After The Last Jedi, there was a segment of fans that made their displeasure with the film quite vocal. Some even wondered whether J.J. Abrams would retcon some of the decisions that Rian Johnson made, ‘fixing’ them in The Rise of Skywalker (which hilariously and falsely assumes that there are mistakes that need fixing in the first place).
But Abrams has no intention of doing that! Shocker!
His reasoning for that is absolutely fantastic, and I think it’s worth paying attention to. In an interview with Empire Magazine about TROS, Abrams had this to say:
“I never found myself trying to repair anything. If I had done VIII, I would have done things differently, just as Rian would have done things differently if he had done VII. But having worked on television series, I was accustomed to creating stories and characters that then were run by other people. If you’re willing to walk away from the thing that you created and you believe it’s in trustworthy hands, you have to accept that some of the decisions being made are not gonna be the same that you would make. And if you come back into it, you have to honor what’s been done.”
That’s a great answer for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he’s not pretending that he would have done everything the same as Rian Johnson. I think sometimes people falsely equate not changing something with saying you’d do everything the same. That’s crazy. So Abrams admitted he would have done things differently than Johnson did, but he also recognizes that the same thing is true for Johnson as well. And that’s all perfectly fair, because you have to give your directors the level of freedom to tell the story they think is best.
Secondly, Abrams makes it clear that if you know you’re not going to tell every episode of a story, you have to know that others won’t do it just like you would have. In initially not agreeing to do either Episode VIII or Episode IX, Abrams had to know for certain that there were things the other directors would do that he wouldn’t have, and that they wouldn’t do things that he would have. In other words: the only way your story is going to be told the way you want if for you to tell all of it… so if you’re agreeing not to tell all of it, you know it won’t all be told like you would.
Thirdly, to make this point, Abrams went to his work on TV. He has done work on several TV shows, and in the TV world you have different people directing different episodes. So while this is on a larger scale with films, Abrams has experienced this and knows what he’s talking about.
And so, fourth, Abrams knows that if you do agree to return to this story, you have to honor what has already been done. Regardless of whether you would have done things the same way, you have to honor the story that has been told.
In all of this, J.J. Abrams reveals an understanding of storytelling that a lot of fans would do well to listen to. If you’re telling one continuous story (like the Skywalker Saga), you absolutely are not at liberty to change things in previous films. You have to honor it, even if you would have done it differently.
Abrams gets it. I’m not sure fans always do.
(And as one last note: Abrams shouldn’t want to do much differently, because TLJ was a great story and did so many things incredibly well. Abrams would be foolish to try to change it anyway)