J.J. Abrams is living the dream of many Star Wars fans. When the original film was released in 1977, Abrams was 11 years old, and he was immediately hooked. The movie captured his imagination and helped inspire his career. Today, he is a successful movie and television writer, producer, and director.
In 2013, Abrams was hired to bring Star Wars back to the big screen for the first time in more than 10 years. As the director and co-writer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, opening December 18, Abrams is responsible for one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year. He recently spoke to TFK about Star Wars, and what it was like to create the new movie.
Who is your favorite Star Wars character, and why?
The power and coolness of Darth Vader [make him] my favorite bad guy, maybe ever. But I always felt a connection to Luke Skywalker because of his “everymaness.” As much as Han Solo is probably my favorite character now, as a kid, I never felt I could be Han. You’d always want to hang out with Han, but I felt more connected to Luke because he was so much more the ordinary kid.
You first saw Star Wars when you were 11. What made you connect to it on such a major level?
The thing that I connected to most about Star Wars, I think, was the comedy, the sense of humor that the movie had. It was constantly funny, and in a kind of sophisticated way too. It was about character. It had a huge heart. Its sweetness, and care with the characters, felt profoundly important in those [first three] movies. And I think the look of the movie—when I was 11 years old, no movies looked like that before. This was far bigger, far funnier, far more epic in scale and scope, far more inventive in design, far more believable in its narrative and the world it was creating. It had better music. It had better visual effects. It did everything brilliantly. As a result, the feeling that I was left with was amazement, and a sense that anything was possible.
Did you try to recapture any specific qualities from the previous movies?
Yes. For me, the mood, the sense of authenticity, was critical. Those first movies, whether you’re out in the deserts of Tatooine or the snowy fields of Hoth or the forest of Endor, you felt like you were in these real places. [And] these were not stories of people in halls of power. These were stories about underdogs, about people who were the everyman. They were always desperate, and for reasons that were entertaining.
What new qualities did you try to bring?
I wanted this movie to be for everyone. I know there are countless women and girls who love Star Wars. But a lot of the selling of Star Wars has been primarily to boys. And even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, a major department store chain had the advertising for action figures from the new movie and they only had the male figures. And all I’m saying is, this movie is for everyone.
And it was important for me not just to have females in both good-guy and bad-guy roles, but also to make sure the movie looks more like the world. When we cast Oscar Isaac, a Latino actor, it was not in the script that [his character, hero pilot Poe Dameron] looked a certain way. He was just the right actor. John Boyega [who is black]—we were just looking for a guy who was going to be great in the role [of Finn, a young soldier]. But I knew it was important that the movie be inclusive.
How do you think Star Wars speaks to kids today? Is it any different from the way it spoke to young people in 1977?
Somehow kids today are born knowing about Star Wars. At the same time, we knew this would be the first Star Wars movie for many people. It was really important that this movie not rely on people’s knowledge and understanding of Star Wars for it to work.
But I do think that it still speaks fundamentally in the most important way. It reminds you that we’re all connected in some way, and that you are capable of extraordinary things. And that you will find trust and loyalty and friendship in the most unlikely of places and situations. I’d like to think that kids today want and need that message as much as I did.