Why J.J. Abrams is the right choice — and a safe pick — to direct 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

Why J.J. Abrams is the right choice — and a safe pick — to direct 'Star Wars: Episode IX'Entertainment

The young stars of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ talk about their experiences filming with J.J. Abrams. AP

This was the director they were looking for. Again.

For the second time, J.J. Abrams has been tapped for the biggest film gig in Hollywood: first to write and direct 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the huge return of the storied movie franchise (and what would become the top-grossing film of all time) and now to helm the finale for the trilogy he launched, Star Wars: Episode IX.

The job opened up last week when Lucasfilm and writer/director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) parted ways. That Abrams is taking over as Ron Howard replaces Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) on the young Han Solo spinoff makes it clear the Star Wars galaxy wants veteran filmmakers and is no longer willing to gamble with a massive project like Episode IX. 

Why J.J. Abrams is the right choice — and a safe pick — to direct 'Star Wars: Episode IX'Entertainment

The ‘Star Wars’ movie franchise has parted ways with another director. USA TODAY

Having Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson continue the saga seemed to me the smartest course of action last week, but he’s probably still in the throes of post-production. It would have been very cool to have a history-making moment and hire a woman like Ava DuVernay, Lorene Scafaria or Kathryn Bigelow to direct, or tap Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Cuarón to end the parade of white guys. That day will come; Star Wars isn’t going away anytime soon. 

More: We’re a little worried about Han Solo, guys

Related: J.J. Abrams will return to ‘Star Wars’ to direct ‘Episode IX’ 

But with the tumult around recent choices, Disney and the House That George Lucas Built couldn’t afford to take a risk with Episode IX, the one that will wrap up the three-movie tale that launched Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron into pop culture and put Star Wars back on the map in impressive fashion. With the clock ticking for a 2019 release date and shareholders to please, it’s understandable.

So, yes, Abrams was the safe pick. Extremely safe. Many will say too safe. He’s also a visionary who has been in the trenches of a Star Wars movie, who knows how to balance the demands of pleasing fans, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and the actors themselves. There’s an inherent loyalty there: When nerves got the best of Ridley and she felt she shouldn’t be on the Force Awakens set, “J.J. definitely brought out the best performance I could have given,” she told me two years ago. The movie will benefit from that shorthand. 

Abrams received some flak for following the structure of the first 1977 Star Wars movie: another lost youngster finding his/her way in a large universe, another planetary destruction, another Death Star. Yet it’s a template that, very obviously, still works, and Abrams is about telling new stories as well, such as Boyega’s Stormtrooper-turned-hero, and putting a woman at the heart of the biggest cinematic series of all time. 

More important, though: Abrams respects Star Wars. He saw the first one when he was 11 and has been a fan ever since. If there’s anybody who knows how to handle the loss of Carrie Fisher in canon, it’s him.

I’ll always remember the time, two years ago in a New York hotel restaurant, when  Abrams pulled out his phone and said, “You have to see this.” It wasn’t a forbidden sneak peek at a scene. It was a video of his first time in a scoring session with the legendary John Williams, and the excitement as his face beamed with pride was infectious.

The key to doing a Star Wars movie is going with your gut, he told me that day. “When you’re working on the story, you go, ‘Oooooh, that feels so right.’ “

And so does the return of this Jedi.

 

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