While J.J. Abrams said there were going to be no more trailers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” that wasn’t quite right. On Friday, a new international trailer debuted with lots of new footage, and before the weekend was over, a U.K. TV spot came along. According to the director, the studio is cognizant of not overloading audiences with marketing, however, the perception of what that actually means is likely in the eye of the beholder.
“There’s a really positive side to keeping quiet. You can protect the audience from spoilers or certain moments that, in a way, obviate the movie experience. But on the other hand, you risk being seen as coy or as a withholding shit-head. That’s never my intent,” he explained. “Because Lucasfilm has been so engaged with the fans and so forthcoming about what they’re doing, it would have felt oddly inconsistent to not show anything until just before the movie came out. I actually personally pushed to have a teaser come out a year before, just because it felt like, as a fan of ‘Star Wars,’ if I could see even the littlest thing I’d be psyched a year out. Why not? So we did. But I don’t want to destroy too many illusions. We’re walking a tightrope. If you fall on one side it’s no good, because we’re showing too much. If you fall on the other side it’s no good, because we’re not showing anything and we look like arrogant jerks.”
Hmm….it sounds like Abrams is changing the narrative a bit. Last year, there was the suggestion that it was the studio, not Abrams, who wanted to get the ball rolling on the marketing early. Either way, if the goal was to create buzz, it worked, and then some.
That said, sometimes that enthusiasm can go a bit overboard, and over the past little while, fans have looked at toy and merchandise commercials and wondered aloud if they are revealing spoilers from the movie. And it’s worth remembering that Disney and Abrams know exactly what is being put out there. “You just have to kind of ask yourself at every turn, at every convention, at every opportunity, every promotion, ‘What feels right?’ Of course, with this movie there are more licensing and merchandising balls to juggle than I’ve ever experienced. There are so many things, each one a little bit of a window into the story. It’s not just about what piece you put out for a talk show,” the director said. “This is also about: Well, what does that character say as a toy in that particular line of action figures, as opposed to that one? We want to preserve some of the rarefied air of the actual experience and not open all the windows so it all just gets depleted.”
Basically, Abrams and co. are well aware of what’s being put out there at every turn, so don’t expect Jar Jar Binks to pop up in a life insurance commercial without everyone at Disney and Lucasfilm knowing about it first.
As for the future, it will soon be Rian Johnson‘s turn behind the camera for the currently untitled “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” and Abrams, who will be executive producer of the movie, has provided a little update. “The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry [Kasdan] and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie,” he said. “We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping. And as executive producer of VIII, I need that movie to be really good. Withholding serves no one and certainly not the fans. So we’ve been as transparent as possible.”
So it sounds like the reins are being passed in a collaborative way that will also allow Johnson to make the “Star Wars” movie he wants to do, but one that will also fit into the new trilogy launched by Abrams. But before we get too far ahead, ‘The Force Awakens’ still needs to arrive, and Abrams reveals he’s put everything into making it work, including being honest about his own past efforts.
“More than anything, I drew on personal experiences as cautionary tales, things that I didn’t want to do again. For example, I didn’t want to enter into making a movie where we didn’t really own our story. I feel like I’ve done that a couple of times in my career. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my work, but the fact is I remember starting to shoot ‘Super 8‘ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness‘ and feeling like I hadn’t really solved some fundamental story problems,” he said. “The collaboration [with Lawrence Kasdan], for me, was an education in storytelling and doing so with clarity, with efficiency, brevity — wit. It was a little like taking an extended master class. And because he’s also a director, he knew what I was going through in prep and in production, and he allowed for my needs.”
“I tried to not forget the mistakes I’d made, but I also tried to focus on things that I find inspiring about cinema,” Abrams continued. “I asked questions like ‘How do we make this movie delightful?’ That was really the only requirement Larry and I imposed on each other: The movie needed to be delightful. It was not about explaining everything away, not about introducing a certain number of toys for a corporation, not about trying to appease anyone. This has only ever been about what gets us excited.”
Well, in the process, they’ve excited the world as well. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens on December 18th.