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UPDATE: After the Q&A, EW caught up with J.J. Abrams and he clarified his comments. The director says he was only trying to point out that The Force Awakens builds up the mystery of Rey’s parents without resolving it. “What I meant was that she doesn’t discover them in Episode VII. Not that they may not already be in her world,” Abrams said.
EARLIER: J.J. Abrams and Chris Rock sat down for a lively discussion Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival that touched on everything from television to moviemaking — and yes, the galaxy far, far away.
During the audience Q&A portion of the pair’s chat, the first in the festival’s Directors series of talks, a young boy drew cheers from the crowd and an answer (of sorts) from Abrams when he asked the Star Wars: The Force Awakens director who Rey’s parents are.
“Rey’s parents are not in Episode VII,” he told the audience. “So I can’t possibly say in this moment who they are. But I will say it is something that Rey thinks about, too.”
That rules out a number of characters that fans have been speculating about, including theories that Rey could be Luke Skywalker’s daughter or the daughter of General Leia Organa, which would make her related to Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. Rey’s story picks up again in Rian Johnson’s still-untitled Episode VIII, arriving Dec. 15, 2017.
Read on for more highlights from Rock and Abrams’ sit-down.
Why The Force Awakens needed to bridge Star Wars’ past and future
Rock praised Abrams for how he wove Star Wars’ original characters into the new story of The Force Awakens. “In the wrong hands it could have been the corniest s— ever, but you did it so artfully.”
Abrams responded that he wanted the film to “reclaim the specific story that was happening” in Return of the Jedi, and while some have lamented The Force Awakens’ similarities to A New Hope, he says, “we very consciously tried to borrow familiar beats so the rest of the story could hang on something that we knew was Star Wars.”
He also said The Force Awakens needed to serve as a bridge from where the Star Wars galaxy left off and where it will go next. “It needed to establish itself as something familiar with a sense of where it’s going to a new land, which is very much what [Episodes] VIII and IX do.”
He got emotional while filming Luke and Rey’s meeting
Rock had high praise for the conclusion of The Force Awakens — saying that if they handed out Oscars for Best Ending, it could win — and Abrams spoke a bit about what it was like filming with Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley.
“Getting to Luke was the whole story,” he said, adding that Hamill was initially “a little resistant” to his character’s presence (or lack thereof) in the film and wondered if the big reveal at the end would seem like a joke.
Between shots on that final scene, filmed with a very small crew that had to ascend those many, many steps climbed by Rey in the film, Abrams told Rock realized something: Hamill was the same age that Alec Guinness was when he played Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The director pulled up the binary sunset scene from A New Hope on his phone as he looked at Hamill wearing those robes. “I literally started to tear up,” Abrams said.
Inspiration for Alias came during Felicity
Abrams came up with the idea for Jennifer Garner’s spying Sydney Bristow while writing the early episodes of his first television series, Felicity. As he told it, inspiration came via the lack of a bad guy on a series about college students.
“We were trying to figure out what the story was, and we were on episode 5 and [I thought], ‘If Felicity were a spy I’d know how to write the show.’ So I kind of banked that.” Later, ABC came calling and asked if he’d create a show with a young woman at the center — and Alias was born.
Abrams added that he wrote the series with Jennifer Garner in mind, but at least one studio executive had reservations about casting her. “Someone at the studio said, ‘I don’t know, is she hot enough?’ … That exec is no longer there. And now she’s Jennifer Garner. It worked out.”
He got spoiled working with Tom Cruise
The first film Abrams directed was Mission: Impossible III, on which Tom Cruise served as the film’s star and also its producer.
Cruise offered him the movie after seeing the first few seasons of Alias, he recalled, and people warned him against working with an actor who was also producing the film, but that Cruise made it clear that on set, Abrams was the director and he was the actor, and that was it.
“Every day he was the greatest, incredibly collaborative,” he said. Cruise was so great, in fact, that Abrams added, “When I went to do Star Trek, the next movie I did, it was weird not having Tom there.”
Lost could have ended up as a TV movie
Lost fans might have spent much less time on the island if Abrams had known how to end the twisty, smoke-monster-filled saga when he began it. During the “scramble” to write, cast, and shoot the pilot over an 11-week period, the studio head at ABC left and a new one came in who wanted Abrams to film an end scene and make it a TV movie.
The director said his response was, “If you can tell me how to end this show, what that scene is,” he’d do it. Evidently, the exec didn’t, and the show became what we know it to be now. Abrams then praised Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who “did things we never could have imagined when creating this show.”
He knows he overdid it with the lens flares
As he’s admitted before, Abrams knows he used this technique too much while making films like Star Trek.
“We had an idea that the future was so bright, and it just couldn’t be contained … I overdid it, and then I went further, and then the second Star Trek movie, I went nuts. We’ve all made mistakes. Mine was with light.”
And because they used high-powered flashlights to achieve the flares, aiming them directly at the camera lens, he added that sometimes they’d get footage back where they couldn’t see what was happening. “I realized it was preposterous, and I had to pull back.”
A franchise proposal
Since Abrams has helmed installments in both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises to critical and box office success, Rock had a request for Abrams’ next big-budget project.
“Can you direct the Fantastic Four?” Rock asked him. “Can someone save it? I love the Fantastic Four and they keep f—ing it up!”