J.J. Abrams successfully launched the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy with “The Force Awakens,” but what followed in the subsequent two sequels proved far more divisive for fans. Creative handoffs took place between Abrams and “The Last Jedi” filmmaker Rian Johnson, and then between Johnson and Abrams for “The Rise of Skywalker,” resulting in chapters that from a narrative perspective felt more like constant course-correcting than natural continuity. There was never a finite narrative plan set in stone, as evidenced by Daisy Ridley confirming it was never in the cards for her character Rey to be Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter until the production of “Rise of Skywalker.”
In a recent interview with Collider, Abrams was asked to weigh in on the “creative handoffs” that came to define the narrative storytelling of the recent “Star Wars” trilogy. Would the three movies have benefited from a concrete narrative plan set from the beginning? This is the question Collider asked the director, to which Abrams admitted that “there’s nothing more important than knowing where you’re going.” However, Abrams said there are always storytelling curveballs that need to be considered.
“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 said. “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.”
It’s impossible to predict what curveballs might be thrown your way when working on an ongoing narrative such as a television series or movie trilogy, but the more you start with a plan the better you can manage those unexpected turns. As Abrams concluded, “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. 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.”
Based on Ridley’s reveal that Rey’s parentage shifted at various points of developing the “Star Wars” trilogy, from being a Kenobi offspring to a Palpatine offspring, it’s clear the most recent “Star Wars” films were never “leading to something inevitable.” Instead, they were leading toward something that just wasn’t figured out when the journey began. Abrams recently said he is planning to tackle some original material in his next writer-director gig, and it seems clear it will be well-planned prior to cameras rolling.