J.J. Abrams on his Initial Fears & Current Excitement About Star Wars: Episode IX

When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was returning to co-write and direct Star Wars: Episode IX, little did we know how initially apprehensive he was. Abrams had already successfully relaunched a new era of Star Wars with 2015’s A Force Awakens. The pressure and stress of taking on the most iconic film franchise in history was significant, to say the least. Abrams helped usher in a new era of stars and continued a saga begun by George Lucas in 1977. When Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy came calling after Episode IX‘s writer/director Colin Trevorrow departed, he wasn’t immediately ready to jump back into the fire. Abrams spoke to Fast Company about his initial fears on taking over Episode IX. 

“I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t the guy, ya’ know? I was working on some other things, and I had something else that I was assuming would be the next project, if we’d be so lucky. And then Kathy Kennedy called and said, ‘Would you really, seriously, consider coming aboard?’ And once that started, it all happened pretty quickly. The whole thing was a crazy leap of faith. And there was an actual moment when I nearly said, ‘No, I’m not going to do this.’ I was trepidatious to begin with, getting involved, because I love Star Wars so much and felt like it was…it was almost, on a personal level, a dangerous thing to get too close to something that you care that much about. And yet, with Force Awakens, I feel like we managed to introduce these new characters—for some people, new actors—and continue a story in a way that I thought had heart and humanity and humor and surprise.”

Abrams explained that he was able to walk away from The Force Awakens feeling great about his contribution and loving Star Wars just as much as he did when he started working on the film. To go back for Episode IX, the film that needs to wrap up the entire, 9-film Skywalker saga, “felt a little bit like I was playing with fire.”

We know, of course, that Abrams did go back. Thanks in large part to his wife and Bad Robot Co-Chief Executive Officer Katie McGrath.

“I think that she felt like it was an opportunity to bring to a close this story that we had begun and had continued, of course,” he told Fast Company. ”

Abrams worked on the script he co-wrote with Chris Terrio—they had their work cut out for them. One of their many narrative jobs was to connect Episode IX to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

“I had some gut instincts about where the story would have gone,” Abrams told Fast Company. “But without getting in the weeds on episode eight, that was a story that Rian wrote and was telling based on seven before we met. So he was taking the thing in another direction. So we also had to respond to Episode VIII [The Last Jedi]. So our movie was not just following what we had started, it was following what we had started and then had been advanced by someone else. So there was that, and, finally, it was resolving nine movies. While there are some threads of larger ideas and some big picture things that had been conceived decades ago and a lot of ideas that Lawrence Kasdan and I had when we were doing Episode VII, the lack of absolute inevitability, the lack of a complete structure for this thing, given the way it was being run was an enormous challenge.”

It sounds like the challenge was met to his liking. How Abrams, Terrio and the Star Wars braintrust figured out how to conclude the epic mega-narrative that is the Skywalker saga won’t be revealed until the film bows this December 20. What Abrams is willing to reveal is that he thinks they’ve got something special.

“I feel like we might’ve done it. Like, I actually feel like this crazy challenge that could have been a wildly uncomfortable contortion of ideas, and a kind of shoving-in of answers and Band-Aids and bridges and things that would have felt messy. Strangely, we were sort of relentless and almost unbearably disciplined about the story and forcing ourselves to question and answer some fundamental things that at the beginning, I absolutely had no clue how we would begin to address. I feel like we’ve gotten to a place—without jinxing anything or sounding more confident than I deserve to be—I feel like we’re in a place where we might have something incredibly special. So I feel relief being home, and I feel gratitude that I got to do it. And more than anything, I’m excited about what I think we might have.”

Excited yet? We should be getting our first glimpse of Episode IX this week, as the Star Wars Celebration kicks off tomorrow.

Featured image: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac on the set of ‘Star Wars: Episode IX.’ Courtesy J.J. Abrams/Walt Disney Studios.


The Credits

The Credits is an online magazine that tells the story behind the story to celebrate our large and diverse creative community. Focusing on profiles of below-the-line filmmakers, The Credits celebrates the often uncelebrated individuals who are indispensable to the films and TV shows we love.