Talking from his office on the second floor of his Bad Robot production in Santa Monica, J.J. Abrams spoke to Rolling Stone in mid-October, with the film 71 days away from release. He spoke about respecting the legacy of George Lucas and writing with Chris Terrio.
In Bob Iger’s book, he says he told you that The Force Awakens was a $4 billion movie, in the sense that the success of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm was riding on your work. You were not amused, he writes.
I was amused. But I also expected that because I knew that what he and Disney had invested were no small stakes, and he was looking at this for at least some evidence that there was a [successful] business there for him. I could not appreciate more the stakes for him. And every time I work for someone, I want to only do well for them, and I look at it and think of it as if it were my money. So I would never approach this lightly or feel like, “They got 4 billion more where that came from.”
He also reveals George Lucas’ dissatisfaction with The Force Awakens. How did you feel about that then, and how do you feel about it now?
I’ve only had gratitude for George. It’s probably a complicated thing for him. To decide you’re going to sell this thing that you created, that was your baby, to anyone — that must be more complicated than signing a check and smiling about it. But he’s been incredibly gracious. He’s been super-generous.
He came over, we had a meeting when we first started working on this [new movie], talked through a ton of different ideas and stories, and heard from him what was important. And we’ve done nothing but try and adhere to some fundamental aspects of the story. It wasn’t a difficult thing to try and do. And again, he was really gracious. So I’m only grateful. Do I wish that [Force Awakens] had been his favorite movie of all time? Yes, I only wanted to do well by him. I would just say that I have nothing but profound respect for the guy and am still truly, even more so now, working on these movies in awe of what he created.
On writing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with Chris Terrio….
What was your process like with your co-writer on this movie, Chris Terrio?
He really is such a brilliant human, and the way he approaches everything is kind of scholarly. Whatever he’s working on, he’ll read up on it in a way that is so impressive. He will often carry with him a literal pile of books that he’s reading. It was fascinating working with someone who was so well-versed in the extended universe. As much as I read some books and watched some of the animated series and read some stories, Chris’ level of knowledge really was as close [as you could get] to Pablo Hidalgo, the guy at Lucasfilm, who is sort of like the vault of Star Wars information.
But the process has really just been, as one might expect, talking through story, finding things that make us emotional and going with our gut the best we can. Listening to critiques and criticisms and trying to make it better as we go. Not being afraid of the better idea. Usually we’ll talk through a scene and then we’ll each go off and write different scenes and then share them and then do passes on each other’s scenes and come up with something. And he’s been great not just in the writing of the movie, but during the movie and even in post, helping make it better, losing things that we keep trying to make work but don’t, and realizing, let’s just cut it. He’s here now, he’s downstairs.
Read the interview in full here.