When J.J. Abrams was first approached by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to direct Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, he turned down the job, wishing to see the film as the massive Star Wars fan he is. Obviously, Abrams eventually had a change of mind, being asked by Kennedy, "Who is Luke Skywalker?" and finding it too tantalizing an opportunity to pass up. In the end, it proved to be a wise decision. Upon its release, The Force Awakens broke numerous box office records and earned widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike.
While Abrams was overwhelmingly successful in his mission to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, he's only minimally involved with the franchise now. His role on the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII is that of executive producer. Currently, Lucasfilm has five additional Star Wars movies coming through the pipeline, and each one has someone different at the helm, so The Force Awakens may be the only time Abrams directs a film in the series. And as far as he's concerned, he's happy to move on.
Speaking with Fortune at the SXSW Film Festival, Abrams explained why the chances of him working on another story set in a galaxy far, far away are slim, saying he always intended to be one-and-done regardless of how The Force Awakens was received:
"It was a wonderful way to visit a place that meant so much to me and obviously so many. I knew that if it worked, it was the perfect time to step down – and if it didn’t, no one would want me to do it anyway.”
There is something to admire in Abrams' wish to go out on top. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver a quality film with The Force Awakens, and under his command, the franchise returned to its former glory and set the stage for an exciting future. For Abrams, it's difficult to see how he could top himself after Episode VII, which probably factored into his decision to not direct again. As he saw firsthand with the response to his divisive Star Trek Into Darkness, sometimes it's best to quit when you're ahead and give way to someone else. In addition, having a new filmmaker behind each movie should help keep the series feeling fresh each time out, with different styles and voices making them unique.
During his interview, Abrams also discussed the upcoming HBO series Westworld, which is aiming to have its premiere sometime in 2016. Abrams is executive producing the project, and had much praise for the directors:
“At the heart of Westworld is this story of consciousness and oppression and discover. It’s one of the projects I feel most grateful and lucky to be a part of. What [the directorial team has] done is so stunning and cool and they’re not rushing it because of business maters and the network is giving them the time. That is never a bad move.”
Production on the series was put on hold back in January 2016, in order to give the writing staff more time to "get ahead" and catch up on the last four scripts. Taking a hiatus and not rushing into something is a wise choice, given the ambitious nature of Westworld. Described as a "dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin," it's something that should be handled with the utmost care to ensure the material is done justice. A trailer for the series got people excited, so it would be a disappointment if the final product didn't live up to expectations.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is out on Blu-ray April 5th, 2016; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Westworld is expected to premiere in 2016. We'll keep you updated on its development.