Why J.J. Abrams Almost Turned Down Star Wars Episode IX
"There was an actual moment when I nearly said, 'No, I’m not going to do this,'" J.J. Abrams said of Star Wars Episode IX.
In an enormous new interview with Fast Company, Star Wars Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has laid out the entire saga of how he ended up helming the final installment in the Sequel Trilogy, and it sounds like he was in a very unenviable position, all things considered.
Indeed, Jurassic World‘s Colin Trevorrow had been working on the project for quite some time before he was fired, and who else was Lucasfilm going to turn to during the fallout other than the man who had relaunched the Star Wars franchise in the first place with The Force Awakens? But Abrams, upon getting the offer to direct Episode IX, certainly had his reservations:
“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.’”
So who managed to convince Abrams to return? His partner in crime, wife and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath:
“To ask to have that happen again, I felt a little bit like I was playing with fire. Like, why go back? We managed to make it work. What the hell am I thinking? And there was a moment when I literally said, ‘No,’ and Katie said, ‘You should do this.’ And my first thought was, has she met someone? And then I thought, she’s usually right about stuff. And when she said it, 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.”
But time was running out for Abrams to recreate Episode IX from scratch, a situation he was all too aware of. Luckily, he knew a guy:
“To have no script and to have a release date and have it be essentially a two-year window when you’re saying (to yourself), you’ve got two years from the decision to do it to release, and you have literally nothing …You don’t have the story, you don’t have the cast, you don’t have the designers, the sets. There was a crew, and there were things that will be worked on for the version that preceded ours, but this was starting over.
And because this was such a mega job, I knew at the very least I needed a cowriter to work on this thing, but I didn’t know who that cowriter would be. There was nothing. So the first thing I did was reach out to a writer who I’ve admired for years, [Argo writer] Chris Terrio, who I didn’t really know, to say, ‘Listen, would you want to write Star Wars with me?’ And he screamed.”
As you would! But not only was Abrams tasked with building Episode IX into something special, he also had to deal with what director Rian Johnson had brought to the latest Star Wars trilogy in 2017’s The Last Jedi, and since Abrams didn’t think he’d be coming back to the franchise at all, he struggled with figuring out what his new installment should be:
“It was a completely unknown scenario. I had some gut instincts about where the story would have gone. 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. 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.”
Filming has now wrapped on Episode IX, and as Abrams and co plunge themselves into months of post-production on the movie, he’s starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel:
“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.”