J.J. Abrams gave Star Wars a much-welcomed burst of life with 2015’s The Force Awakens, but 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker wasn’t met with as much praise. A year and a half removed from the theatrical release of the ninth episode in the beloved film series, Abrams has reflected on how he could have improved his approach.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy was initially planned in such a way that a new director would tackle each of the entries, with Abrams on The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson on The Last Jedi, and Colin Trevorrow on The Rise of Skywalker. Due to the way it was approached, there wasn’t really a clear story arc for the trilogy in mind, leaving each writer-director to swerve the story in new directions. Trevorrow ultimately before the ninth episode and was replaced by Abrams.
After the mixed response to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which angered some fans by defying expectations to varying degrees of success, Abrams appeared to ditch some of the story threads from that film when he worked on Rise. Speaking to Collider, Abrams noted that perhaps the sequel trilogy would have benefited if he and the Lucasfilm team went in with a clearer plan of where they wanted the story to end up.
“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 54-year-old said, comparing the experience to working on a TV show where plans can often change abruptly. “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.”
He added that there have been projects where he’s had a clear idea, but plans can change in a natural way. “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 continued. "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 Rise of Skywalker performed well at the box office, grossing over $1 billion worldwide, but the fan and critical reaction was decidely muted in comparison to the previous entries. The Last Jedi was divisive among the fanbase, while its sequel has even less in the way of a defense force. While it’s easy to say the sequel trilogy could have been improved from planning, there’s really no telling since, as Abrams put it, plans do change.