Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams was “thrilled” nothing he originally envisioned for the closing chapter of the episodic Star Wars saga was “rendered undoable” by Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi when returning for The Rise of Skywalker. Abrams admits he was never supposed to helm Episode IX — originally developed under Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow, who was dismissed by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy before the reins were handed back to Abrams — but returning for The Rise of Skywalker was an opportunity for Abrams to fulfill certain expectations he envisioned for the finale of the Skywalker Saga when first developing The Force Awakens years earlier.
“I always knew, when we were doing Episode VII, there were certain things that I felt, for me — and I was never supposed to do this movie — I would need to see at the end of this trilogy, at the end of these nine films,” Abrams said on Popcorn with Peter Travers. “And then Kathleen Kennedy called and said, ‘Would you come on?’ One of the attractions was, ‘Ooh, I actually get to do these things,’ instead of backseat, ‘I wish, I wish.’”
Asked if he felt like he lost control over the story when Johnson stepped in to helm the middle chapter, Abrams explains he was too preoccupied with The Force Awakens to consider developing Episode VIII.
“Well, no. For a moment, I felt like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Because we had talked about doing Episode VIII, but the truth was I was beginning to direct Episode VII, and there was quite a bit to think about, and I didn’t have the brainpower or the approval of my family to commit to being away for [that long],” Abrams said. “It was just one of those things, all around, where it was not the right thing to say at the beginning of Episode VII, ‘Let’s talk about VIII.’ When I was a kid growing up, whenever we’d be in a meal, it would be lunch, and my mom would always say, ‘For dinner, what do you want?’ We’d be like, ‘Mom, we just started lunch! Dinner?’ She was always talking about the next thing. So it felt like that.”
When Johnson began penning the sequel, Abrams was “very interested to see what he was going to do.”
“We sat and had a meeting and he obviously read The Force Awakens script, and then I read his script. What I loved about it was its subversive nature. I loved that it was about shock, it was about surprise, it was about this sort of meta take on the Jedi. It was a very different approach than what I would have done, which is one of the reasons why it was fun to read,” he said. “And I was, and am, a real fan of his as a director, so I just knew he was gonna do something extraordinary with it. I was immediately like, oh, jealous, because I just felt like, ‘It’s so much fun that he gets to continue the story with these characters.’”
Abrams continued, “What I was ultimately — in my selfish myopia — I was thrilled that nothing was rendered undoable from all of the things that happened in that movie. In a weird way, where The Last Jedi ends, it doesn’t fundamentally shift the paradigm. And so I found myself feeling like, ‘Oh! Well, that story could still happen.’ And I kind of went about my way. Then X number of years later, Kathy called and said, ‘You want to come back in and finish it?’”
In a separate interview, Abrams’ longtime editor Maryann Brandon said The Last Jedi presented “a lot of challenges in terms of where Episode IX had to go to finish the saga.”
Beyond the real-life loss of General Leia Organa actress Carrie Fisher, The Rise of Skywalker had to pick up threads like the sudden murder of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) at the hands of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the death of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
“In other words, unfortunately Carrie died, but she didn’t obviously die in Episode VIII. She’s a character that had to be figured out, and that was a huge challenge,” Brandon told Awards Daily. “But I think J.J. and [co-writer] Chris Terrio did an amazing job. Luke died, which was a problem. So we had those two opposing problems, so I think what you’re seeing trend is that the setup was difficult to deal with.”
She added, “I think Rian Johnson is an amazing filmmaker, and I just think that when you’re doing a trilogy, you can’t just abandon a story. So whatever he chose to put in that film, those things that are dangling have to be dealt with. And you have to deal with them honestly, so you thought the whole thing through. J.J. wasn’t supposed to do Episode IX, so that was a whole other thing, because he came on late and he and Chris had to write the script in a shorter amount of time.”