Star Wars: The Force Awakens: J.J. Abrams on fans, spoilers, puzzles, and the value of fear
Teedo scavenger edition: A little about sound effects and Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
In our zeal to make use every part of the luggabeast, we’ve reached the end of Entertainment Weekly’s preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Of course, there is much more to come in the days, weeks, and months ahead with Disney’s D23 convention this weekend, the Sept. 4 “Force Friday” reveal of new toys, books, and merchandise, and of course the next trailer — due at some point in the fall. But for now, we’ve shared everything we can from the interviews: from Luke Skywalker, to Kylo Ren, the return of Han Solo, and more.
As we were wrapping up our conversation, director J.J. Abrams and I began talking about you. The reader. The fan. The die-hard and the casual admirer alike.
You’ve had your influence on this movie as well. “One of the great things that Lucasfilm has done over the years is embracing the community of Star Wars fans, and it’s because they realize that it’s really the fans’ story,” Abrams said.
“And that understanding, that sharing of information and engaging with the fans is something that I really admire,” he went on. “My instinct is to typically keep things quiet — and if I had my way, perhaps we would be showing less — but the truth is, I want to make sure that the fans aren’t feeling like we are holding back for the sake of it.”
But there’s another side to that yearning. (TELL ME EVERYTHING.) There has to be balance to this Force, too. Some prefer to know nothing and go in completely cold on Dec. 18.
“I also have read more comments than I ever expected where people say, ‘don’t spoil it for me, don’t show me everything, don’t ruin the story, I don’t want to know it yet,’” Abrams said. “And I’m always grateful for that. So it’s a little bit of a tightrope, and we want to make sure we’re being forthcoming, but that we’re not spoiling.”
He confirmed that the two teaser trailers, the behind-the-scenes footage, and the various images that have been released are clues in a mystery. (For sport, Entertainment Weekly has occasionally tried to assemble a few theories based on these bread crumbs.) If you want to solve it, it’s there. If you want to wait, it allows you to look at segments without seeing much of the whole.
“They’re all, in a way, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is, little by little, coming together in some form,” Abrams said. “We’re doing the best we can to simply finish this movie, and make it as good as it can be, and at the same time, dole out moments and characters and images that will be in line with what Lucas has been doing for so many years.”
But not all the pieces of the puzzle are there yet. And some are red herrings. “There are many things that have been seen that of course can’t be understood yet,” Abrams said. “Some things are throwaways; some things are more important. But the fundamental thing is the movie, and wanting to make sure that we are platforming and helping where we can, but not in any way ruining or divulging things that would make the experience of seeing the movie lessen.”
With that, here are are a few brick walls we hit in our conversation, and why fear can sometimes be a good thing (despite what Yoda says):
I asked if Abrams could talk about Ben Burtt, the revolutionary sound designer who gave us the sounds of Wookiees, blasters, starships, and pretty much everything else that makes a noise in the Star Wars universe.
He’s the guy who taught a generation of kids to go “pew, pew, pew!” while firing blasters and “WHAANNN-whaaaan” while engaged in lightsaber duels.
Burtt is back for this movie, and I tried to get Abrams to discuss his contribution.
“I can’t talk about what he’s doing specifically on this movie, but I’ll say that I’m thrilled to get to work with Ben again,” the director said. “We worked together on the Star Trek films, on Super 8, and now on this. We also are lucky to have Gary Rydstrom, of course, and Matt Wood. We have an amazing sound team.”
What you hear can be just as important as what you see. And the original trilogy broke new ground in that department, too.
“The thing that keeps being remarkable to me is how much George Lucas got right when he did Star Wars. Like, it is a preposterous ratio of things that work that were brand-new, and bold, and thrilling. The sound certainly was one of those things. And when you hear that specific roar of a TIE fighter, or the sound of a lightsaber coming on, or the sound of a droid, or any number of things — and there are so many — the idea that you can close your eyes and hear a couple sound effects and know exactly what movie that is, is completely a testament to the work that Ben Burtt did then, and that he’s contributing to now.”
We know Andy Serkis will be delivering another motion-capture performance like Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, and we know that character will be called Supreme Leader Snoke. I went fishing for more, but …
“I have nothing about him yet, but I will say that Andy Serkis is like working with someone who is an historically great actor. He is the kindest, sweetest, most lovely guy, so it’s not that he puts on any airs of being pretentious or anything at all, but he’s simply so damn good, that when I’m working with him, I feel like I’m working with someone who is, you know, like a Charles Laughton, or someone who is just so extraordinary,” Abrams said. “Then there’s the whole matter of how he incorporates technology in a way that no one has seen or done… There are many levels to his genius, but he is certainly a genius.”
Finally, I asked Abrams a simple one: Taking on Star Wars is a big responsibility, and there are a lot of eyes on what he’s doing, a lot of expectations.
Was he ever afraid? And was that useful — or did it hold him back?
“There have been ongoing pockets of crazy questioning and uncertainty, and I would be very worried if there weren’t,” he said.
Being scared, he added, is proof you’re doing something worthwhile. “I’m sure that there are people who are probably far more capable, who don’t doubt themselves or where they find themselves, but I found that we were constantly questioning and asking and then when something was undeniable, you just go with it, and are grateful for it,” he said.
Fear, it seems, doesn’t always lead to the dark side.
Check back tomorrow for Star Wars: The Force Awakens updates from Disney’s D23 convention on EW.com.
To continue reading the cover story on EW’s Fall Movie Preview, and to see more exclusive photos, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.
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Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens