JJ Abrams Talks 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', That Lightsaber, CGI, and 'Star Trek 3'

Thursday, 05 February 2015 14:48 Written by  iamrogue
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JJ Abrams Talks 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', That Lightsaber, CGI, and 'Star Trek 3'

With ten months until Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters, JJ Abrams wasn't going to let the cat out of the bag at the Visual Effects Society Awards last night.

No, he's the world's foremost practitioner of hype-fu, so he's not about to slide open the lid of the mystery box this year's most anticipated blockbuster is nestled inside. 

The director didn't start spoiling the next Star Wars, but he busted out the hype-fu to say largely meaningless yet tantalizing things about the sequel, from the use of IMAX cameras to the controversial cross-lightsaber to, most interestingly, the unconventional use of CGI.

Oh, and he even confirmed that Simon Pegg is co-writing the next Star Trek, which Abrams is producing.

Let's stick to the first Star Wars of the Disney era for the time being, though.  It's no secret that Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel shot The Force Awakens on actual film and used IMAX cameras.  Speaking to Collider at the VES Awards, where he accepted a Visionary Award, Abrams clarified, “It’s really one sequence so it’s not a ton [of IMAX footage], but it’s a good sequence.”

Fervent online debate over a distinctive lightsaber has raged since the teaser hit months ago.  Abrams kept his comments on the cross-saber vague, saying, “It was a number of conversations [that led to the design].  It was a sketch that became a whole thing and, you know, this was not done without a lot of conversation and it’s fun to see people have the conversation that we had, but in reverse.”

“I will say that what’s been funny is, since the lightsaber’s come out, I cannot tell you how many contradictory emails I have received from people who have both defended it with unbelievably detailed graphics," he said. "I’ve gotten things that are nuts, and I’ve gotten people who’ve shown how it’ll kill you and how it doesn’t make any sense.  It’s been the funniest thing to see the arguments that have developed over this thing.”

Abrams's whole approach to Star Wars has been resolutely old school, zigging away from the green screen-dependent stylings George Lucas brought to the prequels, zagging towards more physical effects.

“I feel like the beauty of this age of filmmaking is that there are more tools at your disposal, but it doesn’t mean that any of these new tools are automatically the right tools," he explained. "And there are a lot of situations where we went very much old school and in fact used CG more to remove things than to add things.”

“There are obviously an enormous amount of CG effects in the film, and I can’t wait for you to see the combination. But it was very important that we build as many sets as we could and that the film have a tangible, sort of authentic quality that you believed that these things were actually happening in a real space with real sunlight, if it was an exterior scene, or if we could build a big portion of a scene and not have anything be blue screen, do it where we could. It was a very important piece of work.”

After Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives this December 18th, Abrams will take on a Lucasian role for the new trilogy, with Rian Johnson taking over as writer-director on Star Wars: Episode VIII, which hits in 2017.

“I wouldn’t say 8 and 9 are my baby, Rian will be working at least on 8, but I’m executive producing those films, yeah," Abrams said.

He's also producing Star Trek 3.  After directing the 2009 reboot and its 2013 sequel, he hands over the reins to Justin Lin.  The Paramount project recently underwent a major creative shift when Lin came aboard, replacing Roberto Orci, whose script was also abandoned.  Simon Pegg, the man who will play Scotty for the third time, has been brought in as a writer, working on a new screenplay with Doug Jung.

“[Pegg] and I had talked quite a bit about story, he had a lot of wonderful ideas," Abrams said.  "It just sort of felt obvious that he would be a wonderful person to work on the story and help craft the story, so he’s working on it.”

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