J.J. Abrams says he took more risks on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker than he did on The Force Awakens because of Rian Johnson. Johnson, of course, helmed The Last Jedi, the middle chapter in the Skywalker saga's sequel trilogy. While the film received positive reviews from critics and grossed $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office, it ended up becoming one of the most divisive movies of the entire decade. Nearly two years after The Last Jedi premiered, it remains a topic of contention, with Johnson's polarizing creative choices continuing to fuel debates.
Though Abrams has had a very successful career, even his biggest supporters would admit he has a tendency to play things safe. That is why some of The Last Jedi's most vocal detractors are hoping Abrams retcons some of Johnson's most controversial decisions in a calculated move to "course correct" the trilogy before it ends. However, Abrams has long maintained he honored what Johnson did in The Last Jedi, and he's only doubled down on those comments now.
In an interview with Total Film (hat tip /Film), Abrams discussed his directorial approach when tackling The Rise of Skywalker, going so far as to credit Johnson for helping him be a bit bolder in his filmmaking:
“On this one, I let myself be, at least in the way I was approaching the thing, freer. In Episode 7, I was adhering to a kind of approach that felt right for Star Wars in my head. It was about finding a visual language, like shooting on locations and doing practical things as much as possible. And we continue that in Episode 9, but I also found myself doing things that I’m not sure I would have been as daring to do on Episode 7.
Rian helped remind me that that’s why we’re on these movies – not to just do something that you’ve seen before. I won’t say that I felt constrained or limited on 7, but I found myself wanting to do something that felt more consistent with the original trilogy than not. And on 9, I found myself feeling like I’m just gonna go for it a bit more.”
One of the more common critiques of The Force Awakens is it borrowed several story elements from A New Hope and played as a retread of the original film. Abrams later admitted any parallels were intentional, but there was still a fear The Rise of Skywalker would end up being Return of the Jedi 2.0. It's nice to see Abrams was willing to open himself up more this time around and take some chances. Since Star Wars 9 is the final installment of the Skywalker saga, it would be a shame if the creative team didn't swing for the fences. From the sound of things, Abrams felt emboldened by Johnson's deconstruction of the Star Wars mythos and understood he didn't need to be beholden to the original trilogy. Playing things safe on The Force Awakens was arguably necessary at the time (Disney was ushering in a new era for their $4 billion investment), but now there's no reason to hold things back.
Abrams continues to say all the right things about The Rise of Skywalker, but the truth will be in the contents of the film, when fans can see for themselves just how "daring" he really was. To date, Rise of Skywalker marketing has banked heavily on nostalgia and utilizes franchise iconography (including the second Death Star), and not all fans are impressed by the marketing campaign. At the same time, the general public barely has any idea what The Rise of Skywalker is actually about, so it's possible Abrams threw some unexpected curveballs into the story. After all, few could have predicted the return of Emperor Palpatine. It'll be curious to see what else Abrams has up his sleeve.
Source: Total Film (via /Film)