One of the criticisms that Star Wars fans had about the sequel trilogy is that, rather than delivering fans an overall cohesive vision, each set of filmmakers would seemingly pass the narrative baton to the next group of filmmakers, leading to some storytelling complications. J.J. Abrams, who directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recently addressed the challenges creatives face when an overall narrative is planned from the beginning, while also noting that even the most detailed plan will come with challenges that result in major deviations from that trajectory. In this regard, it sounds as though he knows the sequel trilogy could have been stronger if there was an overall vision for how the arc would pan out, but also admitted that even an entirely mapped-out narrative wouldn't have come without some creative setbacks.
"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, and 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," Abrams shared with Collider. "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. 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."
Speaking of unexpected, the original plan for the sequel trilogy was for Colin Trevorrow to direct the final installment, only for him to part ways with Lucasfilm, resulting in Abrams returning to conclude the trilogy he kicked off. The filmmaker went on to note that he's experienced the drawbacks of overplanning.
"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," Abrams admitted. "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]."
The filmmaker wasn't merely speaking directly about Star Wars, given that he's also worked on beloved properties like Lost, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek, all of which have been criticized at times for delivering audiences what appears to be a lack of cohesion. However, given the choice between overplanning and underplanning, Abrams thinks having too much mapped out will allow for finding more moments while actually bringing a story to life.
"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," Abrams confessed. "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."
The next Star Wars film to hit theaters will be Patty Jenkins' Star Wars: Rogue Squadron in December of 2023.