J.J. Abrams is pretty brilliant, so getting to chat with him while at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press event was pretty awesome!

Leanette Fernandez interviewing J.J. Abrams

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Interview with J.J. Abrams

Star Wars The Force Awakens Interview with J.J. Abrams

How being 11 when the original movie released influence the way that you approach producing this film?

“…of course it did because it was something that meant so much to me for so long. The thing is that it’s because it’s been engrained in sort of all of our conscientiousness for so long that it’s become a birthright to just know Star Wars, you know. You’re sort of born, you know what a light saber is, Darth Vader, you understand that. At three years old, kids talk about Star Wars in a way that is so eerie, ’cause you think how could you possibly know so much. And somehow they do and even those kids who haven’t played the games or seen the shows, I don’t know how it is that they understand Star Wars immediately…my job wasn’t to be a fan boy or an 11 year old kid. It was to be a nearly 50 year old movie director, so I tried to approach this thing from a point of view of obviously acknowledging how much I love what George Lucas created, but understand that being a fan doesn’t make the story work. Being a fan doesn’t make the scene any good. Being a fan is great but we all had to be story tellers and filmmakers.

I was surrounded by people like Lawrence Kasdan, who’d written obviously the original Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi, and actors who had been there from the beginning, all the way through, you know, visual effects and sound too. Of course, John Williams who collaborating with him is like cheating, ’cause he’s just he speaks to our soul with music in a way that I think is super-human. So, the whole process was really about trying to love it but also be hard on it, so that the story meant something and was emotional and not just a fan film.”

How working on Episode 7 came to be

“…it was Kathleen Kennedy, who I’ve known for a long time and she called and asked if I was interested in working on Star Wars. Of course, it was a very surreal question and it was very flattering and my answer was no, partly because Katie, my wife, and I had plans to take our kids away. I’d been working on a lot of back-to-back projects for a while, partly because I’d worked on a number of sequels and it felt like enough is enough and partly because I care about Star Wars so much that the idea of taking it on felt like the kind of a thing that I couldn’t imagine, and intimidating. So I said no thank you…when Kathy Kennedy and you get together, she’ll convince you of whatever it is she wants you to. She just was amazing and basically said this was going to be an opportunity to continue the story since Return of the Jedi.

…as we were talking, I realized this is 30-some years after the fact, the main characters would have been born 10 to 15 years after that movie. They’d be looking back on what we know of the story, that would be ancient history for kids who were 19, 20 years old. What do they know? What do they believe? And what do they believe in? And the idea of finding these young people who exist in a Star Wars universe was so compelling to me, that feeling of re-discovering a world and a feeling that was so powerful, for growing up, was undeniable…after the meeting, I went downstairs and found Katie, my wife, and I just said I think I really want to do this…

…There were a lot of issues that came with it and yet I knew that as challenging as it would be that if we could…do it right, that it could be an extraordinary situation and an amazing experience…every stage has been, ah, as gratifying as it was challenging, and it’s, it’s all because of the unparalleled and unbelievable work that everyone did at every turn. And I’m very grateful.”

How the idea for BB8 come about

“…we were working on the story, trying to figure IT out, we knew we had a droid that was gonna be a critical piece of the puzzle, but we didn’t know if he was going to be sort of bi-pedal, like C3PO, or roll around like R2 or some other thing. I just had this idea that if we had a sphere and then a semi-sphere on top, you could get quite a bit of expression without a face. So, I drew a sketch of BB8 and I had the eye and little antenna and everything and it didn’t have a color pattern and it didn’t have all the critical details that Neil and his team brought in, but I sent that to Neil Scandlan and the began to come up with designs that would sort of follow that.

It was amazing how quickly it looked like it could work, I didn’t know if they would be able to create something that could be performed on camera, which I knew was going to be important and they did. I will never forget the first day that we came to their offices to see BB8 being performed after we’d agreed on design, scale and everything. Brian, the puppeteer, came out and wheeled out BB8 on his rig and literally within seconds, Brian disappeared, like he was right there, but it was like he wasn’t there and this thing was looking around and curious and you could feel the soul because Brian was imbuing him with life.

Daisy said at one point earlier today, every time we weren’t shooting, we were on a break, and BB8 was just sort of sitting there and not being performed, it was like heartbreaking, because he was this like inert thing and you were like where is he? Then Brian would get him and you’d be like there he is.”

Finding the balance between the preservation of what Star Wars is and integrating the new technology and new things

“This whole process has been going backwards to go forwards. It’s the next chapter in what happened in 4, 5, and 6. This is 7. It needs to feel like there’s the continuum to that, but the important thing was recognizing what are the tenants of Star Wars and the things that make Star Wars specifically Star Wars and not one of the many attempts to rip off what George Lucas created and the beauty of what we had was we actually inherited Star Wars.

We could actually put the fighters and light sabers and star destroyers in our movie and it feel essential as opposed to derivative. But this was all about telling a new story, so the, brilliant luck of having Laurence Kasdan along for the ride, having written Empire and Jedi and having lived with it for decades, about that world and where it might have gone…discussions with him were informed discussions.

The most important thing was always, why are we doing this. What’s the point of trying a new Star Wars story? What do we want people to feel? who are the main characters? That was the most exciting part. Finding this young woman, Rey, this character who from the beginning was a central role and character and voice in the story. To find this character Finn, who we started to fall in love with very early on, and to realize that their story of discovering what their role is in this universe, and not just any universe but the Star Wars universe, that was thrilling. All of that was happening before we were even really talking about what the original characters were gonna do and that was why we started getting excited. We realized there was a story that was working, not because it was nostalgic trip and that we were relying on things that came before, but because there was a pulse to the story now, they could use the fabric of what had come before to tell that story.

In terms of technology, we had at our disposal kind of everything and it was great to be able to use practical and tangible puppets when necessary, to use CG when required or when better. I think you’ll see that BB8 has a slightly better hologram that R2D2 does.”

Have you checked out my interview with Harrison Ford? What about with Lupita Nyong’o and Oscar Isaac, or John Boyega, Daisy Ridley or Kathleen Kennedy? Keep checking back this week for more cast, producer & director interviews.

Leanette Fernandez with J.J. Abrams

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is officially in theaters!!!

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*Thank you for the images Mom Start!