full interview. Behind the scenes pics can be found here.
How much of The Force Awakens is geared toward welcoming people back to the Star Wars franchise versus starting something completely new? How do you strike a balance between those two imperatives?
We wanted to tell a story that had its own self-contained beginning, middle, and end but at the same time, like A New Hope, implied a history that preceded it and also hinted at a future to follow.
Were there moments from your life or your own work from which you drew inspiration?
So I tried to not forget the mistakes I’d made, but I also tried to focus on things that I find inspiring about cinema. I asked questions like “How do we make this movie delightful?” That was really the only requirement Larry and I imposed on each other: The movie needed to be delightful. It was not about explaining everything away, not about introducing a certain number of toys for a corporation, not about trying to appease anyone. This has only ever been about what gets us excited.
How have you felt about those teasers—about revealing parts of the movie, necessarily talking about and marketing it, versus allowing the story to unfold on your terms?
When it came to marketing, I was expecting Disney to want to put out an overabundance of material. But they’ve been incredibly reluctant to do that. They want this thing to be an experience for people when they go to see the film. And I’m grateful for that.
I know VIII is Rian [Johnson]’s movie, but you’ve no doubt created story questions in Episode VII that have to be addressed. Do you know how the answers play out? Or are those moments still unspooling?
The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie. We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping.
But with a universe that vast, you have to think about constraint, right? You clearly have enjoyed a healthy budget and have had a big world to go invent. Were there particular limitations you wanted to put on either the process or the story, something that would help you focus on those goals?
When we began working on this film, Larry and I started by making a list of things that we knew held interest for us, the things we wanted to see, the things we felt were important. There’s a very real issue with doing this movie: Every detail, whether it was the design of a costume or the music or a set-dressing choice, must be embraced as coming from Star Wars. You’re inheriting Star Wars! That’s not something you can do lightly. ...The point is, these scenes aren’t good just because those characters or things are there, even though it’s the greatest eye candy in the history of time. ...We really tried to look at it from the inside out. What makes this story have a beating heart? What makes it romantic or fun or surprising or heartbreaking or hysterically funny? We simply approached this narrative from the point of view that this is a story about a young man and a young woman, not with the idea that we can do anything we want.
How did you work with the design team; how did you go about tackling the production design?
it was impossible to separate what Ralph McQuarrie and his design team had done from A New Hope. My sense was that the sooner [production designer] Rick [Carter] could be part of the process, the better. Moments like Threepio’s [red] arm came from the desire to, well, mark time.
It was important that Han Solo be Han Solo but not feel like he’s playing a 30-year-old dude. When you’re 70, you will have lived a different set of experiences. That has to be apparent in who he is. Harrison was required to bring a level of complexity that a 30-year-old Han wouldn’t be required to have.
Then there were things like the radar dish on the Falcon, which clearly was ripped off in Jedi, so it needed a new one. But part of the decision was made as a fan. There’s a part of me that wants to know: That’s the Falcon from this era. Now I know that when I see the Falcon with the rectangular dish, we’re at a moment after it traded hands. It also helped us mark time.
So: John Williams!
He works in pencil. You go to his home and listen to him play notes on the piano, and while you’re listening, you extrapolate what it will be like when you hear the melody with an orchestra. It is unforgettable, a truly miraculous thing to behold. He has every one of his scores leather-bound. I was like, “Do you mind if I …?” He goes, “No, go ahead!” So I pulled out the Jaws score, and sure enough, there it is, in pencil on paper: baaaa-bum, baaaa-bum. You’re like, “Well, that’s what he wrote!” It’s as if you’re hanging out with Mozart, who happened to score your favorite movies.
How do you relay the legacy of what Star Wars means to people like you and me? Or is that a burden that you try to avoid?
Despite their having been born horrifically recently, these kids knew about and understood Star Wars in a way we all do; they just were born into it as opposed to it happening during their lifetime. The key in casting them was finding people who were able to do everything. ...We knew we weren’t just casting one movie—we were casting at least three. That, to me, was the biggest challenge. When we met Daisy Ridley, when we found John Boyega, and then Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver came aboard, we got really excited. And yes, Daisy and John could work together, but what happens when Harrison’s in the mix? What will that feel like?