Director J.J. Abrams opens up to Wired magazine about his big gamble meshing beloved characters from the original trilogy with the saga's newbies

By Alexis L. Loinaz
Updated November 09, 2015 12:30 PM
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Credit: Everett; Inset: Getty

Would it soar higher than the Millennium Falcon or blow up spectacularly like the Death Star?

That was the gamble director J.J. Abrams said he took when he decided to fuse a whole new cast of freshmen with Star Wars‘ veteran trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill for next month’s wildly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a sink-or-swim proposition that’s being keenly watched by a galactic geekdom.

“When we met Daisy Ridley, when we found John Boyega, and then Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver came aboard, we got really excited,” the director, 49, tells Wired magazine of casting the seventh installment in the vaunted space saga. “And yes, Daisy and John could work together, but what happens when Harrison’s in the mix? What will that feel like? If it doesn’t spark, it’s a f—— disaster.”

Abrams felt confident that the new characters – like spherical droid BB-8 – would click with audiences. But how they meshed with the franchise’s iconic stalwarts was another story.

“Yes, BB-8 is a great character, amazingly puppeteered, but what will happen when he’s suddenly in a scene with C-3PO or R2-D2? Will it feel bizarre? Will it feel wrong? Somehow it didn’t. When Anthony Daniels [who plays C-3PO] told me, ‘Oh my God, I love BB-8!’ I said, ‘We’re going to be okay.’ Because if he’s okay, it’s working.”

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Seeing the respective casts come together, Abrams explains, was rewarding to witness.

“It was really exciting to say, ‘These scenes are working!’ We worked really hard to cast and to write and to put it all together, but you just don’t know until you start shooting,” he notes. “Then all of a sudden, you’re on set watching it and you know. It’s a little bit like having a party and having friends from your new school meet friends from your old school, and you think, ‘What’s going to happen?’ And all of a sudden they’re getting along famously and this party’s really fun! It was a lot of work, but it ended up being great.”

The director was wary, though, of simply importing static nostalgia from the original trilogy without moving the narrative forward. Case in point: mapping out the character arc of Ford’s beloved rogue cad, Han Solo.

“It was important that Han Solo be Han Solo but not feel like he’s playing a 30-year-old dude,” Abrams muses. “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.”

After a three-decade wait, diehards can finally see it all for themselves when Star Wars: The Force Awakens – which picks up 30 years after the events depicted in 1983’s The Return of the Jedi – zips into theaters on Dec. 18.