Abrams recently sat down for an interview, where he discussed Johnson's creative decisions on the franchise's most-recent installment -- including Johnson's willingness to break the films' long-established mold.
"When I read his first draft, it made me laugh, because I saw that was his take and his voice," Abrams tells Rolling Stone. "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."
When Abrams was asked what was the largest change in Johnson's addition to the franchise, the 53-year-old filmmaker states: "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."
Although Johnson was criticized by some fans for his more adventurous choices on The Last Jedi, Abrams shared his full-throated admiration for the film.
"I had a real sense with [Force Awakens co-screenwriter] Larry Kasdan about where things would go, potentially," he tells the magazine. "And I think that, when I read Rian's script, what I felt was that with everything that happens in that movie, and quite a lot does, nothing sort of obviated a sense of inevitability where I thought the story could go."
"We originally had a character that we got to know who was on the Republic planet when it was destroyed," he says when discussing a scene in which an entire solar system is obliterated. "But it felt a bit beside the point, and in the re-editing, we ended up losing this whole chunk of Leia scenes that we had prior."
However, those cuts turned out to be a blessing because, when Abrams signed on to create The Rise of Skywalker, he had that raw footage of Fisher to repurpose.
"We couldn't figure out how to tell the end of the Skywalker Saga without Leia and, you know, saying that she had passed away, saying that she was somewhere else…there was no way," he admitted. "And we realized we could never recast it and we didn't want to do a CG character, so we actually realized there was footage we could use, that we could literally write scenes around and suddenly have as an active part of this movie and she's great in the film. And still, maybe now more than ever, it's impossible to me that she's gone because she's so alive in the film."
Abrams added: "We don't know how to do it without her and so having [her] be part of the movie in a way that I think she'd be proud of is very meaningful."