending, but the movie also needs an opening that feels appropriate for its place in the trilogy, and also within the nine episodes in the franchise.
P.K.: Th…that seems way too hard!
Abrams: But I’m satisfied with how it turned out. Right now, I feel very happy with it.
P.K.: Moving on, this is something that you must get asked a lot, but what has Star Wars given to you, and what have you, as a filmmaker, given to Star Wars?
Abrams: Well, Star Wars has been giving me a lot since I was 10 years old, but I think the biggest is that it showed me that “Anything is possible.”
I mean, Luke is a farm boy, and Han is a good-for-nothing rogue, right? If they can stand up to this gigantic evil empire that’s controlling the galaxy, then we can do anything, can’t we?
As for what I’ve given to Star Wars…What I can say for certain is that I’ve given it all the passion and love that I can. I really love Star Wars.
P.K.: I think that’s extremely important.
Abrams: I especially put a lot of energy into trying to make characters that fans would say “I want to watch what this character does all the way through to the end.” It’s not enough for the characters to just exist.
P.K.: What do you mean?
Abrams: For a character to be loved, they have to have an emotional component, and I think they also need to have some sort of dichotomy that can surprise the audience. It’s my job to put those characters into unexpected situations.
P.K.: Who’s your favorite Star Wars character, whether from your time as a fan or as a director?
Abrams: It’s Han Solo.
P.K.: That was quick!
Abrams: Everybody loves Han, right? I mean, his first appearance in Episode 4 is just the best…He’s a nihilistic, shy, unique, rash scoundrel, but he also has a strong sense of justice.
By the way, who’s your favorite character?
P.K.: Me? Ahsoka Tano. Sorry for picking someone who only appears in the animated stuff [Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels], but I really like her positive, determined personality.
Abrams: Hmmm, Ahsoka, huh? Well then you’ll probably want to watch closely during The Rise of Skywalker.
Abrams: Hahaha, well, enjoy the movie!
Somehow, we don’t think that’s going to be a problem for P.K. when The Rise of Skywalker premiers on December 20.
Rise of Skywalker stills: Press release
[ Read in Japanese ]