Star Wars Screenwriting from Within: Chris Terrio Reveals the Secrets
Chris Terrio is a co-screenwriter of Star Wars, the most popular space saga in the world. Before entering the Star Wars team, he worked on Argo as well as Batman VS Superman. Argo was his great hit.
Terrio received Oscar and world fame for this scenario. He was invited to the Star Wars team by J. J. Abrams, the main screenwriter and a big fan of Argo. The leading writer was looking for new dedicated people and decided that the best candidate is Terrio.
Abrams was assured that Chris would definitely breathe life into the legendary story, and he was right. In his interview for The Rolling Stone, Terrio reveals the process behind the Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. And we have retrieved the most exciting parts of this interview to share with you.
Chris is known for being impressively familiar with the franchise. As a real fan, he went over books, cartoons, and comic books before starting his work. This large and rich universe inspired him, so working on another part of the narration felt like an extremely defendant pursue. The story of Star Wars has numerous potential directions to follow; that is why Terrio was looking for these paths in the previous stories. He took everything that seemed compelling to him – Timothy Zahn novels, Aftermath novels by Chuck Wendig, and episodes of Clone Wars or Rebels. In his work, Chris did his best to save the mainline of the original series while exploring something more obscure and new – a mysterious and even esoteric part of the Star Wars universe. The main idea was to make the adventures feel new but canonic.
Talking about collaboration with J. J., Chris says that the main screenwriter had some pre-written ideas before they started working on the plot. He characterizes their work this way: “J. J. always has a clear idea of what he wants you to feel, and then our job is to create a story in which those emotions could be evoked.” They were writing various story ideas on the erase board, but very soon, they switched to the Word document – the number of ideas was incredible. As the author claims, the material grew as large as 121 pages single-spaced. They thought of everything that would be interesting: worlds, places, characters, and different relationships between those characters.
The writers were focused on every single detail. Where can the main heroes meet each other? If they do, how would they communicate? How would new events of the story coincide with the historical and political background of the Star Wars universe? All of these questions were reviewed from different angles, and the authors tried to fantasize like children: “Here’s the thing that I wish I could see in the last Star Wars. Or, here’s a world that could be really interesting. Or, here’s something Rey might be grappling with. And then it was a Darwinian process of what actually makes it to the next meeting.” As Chris says, by the end of their work, the number of options and ideas was enormous, but only a few of them proved to be suitable.
Writing the story, Chris and his team realized that their scenario would become a part of a canon, that is why making the right story decision was that challenging. They were not sure that their ideas meet the original intentions of George Lucas and early episodes. The writers wanted to be sure that their plot perfectly fits the prequels and the sequel trilogy to make the entire story flow smoothly. Every decision they had to make was connected with these thoughts. At some point, they realized that the time has come to make a final decision, and “this felt like something the character would do, this felt like Star Wars.”
Being well-versed in the previous products of the franchise, the creators hoped that they got everything right. The deep immersion into the world of Star Wars felt a bit dual: on the one hand, you have this story in your head all the time, so you know it inside out; on the other hand, being too engaged, you lose the feeling of what fits and what doesn’t fit. As Chris says, sometimes, you realize that your understanding is wrong or incomplete. As he characterizes the entire process, “it’s highly unscientific, it’s organized chaos.” Indeed, this sounds pretty creative – when you are working on such a large and bright project, you become a master of chaos, or you lose the game.
Terrio claims that he had conversations with George Lucas on specific points of the plot. However, not only they discussed turns and twists of the plot. The had real philosophical discussions about the nature of the Force and the initial ideas George had. As Chris claims, it was like listening to a master and learning his wisdom. Conferences with Lucas was necessary to keep up with the spirit of the legendary franchise. The authors were concerned about keeping the atmosphere and the philosophy of the great saga.
Millions of drafts were thrown into the trash bin before the final version of the plot saw the world. Thousands of ideas, like turtles on the sand, were lying under the sun, and only a few of them made their way to the big ocean. Chris Terrio and his comrades felt extremely responsible for this work because they saw themselves as heritors of something significant. Indeed, the universe of Star Wars is so rich and gigantic. The screenwriters did their best to make it work as a single mechanism – massive and beautiful. Hopefully, their experience will inspire you to write marvelous papers and creative stories! Even the greatest professionals rewrite their drafts for millions of times!