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J.J. Abrams: Just because it's the Star Wars galaxy doesn't mean it's "automatically interesting"

The filmmaker opens up to Wired about making The Force Awakens.

J.J. Abrams and Harrison Ford, getting ready to awaken the force.
J.J. Abrams and Harrison Ford, getting ready to awaken the force.
Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

J.J. Abrams is no stranger to the demands of opinionated fans, nor to the pressures of building out fictional worlds and tackling big-name franchises. Between Alias, Lost, the Star Trek movies, and, hell, even Felicity, Abrams gained a reputation of tapping into fans' emotions like no one else.

And then he inherited Star Wars.

In a fascinating (and spoiler-free) new interview with Wired, Abrams talks about the pressures of helming the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, thinking ahead to this new era of Star Wars, and how to service the franchise without resorting to baseless fan service.

Abrams on the balancing act of releasing teases versus outright spoilers:

"There’s a really positive side to keeping quiet. You can protect the audience from spoilers or certain moments that, in a way, obviate the movie experience. But on the other hand, you risk being seen as coy or as a withholding shithead. That’s never my intent. Because Lucasfilm has been so engaged with the fans and so forthcoming about what they’re doing, it would have felt oddly inconsistent to not show anything until just before the movie came out. 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.

But I don’t want to destroy too many illusions. We’re walking a tightrope. If you fall on one side it’s no good, because we’re showing too much. If you fall on the other side it’s no good, because we’re not showing anything and we look like arrogant jerks."

On acknowledging that time has passed between the original trilogy and the one Force Awakens kicks off:

"You know the moment when you reconnect with someone after years apart? You see the lines on their face, you think, oh, they’ve lived 10 years! Or when you see someone has a scar they didn’t have—physical or emotional—you recognize it. It lets you know it’s not two minutes later. 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 [Ford] was required to bring a level of complexity that a 30-year-old Han wouldn’t be required to have."

On how The Force Awakens doesn't rely on the general awesomeness of the Star Wars universe:

"There’s a very real issue with doing this movie: Every detail, whether it was the design of a costume or the music or a set-dressing choice, must be embraced as coming from Star Wars. You’re inheriting Star Wars! That’s not something you can do lightly. You have to really understand the design choices, because everything is important. At the same time, it’s just Star Wars, meaning: It doesn’t make it automatically interesting just because it’s in that galaxy.

...We really tried to look at it from the inside out. What makes this story have a beating heart? What makes it romantic or fun or surprising or heartbreaking or hysterically funny? We simply approached this narrative from the point of view that this is a story about a young man and a young woman, not with the idea that we can do anything we want."

The entire interview is a fascinating look at the process of making a movie with so many hands in it and trying to live up to the growing expectations of Star Wars fans both new and old. It's also an encouraging indication of The Force Awakens' direction, as Abrams assures wary fans that his and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan's first priority was, "How do we make this movie delightful?"

For more from Abrams on the challenges of casting for a new franchise, working with legendary composer John Williams, and BB8, check out the full interview at Wired.