J.J. Abrams took on the responsibility of pleasing some of the most dedicated fans around when he rebooted Star Trek in 2009. While he pulled off the feat with aplomb, his follow-up effort proved to be an even more daunting proposition, not only because the fans this time around are just as rabid, but Abrams counts himself as one of those superfans. He grew up a Star Wars kid, so being handed over the keys to the kingdom was especially freighted with expectation.
Wired recently visited the filmmaker at Bad Robot, his production facility in Santa Monica, California, to discuss the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (In case you haven’t heard, the new chapter from the monumental film franchise launches next month.) In discussing the film, Abrams recognizes the balance between creating something new while also continuing a narrative initially begun almost four decades ago:
We are making the first in a new trilogy of movies, and it’s not very often that you get to work on something where you know there’s a continuum, where you know it’s basically part seven of nine—at least. That’s a very interesting way to approach a story, and it’s kind of great. It unburdens you. That’s one of the gifts the original Star Wars gives so generously: When you watch the film the first time, you don’t know exactly what the Empire is trying to do. You know they want to control by fear and you know they want to take over, but you don’t really know all their plans. You don’t really understand what it would be like for Luke to become a Jedi, let alone who his father was. You don’t really know what the Clone Wars were, or what the Republic was really about or what it looked like. All of those massive story elements are merely brushstrokes in A New Hope. In 1977, none of those things were clear to anyone and maybe not even entirely to George Lucas.
Abrams — and screenwriter Larry Kasdan, who worked on Empire and Jedi — were keenly aware of the sense of history. He notes:
Star Wars is so boundless in terms of the world, the characters, the conflicts. When we began working on this film, Larry and I started by making a list of things that we knew held interest for us, the things we wanted to see, the things we felt were important. 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.
Check out a spate of behind-the-scenes stills in the following pages, then head here to read the entire interview.