You should really have your Star Wars tickets by now

  • Movies
  • Monday, 14 Dec 2015

This lightsaber has two functions – to kill and to illuminate.

Ten years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith premiered, and 38 years after the first Star Wars movie was released, the Star Wars franchise officially returns to the big screen.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on Dec 17, the franchise will be able to reach out to a whole new generation of moviegoers, and of course, all the old fans who will also be there, probably shedding a tear or two when the famous words “Star Wars” go up in those bright yellow letters, accompanied by John Williams’ majestic theme.

One of those old fans is none other than the director of The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams. In an interview transcript provided by Walt Disney Studios, he recalls the first time he even heard the words “Star Wars”.

JJ Abrams is the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
JJ Abrams is the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“It was in a Starlog magazine, a very geeky sci-fi magazine. I remember seeing the words, and saying them aloud, ‘Star Wars.’ There was something about it that felt unusual, and that was before the film came out. But, it stuck with me,” he says.

“I was 11 years old, and seeing the film for the first time, it was mind expanding. It was full of heart and romanticism and optimism and comedy and incredible conflict, and certainly visual effects like I had never seen before.”

Although Star Wars and Abrams seem like a perfect fit now, it was a collaboration that almost did not happen. The 49-year-old director recalls the first time Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy called him to offer him the job.

“(That) was the most insanely flattering phone call someone could get. I said thank you, but no thank you, immediately because I felt like I had done a couple of films already based on franchises and didn’t want to do it again,” he recalls, referring to his past movies such as Mission Impossible III, and the recent reboot of that other mega space franchise, Star Trek.

“And the idea of doing Star Wars was terrifying at the beginning. It felt like for every obvious reason it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Later he met Kennedy for a face-to-face meeting, in which he expected to politely decline the job, but things did not turn out as expected.

“She started talking about what this movie could be; the creative freedom to do something and the idea of what happens to these characters that we all know and love. She talked about the next step and the new characters that could be the focus of the story,” he recalls.

Finn, Chewbacca and Han Solo play a round of Solo Says.
Finn, Chewbacca and Han Solo play a round of Solo Says.

“She left the meeting, and I didn’t say I didn’t want to do it. I told her to let me think about it. My heart was pounding and my head was racing. I went downstairs to my wife, Katie, and told her I really wanted to do this.”

The rest, as they say, feels like a long time ago, and as Abrams set about building his movie in this galaxy far, far away, he began to warm up to the idea of adding his own touch to this most beloved of space operas.

Calling it a “great story of the underdog”, he reckons that at the core of Star Wars is a family drama about finding your own strength and finding connections with people you wouldn’t anticipate knowing.

“There are characters that you love. Characters that make you laugh and make you care. There’s this authenticity in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi where you’re feeling this wonderful family, even though they’re not related. It’s a family of underdogs working together,” he says.

Villain in training

The Force Awakens takes place about 30 years after the events of Return Of The Jedi. The Rebel Alliance and the Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order respectively, and the Force, Jedi, and Dark Side have been reduced to myths and legend.

While the buzz has been about Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprising their iconic roles as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo, the focus of the movie is on newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who play Rey and Finn, and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, a Resistance X-Wing fighter pilot.

For The Force Awakens to work, Abrams also needed a new villain that had to be as powerful, or at least as iconic as Darth Vader.

Enter Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren.

“We needed a villain in the shadow of Darth Vader, one of the greatest movie villains ever. How do you create a bad guy that works in his shadow? Part of the beauty of the answer was in the character acknowledging himself that he was in the shadow of this character. He was as aware of Vader as we are,” says Abrams.

This lightsaber has two functions – to kill and to illuminate.
This lightsaber has two functions – to kill and to illuminate.

“We wanted to give his villainy a conflict and not make him necessarily the moustache-twirling, finished villain but rather make him someone who is broken. A villain who’s in process; a villain in training. We wanted to make him someone who is aspiring to certain greatness on the Dark Side.”

A lot has been made about Abrams’ insistence on using practical effects instead of computer-generated (CG) imagery as much as possible. Surprisingly, considering how many such movies he has presided over, he claims that he has never been a fan of movies that are mostly CG.

“While I knew there would be no shortage of CG work being done in this movie as an enormous visual effects film, the standard had to be authenticity. The standard had to be reality,” he says.

“There was a feeling as a kid when I saw Star Wars the first time that it was all practical and real—things like being outside the Sandcrawler with Luke and Obi-Wan when they first come by C-3PO and R2-D2, and seeing those treads there.

“There was no doubt it was a physical, tangible, real thing. You knew it when you saw the movie ... It didn’t feel anything other than real.

“So I felt that it was really important with the creatures, with the sets, that we make it feel as real as possible. When you’re watching the movie, you just know it’s real. The way the lights hit it, the way the creatures are blending in.”

Practical magic

Using a practical version of some of the fantasy characters and creatures also help the actors do their job. Case in point, the new ball-like droid BB-8, who is fast becoming a fan-favourite character even before the movie is released.

Abrams had his team build an actual working version of the droid for the film. “Having BB-8 be a nearly 100% practical character – not only was it great because it looked better, but we have given Daisy, John and Harrison and the others someone to work with so they weren’t pretending that someone was there,” he says.

“Daisy and John look at BB-8 as a co-star and as a real personality. That is a testament, not just to the performers, but a physical and tangible real character in the film.”

In a film that has more iconic and fan-favourite elements than you can shake a lightsaber at, there was one that Abrams was most excited about working on – the Millennium Falcon.

“The Millennium Falcon is as much a returning character in the film as the people. We made sure we almost forensically recreated the Falcon,” says Abrams.

“Our art director, Mark Harris, who worked on The Empire Strikes Back, was like a scientist figuring out how the Falcon changed from Star Wars to Empire.

“The size of the cockpit expanded, the scale of the ship got bigger in the second film. We realised that with the stuff you thought was canon, big changes were being made. You can’t adhere to what you think it was, and do what they did. If something needs adjusting, go for it. But, aesthetically, it can’t look or sound different than the ship you know.”

Describing working on the Millennium Falcon to “opening a magic door”, he said it was a weird feeling, going back to something he knows so well. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to open this magic door.’ And, behind this magic door is your bedroom at nine years old. You can walk into that bedroom, and you can feel it, and smell it, and open drawers in your desk and find the things you had. What would be in that desk? What would be under your bed? That feeling of it is yours, and you know it.

“So, when you go back to it, it has to look like what you remember. It has to be what you know.”

Well, in one more week, we’ll all know whether what Abrams knows and remembers correspond to what the millions of Star Wars fans know and love so much about the franchise. We can’t wait for that particular magic door to open.


Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Across the site