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Sunday, August 20, 2017

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — J.J. Abrams was 11 years old when he saw Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

“The experience I had seeing ‘Star Wars’ for the first time was mind-blowing. Eleven is a great age to have your mind blown. I will never forget that feeling of seeing ‘Long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away’ fade out. It was the first time a movie made me believe in another world that way,” Abrams says.

And now it’s Abrams’ turn to blow some minds. The man who showed it was possible to reboot an established franchise with his Star Trek movies is helping ring in a new era of Star Wars with The Force Awakens.

“There honestly were a few moments where I was looking at what we were doing from the outside in and just started sweating. I was just terrified,” Abrams says of directing Star Trek. “Every once in a while, you are on the set and you look at it from the outside and you are like, ‘This is ridiculous.’”

There was a lot of pressure on him with Star Trek, but there would be even more with Star Wars because of the high expectations by the fans. He was able to deal with all his concerns by not looking at it as landing a job.

“It was nothing that I think any one of us took on because it was a gig that was available. It was something that felt like a true passion and something that every single person brought much more than any of us could have expected,” Abrams says. “I do honestly feel honored to be part of this group.”

It’s a group that features veterans from Star Wars including actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, plus writer Lawrence Kasdan. Now, Abrams has mixed in a relatively unknown group of actors in Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega.

The fan in Abrams comes out as he talks about the thrill of working with the actors from the movies he saw as a kid. He was also excited about the way the veteran and new cast members blended to tell the story he and Kasdan had written.

As the day loomed closer for The Force Awakens, Abrams was concerned about how much the Disney Studio, owners of Lucasfilm, would want him to show in the movie trailers. He was worried that if too much was revealed, it would ruin the excitement surrounding the production.

What he found was that Disney was even more adamant about not revealing too much.

“I was very grateful that Disney actually took the lead on trying to keep things quieter,” Abrams says. He went on to ask that those writing about the movie be respectful of the fans and not reveal too many spoilers.

Abrams stresses that The Force Awakens is not just a trip down memory lane. He went back to episodes four, five and six for the history he needed to move the story forward.

“I’ve always liked working on stories that combine people who are relatable with something insane,” Abrams says. “The most exciting thing for me is crossing that bridge between something we know is real and something that is extraordinary. The thing for me has always been how you cross that bridge.”

He’s been crossing those bridges since he broke into the business in 1990 as a writer and became known for turning out TV scripts for his series Felicity and Alias on a weekly basis. He continues to write, but he has been more active as a producer with such TV shows as Lost, Fringe and Almost Human.

Star Wars is one of his biggest writing and directing jobs. The construction of the film is based on a fundamental question from the first day: What did Abrams, those putting the film together and the fans want to feel?

“That was really the beginning of the discussion. The answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise. The comedy that George Lucas put into ‘Star Wars’ kind of was, for me, the thing that made me love the movie,” Abrams says. “But when you look at all the things that he got right, it’s impossible, and stunning.”

The idea from the start was to give fans the same kind of sense of possibility and magic that he had felt since he saw the movie for the first time as an 11-year-old.

©2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: JJ Abrams attends a fan meeting for the new movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” world promotional tour at Club Oktagon on Dec. 9, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Lee Young-ho/Sipa USA/TNS)