Now that the dust has settled and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a huge critical and financial success, we can all agree that director J.J. Abrams did the impossible and brought the saga back to solid ground. He revitalized the series and got people interest in the galaxy far, far away again. Overall he did a pretty swell job even if The Force Awakens is just a really great soft reboot; and you have Steven Spielberg to thank for it.
Abrams’s reluctance to take on such a monumental and life-changing project has been well documented in the candid interviews he’s done leading up to and following the release of Episode VII, and you’ve got to hand it to him for taking it on with such talent and appreciation for Star Wars itself. It’s a ridiculously difficult decision to agree to take years out of your life, potentially away from your family, to create something that would be scrutinized perhaps more than any other movie in history. Plus, he had already joined up in the middle of a franchise by directing Mission: Impossible III and successfully rebooted Star Trek, so why would he want to basically do the same thing all over again?
In Abrams’s case he had some help from his wife and a little nudge from Spielberg at a fateful dinner to finally convince him to take the job.
In a cover story interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Spielberg revealed that he leveled with Abrams about him directing The Force Awakens because of his obvious talent:
“I brought J.J.’s name up. I thought J.J. would be the best person to direct Episode 7 and I called J.J. and said ‘Would you do it if it was offered to you?’ He said, ‘I would but my wife won’t let me ‘cause she doesn’t want me to restart any more franchises.’ But I went to Kathy [Kennedy, [president of Lucasfilm] and asked if I could get J.J. to say yes to this would you consider it? Kathy said ‘Are you kidding? Of course I would. But why would J.J. do Star Wars; he’s already done Mission Impossible and Star Trek?’ So I take Katie Abrams and J.J. to dinner that night to Giorgio with my wife, Kate, and right in front of Katie Abrams I popped the question. I said to Katie, ‘I think there’s a chance that J.J. could direct Star Wars. What do you think of that?’ And Katie turned to J.J. and said, ‘That would be amazing. Really?’ And I went outside the restaurant, picked up my phone, called Kathy and said, “When can we meet with J.J.?” And that’s how the whole thing began.”
Needless to say, Spielberg’s hunch was right, and Abrams ended up being the perfect person for the job. The whole interview is definitely worth a read, especially to see how longtime collaborators Spielberg, Kennedy, and Frank Marshall have consistently made classic blockbusters for so long.
It’s also worth checking out for this sick Spielberg burn on Josh Trank, the embattled director of last year’s disastrous Fantastic Four reboot and who left an untitled Star Wars standalone movie in 2014. Here’s what Spielberg said (or didn’t say) about that:
“The Hollywood Reporter: So when you look at young directors, how do you know you’re not hiring another Josh Trank [who directed the Fox bomb Fantastic Four]?
Spielberg: Who is that?”
Ouch. Sorry, Josh.