‘Star Wars’: What Surprised J. J. Abrams the Most About ‘The Last Jedi’

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi was, for many, a shocking movie. It subverted what fans thought about pre-established Star Wars characters and story lines. J. J. Abrams directed the film’s follow-up, The Rise of Skywalker. This raises the question: What about The Last Jedi stunned him the most?

A Stormtrooper, R2-D2, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, J. J. Abrams, BB-8, Adam Driver, and a Stormtrooper | Christopher Jue/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios

‘The Last Jedi’ – a shock to the ‘Star Wars’ system

The Last Jedi had many out-of-left-field moments. Fans were surprised – and often angered – by the revelation Luke Skywalker became a bitter old man and considered killing his nephew, Kylo Ren. The film also implied Rey was not descended from anyone important. This subverts The Force Awakens, which suggested Rey’s ancestry is significant.

Abrams was asked what surprised him about the film in an interview with Fox 5 DC. He explained “Obviously, I’d read the script. It wasn’t like I just went to see Last Jedi. But I saw what Rian was doing…What I loved about his approach was that he was just subverting all expectations everywhere you looked.”

What stunned J. J. Abrams about the film

J. J. Abrams in California | Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Abrams continued: “Maybe the biggest surprise was not the biggest, you know, you think Luke dying maybe was the biggest surprise or you know…Ren killing Snoke. Weirdly, for me, the thing that like was the most surprising was Phasma dying.”

Captain Phasma was a villainess who oversaw Finn when he was a First Order Stormtrooper. Merchandise of the character became very popular prior to the release of The Force Awakens. Many fans expected her to play a major role in subsequent Star Wars films. However, she was unceremoniously killed in a battle in The Last Jedi.

Abrams compared Phasma’s death to that of Han Solo. He said Solo’s death was a way to help define Kylo Ren’s character. Harrison Ford wanted Solo to die for some time, so killing him honored the actor’s wishes, and wasn’t just “a way to kill a character.” Abrams said he could see why Phasma was killed off, though he did not explain why.

J. J. Abrams contradicts himself

J. J. Abrams in Hollywood | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

This interview was a change of pace for Abrams. He previously gave a different answer to the same question. According to Cinema Blend, he said “I felt the biggest surprise was how dark Luke was.”

Abrams added “That was the thing that I thought: ‘Oh, that was unexpected.’ And that’s the thing The Last Jedi undeniably succeeds at, which is constant subversion of expectation. The number of things that happened in that movie that aren’t the thing you think is going to happen is pretty fun.”

J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson – polar opposites?

Rian Johnson | Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Since the release of The Last Jedi, critics constantly compared Abrams’ approach to the franchise to Johnson’s. Abrams’ take on Star Wars was very reverent. Some felt The Force Awakens was too safe, and lacked a unique artistic vision to make it compelling.

Johnson’s approach to the franchise was the polar opposite. He ignored previous character development in order to make Luke Skywalker much different. The Last Jedi’s detractors felt Johnson did not understand – or respect – Star Wars.

While Abrams and Johnson might be very different filmmakers, it’s interesting how Abrams appreciated Johnson’s take on Star Wars. He seemed to enjoy the film’s twist and turns, even if many fans did not.