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NPR Arts & Life

'Star Wars' Just Keeps Breaking Records


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Kelly McEvers.


And I'm Audie Cornish.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As narrator) There's been an awakening. Have you felt it?

CORNISH: Fans have felt it. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has already broken all sorts of box office records around the world. Just this week, it beat "Avatar" as the fastest highest-grossing film in the U.S. So, J.J. Abrams, is the pressure finally off now?

J.J. ABRAMS: (Laughter). I feel enormous relief that this movie's finally out in the world.

CORNISH: J.J. Abrams is, of course, the director of the new "Star Wars" movie. He joins us now from NPR West for what I'm afraid to say is definitely not a spoiler-free conversation.

J.J. Abrams, welcome to the program.

ABRAMS: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Have you actually taken a moment to, like, go to the movies yourself and, like, sit in an audience?

ABRAMS: We went on the opening weekend, a group of us went out and just popped into a couple theaters just to see people in the theater watching the movie, and it was incredibly gratifying just to see the thing out there being watched by people. And the reaction was more than we could've expected.

CORNISH: At the same time, people have commented on the look of it, maybe made the critique that it's almost too retro and too faithful to kind of the nostalgia people have for the earlier films.

ABRAMS: Well, you know, going into any project, especially with a fan base as vocal and passionate as something as "Star Wars," you will have groups of people who will find issues with whatever it is you're doing. But our job was to tell the best story we could about characters that we loved, and we knew that we needed to go backwards to go forwards, and we needed to go back to a feeling and a place and a time. And I think that the success of the film is as much about it being something that families could share as anything else. And the parents who knew "Star Wars" could take kids and feel like they've gone back to a place that is familiar and yet found brand-new characters that took them somewhere they'd never been. And it was important me that we embrace that feeling, and you can call it retro, but I think it's what "Star Wars" is.

CORNISH: You have developed a kind of expertise in this, right? I mean, people have responded well to these films and all of these franchises. And, you know, with "Star Wars," for instance, and the storm trooper being played by John Boyega, you know, that was sort of a bit of "Star Wars" you could mess with because they don't take off their helmets so it seemed to be on the list of, like, mess with that, (laughter), you know? And then you do something like, kill Han Solo. And I wonder, how do you, (laughter), you know, make that kind of decision?

ABRAMS: Well, we knew that we wanted to tell a story that made bold choices, and one of those bold choices was meeting a storm trooper and seeing who this person was. That's something that had never been done. You know, we didn't want to kill anyone, but we knew that "Star Wars" is a generational tale. It always is. And for it to have some guts and some resonance and true stakes, I don't think that everyone could have come through the story unscathed.


JOHN BOYEGA: (As Finn) We can't outrun them.

DAISY RIDLEY: (As Rey) We might. In that quad jumper.

BOYEGA: (As Finn) We need a pilot.

RIDLEY: (As Rey) We've got one.

CORNISH: So I feel like we see a lot of evidence of your touch in the casting. Can you talk a little bit about having a young black actor as a storm trooper, say, with John Boyega, or Daisy Ridley, right, as this very key scrappy young scavenger, Rey, who really holds her own?

ABRAMS: Well, when Kathy Kennedy, who is the president of Lucasfilm, came to me to ask if I'd be interested in working on this "Star Wars" movie, we talked about a young woman at the center of the story from the outset. And it was something that was always an important part of this movie. So when working on casting this movie and finding someone like Daisy, who - she's like, if sunshine was talented, and John Boyega, who is seemingly limitless in his ability - to get these two unique faces at the center of this movie was kind of a great find - and Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver. We were just very lucky to put together this incredible group. And it was really important to me - and I know it was to Kathy as well - that we make this movie look more the way the world looks than not and that we didn't write any character to look a certain way. We didn't know that Finn would be black or that Poe would be a Latino actor. We just - we knew we wanted this movie to feel inclusive. And I'm really happy that kids of color and girls can see that there isn't a place where they're not important, where they're not valued and needed, and it was exciting to do that in the "Star Wars" universe.

CORNISH: What kind of conversations or response have you had in the last few weeks to comments from George Lucas about the film? I mean, putting aside he already had to sort of apologize for this analogy he made comparing the "Star Wars" movies to his kids and Disney to white slavers, but he's also kind of said, like, look, this is a retro movie and I want to make movies that are different - different planets, different spaceships, make it new.

ABRAMS: You know, look, George Lucas is the reason that we got to make this movie, you know, he was the man that created this whole galaxy, and I am incredibly grateful to him. He's an artist and he's a grown-up. And I take him at his word, and it doesn't mean I agree with everything he says, but I respect, you know, his right to his opinion.

CORNISH: Now, you produced two films I really, really enjoyed - "Cloverfield" in 2008 and directed "Super 8" in 2011. And they were original movies, kind of sci-fi thrillers. I think it's OK to say they're alien movies, right?

ABRAMS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: But fewer movies are being made like that, you know, or even drawing an audience when they are. What is the lesson to take from this? I mean, can original storytelling survive?

ABRAMS: Oh, well, I think that the reason you keep hearing that it's the golden age of TV is because original storytelling is happening all the time in that medium, and people are hungry for it. And I'm as guilty as anyone for being part of an industry that is capitalizing on existing stories, sequels, these things that we are seeing again and again and again.

CORNISH: Yeah, I was reading, there were 27 films last year based on kind of previously existing characters or properties. Next year, there are going to be 40.

ABRAMS: Really? (Laughter) Oh, my Lord.

CORNISH: For a guy like you, are you basically better off doing reboots and sequels?

ABRAMS: Well, I'm done with that.

CORNISH: Oh, really?

ABRAMS: Well, I've done them and I'm so grateful, and I feel like when - when Kathy Kennedy asked if I would do "Star Wars," my knee-jerk reaction was no thank you because I didn't want to jump into another sequel. But of course because of what this was and the opportunity and the people involved, it was almost an impossible thing for me to not to sign on. But I do think that at a certain point, the reboot sequel mode has to give way to original ideas and back to a place where, you know, films are, you know, a medium and the cinema is a place you go to see something that is, you know, wholly new.

CORNISH: So J.J. Abrams, what is next? What kind of story would you like to tell?

ABRAMS: Honestly I'm excited about the possibilities of what comes next, and the funny thing is, that is sort of what "Star Wars" is kind of about. I mean, I remember being 10 years old and seeing that movie and leaving the theater and feeling like, oh, my God, anything is possible. And I feel like anything is possible right now. I don't know what's next, but I look forward to it.

CORNISH: J.J. Abrams. He's the director of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Thank you for speaking with us.

ABRAMS: My pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.