‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Connections to ‘Episode VIII’ Revealed by J.J. Abrams

By November 9, 2015

As we get closer and closer to the theatrical release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm have begun to ramp up the film’s marketing over the past few weeks, with the recent debut of the final domestic trailer, international trailer, and the first official TV spot just yesterday as well. However, many fans have already begun to wonder about the future Star Wars films following The Force Awakens, with Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII being on the receiving end of the most speculation up until this point.

It’s easy to see why too, after taking all of the interesting  new aspects already being introduced in The Force Awakens into account – it’s hard not to wonder how they might connect or be continued in the movie’s highly-anticipated follow-up. After months of blind speculation too, J.J. Abrams has finally opened up in a new interview with Wired, about his film’s set-up and connections to the future films, his involvement in the trilogy’s story process, and how he worked to make sure that the set-up didn’t overtake the main story of The Force Awakens.

Basically, J.J. Abrams continues to put all of our worries to rest.

Perhaps the most interesting part about his process though, was the way Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and the rest of the creative team apparently embraced the openness of The Force Awakens‘ potential. Instead of getting caught up in the set-up or being afraid of the film’s endless possibilities, it looks like Abrams was excited and incredibly calculated at maintaining the film’s world-building and narrative structure:

“We wanted to tell a story that had its own self-contained beginning, middle, and end but at the same time, like A New Hope, implied a history that preceded it and also hinted at a future to follow. When Star Wars first came out, it was a film that both allowed the audience to understand a new story but also to infer all sorts of exciting things that might be. In that first movie, Luke wasn’t necessarily the son of Vader, he wasn’t necessarily the brother of Leia, but it was all possible. The Force Awakens has this incredible advantage, not just of a passionate fan base but also of a backstory that is familiar to a lot of people. We’ve been able to use what came before in a very organic way, because we didn’t have to reboot anything. We didn’t have to come up with a backstory that would make sense; it’s all there. But these new characters, which Force is very much about, find themselves in new situations—so even if you don’t know anything about Star Wars, you’re right there with them. If you are a fan of Star Wars, what they experience will have added meaning.”

For fans who have brought up concerns about Abrams’ past trouble with story development though in films like Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness, the filmmaker wholly recognizes his past mistakes it looks like, hoping to avoid making them again in The Force Awakens:

“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.”

For Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan though, the goal of the film was always to recapture the magic and whimsy so present in A New Hope and the other two films from the Original Trilogy:

“I asked questions like “How do we make this movie delightful?” That was really the only requirement [co-writer Lawrence Kasdan] 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.”

Oh and remember that amazing first teaser we got around this time last year too, that gave us our very first look at the film itself? Looks like we wouldn’t have gotten that if it weren’t for Abrams (take that Mystery Box haters!), and why? Because he knew it would be awesome for the fans.

“What I’m excited about is that the movie itself feels like those teasers and not like the movie is one thing and the teasers are something else. 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.”

rey and finn featured imageWhich brings me back to the reason I was excited for Abrams to direct the film when it was originally announced, which is that he isn’t just an accomplished, and skilled filmmaker, but a fan of Star Wars as well. This is someone who understands what it’s like to love those films so much, and has an accurate perspective on the franchise’s massive scope, but also knows what made those movies so good in the first place. It seems like making sure his geekiness didn’t override the film’s quality was a major priority for Abrams too, as he used the Original Trilogy for reference whenever he needed:

“As a fan of Star Wars, I can look at those movies and both respect and love what they’ve done. But working on The Force Awakens, we’ve had to consider them in a slightly different context. For example, it’s very easy to love “I am your father.” But when you think about how and when and where that came, I’m not sure that even Star Wars itself could have supported that story point had it existed in the first film, Episode IV. Meaning: It was a massively powerful, instantly classic moment in movie history, but it was only possible because it stood on the shoulders of the film that came before it. There had been a couple of years to allow the idea of Darth Vader to sink in, to let him emerge as one of the greatest movie villains ever. Time built up everyone’s expectations about the impending conflict between Luke and Vader. If “I am your father” had been in the first film, I don’t know if it would have had the resonance. I actually don’t know if it would have worked.”

