‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Director J.J. Abrams Reacts to the Movie’s Divisive Response

The marketing for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker played up the film as the end of the Skywalker saga. Of course, fans had heard this before. The Star Wars saga previously ended in 1983 and 2005 with the original and prequel trilogies’ final installments. But this time, Lucasfilm maintained, they really meant it.

The film — which marked J.J. Abrams return to the franchise after directing 2015’s The Force Awakens — had a lot to prove. In crafting an ending that would satisfy fans and critics, Abrams also aimed to reunite the fandom. After The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans were divided into two distinct camps. Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker failed to please either.

While Abrams’ movie has its fans, many felt it was a messy way to tie up the saga. The Rise of Skywalker became the worst-reviewed entry in the saga, eventually surpassing The Phantom Menace. And its billion-dollar box office gross still stands as a relative disappointment. Now Abrams is directly addressing how The Rise of Skywalker let down fans.

J.J. Abrams at the Costume Designers Guild Awards
J.J. Abrams at the Costume Designers Guild Awards | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

J.J. Abrams aimed to update ‘Star Wars’ for a modern audience

Abrams faced uphill battles before in Star Wars and succeeded. After all, this is the filmmaker who resurrected the saga a decade after Revenge of the Sith closed it down. The Force Awakens even had to pick up the story from Return of the Jedi — a film released more than 30 years earlier — while also reflecting today’s world.

“In the earliest stages, we talked about, ‘If we have this moment, this privilege, what do we want to do with it?'” Katie McGrath, co-CEO of Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions said recently. “And not from a place of being preachy or feeding people spinach, just from a place of — any time you have a privilege, you have an obligation, period.”

According to McGrath, Abrams always intended to center the sequel trilogy on a quartet of diverse characters. In this way, The Force Awakens would counter the saga’s historical lack of on-screen diversity. In no time, Daisy Ridley’s Rey became an iconic addition to the saga, as did Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

But Abrams faced an altogether different challenge when he returned to conclude their stories.

Director J.J. Abrams reacts to ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

Any filmmaker taking on a Star Wars film would feel the pressure. But that mindset isn’t conducive to creativity. So Abrams approached Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker like any other project.

“The truth is that these are things that are meant to entertain people, to make them feel something and hopefully make them feel good,” Abrams sais. “Obviously, it doesn’t always work. It’s hard when it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t, you have to understand it, you have to acknowledge it, you have to examine it.”

That last comment feels particularly pointed in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker‘s less-than-warm reception. To Abrams’ point, the movie does feel designed to please fans, perhaps to its own detriment. Several original trilogy characters make cameo appearances, and Abrams fills the film with callbacks. However, sometimes “fan service” isn’t actually what a project needs.

To be fair, Abrams faced a number of obstacles in crafting The Rise of Skywalker. The lack of basic planning for the sequel trilogy left him in a narrative corner with The Last Jedi. This is especially true because Abrams joined the project late in its development. Plus, the tragic 2016 death of Carrie Fisher meant Abrams had to determine how to pay a fitting tribute to Leia with mere minutes of unused footage.

The future of ‘Star Wars’ could present a very different story

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might not have been the film fans were hoping for. But we also don’t hold Abrams completely responsible for its failings. At least now the Star Wars saga can move — hopefully — in a fresh new direction.

Without the Skywalker story to lean on, the franchise has the opportunity to expand the universe like never before. Disney+ series The Mandalorian is already giving fans a hint of what’s possible. Yet, Lucasfilm still hasn’t announced any concrete plans on the movie side.

If the rumors are true, the “galaxy far, far away” could be moving further into the past. A trilogy of films based on Knights of the Old Republic would give the saga a fighting chance at reinvention. Here’s hoping Star Wars capitalizes on its newfound freedom wisely.