Less than three weeks before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens'” theatrical debut, writer/director J.J. Abrams stopped by “Howard Stern” for an extensive chat on everything from the Harrison Ford hydraulic-door incident to the “black Stormtrooper” controversy to the time William Shatner called him a pig. Here are 10 major highlights from this morning's interview, with relevant soundclips embedded.
1. He gave a perfect political answer when asked why Luke Skywalker has been left out of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailers.
Telling Howard that it drives him “nuts” when trailers give away the entire movie, Abrams responded simply: “Here's the thing. I really want to make sure we're not ruining the movie for people.” So, keep speculating, I guess.
2. He put William Shatner's “pig” dig in its proper context.
“First of all, badge of honor,” said Abrams of the time the original Captain Kirk called him a “pig” for taking on both the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” film franchises. “Secondly, I just feel like — I think that he was saying in a semi-joking way — and he may be 100 percent right, too many 'Star' titles for one person to work on. And I get it. If I cast him in 'Star Trek' he probably wouldn't have said that.”
3. He also put the John Boyega “black stormtrooper” controversy in its proper context.
“I think the people who are complaining about that probably have bigger problems than 'there's a black Stormtrooper.'”
4. Daniel Fleetwood, a terminal cancer patient who died just days after screening “The Force Awakens,” isn't the only “Star Wars” fan who has seen the movie.
Abrams: We've been very lucky to get to show the film to a handful of people who have been in unfortunate situations.
Howard: Did you feel manipulated by that? In other words, you know there are some people who will even use that to get to see a movie. And they're full of shit.
Abrams: Yeah. But these are not people who are not looking to screw us over.
5. He recounted Harrison Ford's on-set accident (during which the director also broke his back) in horrifying detail.
“What happened was, when this hydraulic door came down, it pushed down the person who happened to be right there under it, who happened to be Harrison Ford. Not the ideal scenario. His leg broke at the ankle, and his ankle went sideways, like 90 degrees. It was really horrific. So I'm there with one of my idols, who's now down on the ground. Not an ideal scenario for him.
“So I go and try and lift up this door, as any of us would, with a kind of like Hulk, 'I'm gonna lift the car up off the person I love' energy. […] What I discover in doing that are two things. One, is a hydraulic door cannot be lifted, unless it wants to be lifted. And secondly, bones break. So I feel this pop in my lower back. And I think, 'fuck, what is that? Is that a muscle?' whatever. All I'm trying to do is help my friend. And seconds later, the door is opened up by a gentleman who has a giant button.”
6. Harrison Ford isn't the only actor who suffered an injury on the set of a J.J. Abrams movie; Leonard Nimoy broke his nose on the set of Abrams' first “Star Trek.”
“There was a day when we were shooting on the first 'Star Trek' movie that we did, and he was going down this very narrow corridor of this spaceship set, and he fell. …And he hit his nose, he broke his nose. He had a gash on his nose. And I thought 'Holy crap, this is a disaster.'…Leonard, he was kind of shaken up and everything, about 20 minutes later, he was like, 'Let's keep going.' And we kept shooting. …And we shot like four more hours with this guy. He was just a rock star.”
7. Even though “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is being screened in 3-D, he's not a fan of the format.
Howard: Do you like seeing movies in 3-D, personally?
Abrams: Not really.
Howard: I don't either. What is it, with the 3-D? Does it annoy you that you had to make the 3-D version?
Abrams: It doesn't annoy me. In fact, there are things, certain moments, that I think are actually really fun in 3-D. But I prefer to watch a movie without the glasses on.
8. He originally turned down the opportunity to direct “Star Wars” because he was tired of making sequels.
“The truth is, I'd done a 'Mission: Impossible' movie, a 'Star Trek,' I didn't want to do another sequel. I'm sick of doing movies with numbers. […] And then Kathy said, 'can we get together?' And so we sat down…and we just started talking about what this thing could be, and it just, as we were talking about it I found myself suddenly on fire.”
9. He had a contact at LucasFilm whom he could call any time he had a question about the “Star Wars” mythology.
“There's a guy named Pablo Hidalgo who works at LucasFilm who is the keeper of all arcane details of 'Star Wars.' So sometimes, three times a day, other times once a week or whatever, I would send him an email asking him questions about just this kind of thing. …by the way, there's a whole extended universe that he also needed to reference, and things that frankly would be impossible to read all of and watch all of.”
10. Dick Smith, the Oscar-winning makeup artist behind “The Exorcist,” once mailed a 13-year-old J.J. Abrams a foam latex tongue used in the film (Abrams later worked with the late f/x legend on the 1992 Mel Gibson film “Forever Young.”)
“I sent him this fan letter, and I was 13 years old, and I receive in the mail this little box, I still have it…and I open the thing up, there's a little handwritten note, and there's a foam latex tongue. And he says, 'Here's an old but clean tongue from 'The Exorcist.'…And I'm like, holy crap. So I start this correspondence with him asking him all these questions. …he told every secret, he was so generous and it turns out that I was among like 100-plus fans who would constantly send him letters, and he would respond to each of us. He introduced me to Guillermo del Toro in 1990. …who also was this upcoming Mexican director who sent these same kind of notes to Dick.”