Abrams elaborated more on that point too, of making sure to introduce key story aspects for his future successors in Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow to have at their disposal, without resolving or ending them too quickly, allowing his peers to continue the story points and relationships he introduces in The Force Awakens:

“Working on this new movie has been as much about trying to set up elements of what is beyond what you’re seeing as it has been about telling a story that will be satisfying in and of itself. But it can’t feel like a cop-out—like we’re just setting things up and not resolving them.”

Unlike with the fans too, Abrams was proactively keeping Johnson involved in the film’s process and story development, allowing the Episode VIII director to interject and collaborate with the story team to make sure that both the story for The Force Awakens and it’s follow-up films can function without ever tripping over each other:

“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. 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.”

Looks like things have been going pretty smoothly between the two filmmakers as well, with Abrams revealing that Johnson has asked for a few changes to The Force Awakens here and there, in order to help the story of Episode VIII, while allowing Abrams to keep his creative vision for The Force Awakens:

“Rian has asked for a couple of things here and there that he needs for his story. He is an incredibly accomplished filmmaker and an incredibly strong writer. So the story he told took what we were doing and went in the direction that he felt was best but that is very much in line with what we were thinking as well. But you’re right—that will be his movie; he’s going to do it in the way he sees fit. He’s neither asking for nor does he need me to oversee the process.”

the force awakens han soloThe director provided an example of keeping a clear perspective during filming too, when he had to realize that just seeing Han Solo back onscreen wasn’t enough to make the film worthy of its predecessors:

“For example, when we were on-set and we were shooting a scene, it was always amazing to me to see Harrison Ford dressed as Han Solo. Or, wow, there’s a guy—a stormtrooper!—and he looks exactly like a stormtrooper. Remember the feeling of the villain stepping off his ship? Or the sound of the TIE fighters when they roar past you? We’ve all seen TIE fighters roar past us now for nearly 40 years; what makes that interesting? The point is, these scenes aren’t good just because those characters or things are there, even though it’s the greatest eye candy in the history of time.

On the same subject of Harrison Ford’s returning Han Solo too, Abrams was quick to embrace the time gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens to help give the characters an added wisdom and history that their older ages could allow:

“It was important that Han Solo be Han Solo but not feel like he’s playing a 30-year-old dude. When you’re 70, you will have lived a different set of experiences. That has to be apparent in who he is. Harrison was required to bring a level of complexity that a 30-year-old Han wouldn’t be required to have.”

It’s interesting because this is something that we’ve already seen glimpses of in the previous trailers too, the way Han has grown and changed over the past thirty years, going from the smuggler who ignored the truth, to accepting that the Force (and all of its sides) are real. This is something that I think we’re going to see a lot of in the film, and I still think that Abrams will deliver on the old, wise Jedi Luke Skywalker that we’ve been waiting for too.

And on the opposite side of that, Abrams was sure to cast actors for the new roles (Finn, Rey, Poe, etc.) that would be able to carry the franchise past just The Force Awakens, actors capable of carrying the burden and weight a franchise brings. What did he use for reference when casting too? Just the franchise that may have been more successful in that department than any other:

“When you think about all that these characters go through, not just in this movie but knowing their work would continue, these individuals needed to be worthy bearers of this burden and opportunity to continue to tell the story. I think about the Harry Potter movies—that’s unbelievable that they cast those films the way they did. And for what, eight movies?! That was a miracle. They needed to be able to do everything, and they all killed it.”

What’s perhaps the most interesting take away from this pretty impressive interview though, is just how calculated and analytical Abrams was about approaching the film’s story and structure. It doesn’t look like he’s planning on taking any unnecessary risks or chances with this one, and there’s no better way to make sure you’re doing a Star Wars movie right than by using the three best films of the franchise as your reference point.

The way he talks about how perfectly everything in those three movies worked, and how he’s making sure to introduce just enough in The Force Awakens, without taking away or putting more responsibility on the other two films in the trilogy, should be enough to make any skeptical fan out there have faith in Abrams at this point. It really doesn’t seem like Disney and Lucasfilm could have found a better choice for The Force Awakens, and soon enough, we’ll all know whether or not his hard work has paid off.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is set to hit theatres on December 18th, 2015, while Star Wars: Episode VIII will be released on May 26th, 2017.

Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable