NEWS: Director J.J. Abrams talks Star Wars VII.
April 1, 2014
I am a huge Star Wars fan. One of my earliest memories is of watching Luke Skywalker fight the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. I spent years collecting Star Wars ships, fighting with plastic lightsabers, and reading the “Expanded Universe” books. I remember when my friend Mike and I sewed our very own Jedi cloaks to wear to the midnight release of Revenge of the Sith. I even downloaded the Star Wars: Holiday Special and watched it with my friends. In one particularly ambitious year of middle school, my friend Brandon and I decided to make our very own stop-action Star Wars movie. (Not my proudest moment, I assure you.)
When a sequel Star Wars trilogy was announced, many fans hoped J.J. Abrams would base them on the massively successful Thrawn trilogy, or my personal favorite, the Jedi Academy trilogy. (Pictured above)
I saw a major problem with this from the beginning. These books take place only six years after Return of the Jedi, but the actors have aged 30 years since then. Too much time has passed for a convincing story about Han and Leia trying to raise three boisterous kids and Luke Skywalker recruiting new Jedi Knights. We needed some fresh ideas.
J.J. Abrams announced that Star Wars VII would be a completely original story, but until now he has given very few details.
Interview copy and pasted below:
I: Tell me about the biggest challenge your team faces in making a new Star Wars trilogy.
Abrams: There’s been a lot of challenges. I think the biggest one is making Star Wars accessible and exciting for new people that’ve never seen it before. I’m really excited about Harrison, Carrie, and Mark coming back to do this again. I have a hunger for what I love about Star Wars and want to see, and I bet a lot of other people my age feel the same way. But after having talks with Disney, I’ve realized that we have to reach a whole new generation of kids that didn’t grow up with Star Wars. To them its something old and outdated that their parents watch.
I: Really? I thought kids loved Star Wars.
Abrams: Well, the prequels tried to appeal to kids and failed miserably. Just terribly. They used cheap tricks like Jar Jar Binks and went after little kids instead of grabbing teenagers. Disney has done a ton of research on this. If you want a movie to have mass appeal, go after teenagers.
I: Isn’t that kind of… gimmicky?
Abrams: Sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. Its about building an excitement around something new that will grab young adults and give them the same thrill I had when Empire Strikes Back came out in the 80’s. Most of my work has been for television or PG-13 films, and it proves that you can reach a lot of people by keeping things appropriate for teenagers.
I: So how has targeting teenagers changed your approach?
Abrams: It means building an excitement around new questions and interests. The questions of identity and destiny as still there, of course, but there’s more drama around romance and loyalty. That’s a big change. In the original trilogy, loyalty was completely assumed. You were loyal to your family and obligated to fight in the battle of good vs. evil. It was Luke’s loyalty that eventually redeemed his father, Darth Vader. In our new culture, loyalty is something you choose to have, it isn’t given to you, so to speak… its not an obligation.
I: How will that concept of loyalty play out in Star Wars VII? Will Luke’s loyalty carry on?
Abrams: Luke definitely has a role to play, but he is passing off the torch to a new generation. Its about Luke’s kids and Chewbacca’s kids finding their identity and loyalty in the new crisis.
I: Chewbacca has kids?
Abrams: Oh yeah. (laughs) Even though we’re creating an entirely new story, we got ideas from the Expanded Universe books, and even the infamous Star Wars: Holiday Special. I liked the idea of Chewbacca having a son. Luke has a daughter, Reina Skywalker, whose this new Jedi Knight trying to prove herself. And her best friend is Waroo, who is a half-wookiee.
I: Wait, a half-wookiee? I didn’t know those existed!
Abrams: Its Star Wars, anything can happen. (laughs)
I: What happens with these two?
Abrams: So Luke has established a small order of Jedi Knights, and they get into a fight with a new alien race, the Chiss. Leia and Han and Luke go to the Chiss homeworld in hopes of stopping a war, and that’s really what kicks off the new trilogy. The adults are trying to prevent another war like the one they had to fight, but their kids realize that there’s something darker going on at the Chiss homeworld.
I: What excites you about this story-line?
Abrams: I like the ambiguity behind the characters. They really struggle with their identity and loyalty. Reina is this brand new Jedi Knight trying to fill some pretty big shoes left behind by her dad, Luke Skywalker. Then she has this romance with Waroo, who is caught between being a human and a wookiee. They have so much in common, but there’s a tension there too. Especially when they get caught behind enemy lines and meet Jaylen.
I: Who is Jaylen?
Abrams: I probably shouldn’t say… Well, the first trailer will reveal it anyway. (laughs) Jaylen is a loner on the planet Chiss who turns out to be a teenage clone of Darth Maul.
I: Like from Episode I? Why did you decide to bring him back as a villain?
Abrams: Oh, he’s not really a villain. I know it sounds quirky, but he’s the perfect fit. We needed a character who brought ancient darkness to the screen and tied us back to the Sith from the previous series. When the Emperor and Darth Vader died at the end of Return of the Jedi, there were no more Sith. They were gone, and we needed a way to bring them back. We also realized that despite having millions of them, Star Wars never really dealt with a clone as a serious character. Jaylen knows he’s a clone of this incredibly dark and evil Sith Lord, but does that mean he’s destined to kill Jedi? Does he have a choice in his own fate? What if he decides to join Reina instead?
I: So is that the question of destiny you were talking about?
Abrams: That’s what this movie is about: destiny and freewill. Its about having to trust someone and give them the freedom to make their own destiny, even though there’s a chance they might try to kill you later. (laughs) Both Anakin and Luke had to deal with the question “am I destined to join the dark side?” Jaylen is a very dark and conflicted character, I think he will add a lot to the saga.
I: Do you think this take will appeal to new fans?
Abrams: Absolutely. People love tension and relationship triangles. The original series had Luke, Han, and Leia. Here we have a very strong half-wookiee who trusts his warrior instincts, a darker and edgier clone who is questioning his destiny, and a Jedi Knight who loves them both. It forces Reina to decide between Waroo and Jaylen. In a sense its a much more ambiguous and muddy choice between light and dark, she doesn’t know where it will lead.
I: Wait, are you saying this is a love triangle between Luke’s daughter, a half-wookiee, and a Sith clone?
Abrams: Its not really a love triangle. At least, not right away. The plot is racing along, and it builds to a point where Reina has to choose a side. She can either go with Waroo and the life she’s grown up with, or she can trust Jaylen’s insight into solving the conspiracy and hope he doesn’t become a Sith.
I: Have you auditioned anyone?
Abrams: Oh, I’ve seen hundreds of auditions. Hundreds. (laughs) We auditioned Saoirse Ronan for Reina Skywalker and she was fantastic. I’m really excited about working with her on the project.
I: Okay, last question, what are you most excited about?
Abrams: Working with John Williams.
End interview, link to entire article here.
What do you think? Can J.J. Abrams pull this off?