Star Wars' J.J. Abrams learned 'the hard way' that 'you have to plan' a story

J.J. Abrams
(Image credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

The greatest teacher, failure is.

J.J. Abrams would probably agree with that lesson from Yoda based on his comments in a new interview with Collider. Abrams, who directed the first and last installments in Disney's Star Wars sequel trilogy, was asked if the films would have benefited from having a stricter road map from the beginning, and he agreed that having a plan as a storyteller is crucial — something he learned "the hard way" more than once.

"What I've learned as a lesson a few times now ... is that you have to plan things as best you can," Abrams said. "And you always need to be able to respond to the unexpected. ... Having a plan, I have learned, in some cases the hard way, is the most critical thing."

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Critics of the Star Wars sequel trilogy have argued it suffered from a lack of cohesion between the creative visions of Abrams and writer-director Rian Johnson, who helmed the middle installment, The Last Jedi. In the most prominent example, after The Force Awakens asked the question of who Rey's parents are, Johnson and Abrams both presented different answers in the trilogy's second and third films. Similar criticism about storytelling planning has been directed at Lost, which Abrams co-created.

Abrams didn't specifically tie this lesson to Star Wars in the interview and cited his experience in television especially, but he said there have been unnamed "projects that I've worked on where we had some ideas, but we hadn't worked through them enough." He did note that sometimes when a story doesn't work, it's actually "because it's what you planned." But Abrams stressed that in general, storytellers should have a plan and should "know what you're setting up."

As Lucasfilm looks ahead to more Star Wars movies following some brutal reviews for The Rise of Skywalker, it sounds like Abrams is ready to pass on what he has learned.

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.