'Star Wars' Director J.J. Abrams Says He Learned It's 'Critical' To Have Filmmaking Plan
Ahh, J.J. Abrams. Director of ⅔ of the latest Star Wars trilogy, occasional Lonely Island keyboard soloist, and shining beacon of critical, self-awareness? Earlier this week, the filmmaker sounded off on one of the largest complaints surrounding Disney's take on the beloved sci-fi franchise – the apparent lack of narrative planning and several “creative hand-offs,” as Indie Wire called it, between Abrams and Rian Johnson, who directed The Last Jedi.
“I’ve been involved in a number of projects that have been – in most cases, series – that have ideas that begin the thing where you feel like you know where it’s gonna go," Abrams told Collider earlier this week. “Sometimes it’s an actor who comes in, other times it’s a relationship that as-written doesn’t quite work, and things that you think are gonna just be so well-received just crash and burn and other things that you think like, ‘Oh that’s a small moment’ or ‘That’s a one-episode character’ suddenly become a hugely important part of the story.”
Considering how touch-and-go the creative process can be, Abrams says expecting the unexpected is a crucial element of filmmaking. “I feel like what I’ve learned as a lesson a few times now, and it’s something that especially in this pandemic year working with writers [has become clear], the lesson is that you have to plan things as best you can, and you always need to be able to respond to the unexpected,” the Super 8 director continued. "And the unexpected can come in all sorts of forms, and I do think that there’s nothing more important than knowing where you’re going.”
Even so, Abrams maintains that overplanning can also hinder a project's success. “There are projects that I’ve worked on where we had some ideas but we hadn’t worked through them enough, sometimes we had some ideas but then we weren’t allowed to do them the way we wanted to," he explained. "I’ve had all sorts of situations where you plan things in a certain way and you suddenly find yourself doing something that’s 180 degrees different, and then sometimes it works really well and you feel like, ‘Wow that really came together,’ and other times you think, ‘Oh my God I can’t believe this is where we are,’ and sometimes when it’s not working out it’s because it’s what you planned, and other times when it’s not working out it’s because you didn’t [have a plan].”
However, it seems such was far, far, away from the case when it came to Star Wars, a problem exemplified through the allegedly last-minute decision to make Rey a Palpatine while filming Rise of Skywalker. “At the beginning there was toying with like an Obi-Wan connection,” Daisy Ridley, the actress behind the Jedi, told Josh Gad, who was guest-hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live! last fall. “There were like different versions, and then it really went to that she was no one," she continued. “Then it came to Episode IX and J.J. pitched me the film and was like, ‘Oh yeah, Palpatine’s grandaughter.' I was like, ‘Awesome!’ Then two weeks later he was like, ‘Oh, we’re not sure.’ So it kept changing. Even as we were filming I wasn’t sure what the answer was going to be.”
In a statement perhaps inspired by this evident confusion, Abrams now maintains that having a plan is always better than winging it and hoping for the best. “You just never really know, but having a plan I have learned – in some cases the hard way – is the most critical thing, because otherwise you don’t know what you’re setting up," he added. "You don’t know what to emphasize. Because if you don’t know the inevitable of the story, you’re just as good as your last sequence or effect or joke or whatever, but you want to be leading to something inevitable.”
So folks, when in doubt, think of the Abrams Scout motto – be prepared – not too prepared, but like try to have some sort of plan in place, you don't want to frustrate beloved actress, Daisy Ridley.