J.J. Abrams on The Last Jedi scene that surprised him the most

James Hibberd

J.J. Abrams has previously discussed his reaction to reading Rian Johnson’s script for The Last Jedi, and now The Rise of Skywalker director is revealing the scene from Episode VIII that surprised him the most.

Nope, it wasn’t Kylo Ren killing Supreme Leader Snoke (though he considered that rather surprising too), but rather Finn (John Boyega) killing off Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Abrams introduced the chrome-domed Phasma in The Force Awakens and it seemed like the character was destined to have more to do in the saga.

“What I loved about [Johnson’s] approach was that he was just subverting expectations everywhere you looked,” Abrams told Fox 5 D.C. “And I think that maybe the biggest surprise … you think Luke dying maybe was the biggest surprise or — I guess spoiler alert — Ren killing Snoke, there were certain things that felt like they were … weirdly, for me, the thing that was the most surprising was Phasma dying … that was one of those characters I thought was [there for] something else … Look, no one wants a character to die, and yet, I know that when we had Kylo Ren kill Han Solo, that was done because Harrison always knew that there needed to be utility for the character, and he had famously always wanted Han to die and serve that purpose. [And] it felt like this was a way to begin to define Kylo Ren, not just a way to kill a character. So I can see why Rian chose to do that with some of these characters. But I guess for me the biggest surprise, weirdly, was Phasma dying the way she did.”

Abrams is not directly criticizing Johnson’s decision but does seem to lay the groundwork for a critique through his comparison. He points out that Ren killing Han Solo served a purpose for both characters, whereas Phasma dying didn’t seem to accomplish much dramatically — beyond Finn feeling some catharsis by dispatching his tyrannical former boss.

Previously, Abrams gave his reaction to reading Johnson’s middle-film script for the first time. “When I read his first draft, it made me laugh, because I saw that was his take and his voice,” he said. “I got to watch cuts of the movie as he was working on it, as an audience member. And I appreciated the choices he made as a filmmaker that would probably be very different from the choices that I would have made. Just as he would have made different choices if he had made Episode VII … I felt the biggest surprise was how dark Luke was. That was the thing that I thought: ‘Oh, that was unexpected.’ And that’s the thing The Last Jedi undeniably succeeds at, which is constant subversion of expectation. The number of things that happened in that movie that aren’t the thing you think is going to happen is pretty fun.”

Abrams has also assured The Last Jedi did not derail anything for the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker. “The story that we’re telling, the story that we started to conceive when we did Force Awakens, was allowed to continue,” Abrams said. “Episode VIII didn’t really derail anything that we were thinking about. But I will say that the fun of this movie is that these characters are all together on this adventure as a group and that’s the thing I was most excited about to see — the dynamic between these characters that these amazing actors play on this desperate, seat-of-your-pants adventure. That was the thing that was the most fun, having the group together.”

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in U.S. theaters on December 20.

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