Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JJ Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and More on the Shared 'Star Wars' Universe

By: Dominic Jones

With Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens being just one month away, the new film is at the top of everyone's mind.  But it's worth remembering that there are several other Star Wars films in production right now.  And not just Episodes VIII and IX, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and two other Star Wars: Anthology films.  Wired just released a fascinated piece on the work being done on the Star Wars shared universe, featuring interviews with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams, Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, the head of the Lucasfilm Story Group Kiri Hart, and The Force Awakens, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Young Han Solo Anthology film writer Lawrence Kasdan.  We've selected some highlights from the interview below.

The Wired article begins with Kennedy explaining how Rogue One was pitched to her (via Wired),
"Kathleen Kennedy has heard a lot of movie pitches. For decades she worked with Steven Spielberg, producing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones series, the Jurassic Park series. You get the picture. So it probably wasn’t a surprise—it was cool, even—when, right after Kennedy took over as head of Lucasfilm, the company George Lucas founded to make Star Wars, John Knoll walked into her office.

Knoll is not nothing, either. He’s the chief creative officer at Lucasfilm; he did the visual effects on the Star Wars “special editions” of the 1990s and a couple of Star Trek movies, among others. Along the way he cocreated Photoshop.

This was 2012, and even then, it was pretty clear Lucasfilm was going to make more Star Wars movies. “I just have this very simple idea,” Knoll said, “about the rebel spies in the opening crawl of A New Hope who steal the plans for the Death Star.”

Kennedy got Knoll’s reference, of course. It’s at the beginning of the movie, in the ribbon of text that sets the scene: “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.” The plans are the MacGuffin, the thing everyone is chasing. The spies? No one mentions them again.

“That is a very good idea, John,” Kennedy said. So … green light. Apparently that’s how you get to make a Star Wars movie.

But not this movie. The one that comes out December 18 is not Knoll’s sci-fi spy story. It’s director J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, the seventh—oops, sorry: VIIth—movie to tell the story of Darth Vader’s family. Knoll’s idea became Rogue One, due out in December 2016. It’s a stand-alone story—an “anthology” movie as opposed to a “saga” movie, in Lucasfilm parlance."

Wired also confirmed that the third Anthology film will be about Boba Fett (which has long been rumored), when describing Kennedy's current work space,
"Kennedy’s main office is in San Francisco, but these days she’s spending most of her time behind a standing desk at Pinewood Studios, outside London, where Rogue One’s production sprawls across seven soundstages. She has a 4K screen that connects to the editing bays and server farms where Abrams is assembling Force Awakens. Episode VIII is in preproduction down the hall, and stand-alones about young Han Solo and the fan-favorite bad guy Boba Fett are percolating. It seems complicated. It seems, I say to Kennedy, like you’re going to need more than just emotions to make it all work.

“I love how you’ve already jumped to the conclusion that it’s all working,” she answers, laughing. “Oh my God, there is so much to get right. It’s by no means laid out beat for beat. I’ll borrow a line from Raiders of the Lost Ark: We’re making this up as we go.”"

Lawrence Kasdan also spoke about how he got to choose which Anthology movie he wanted to write,
"we jump forward to 2012. Kasdan is talking to Lucas again, and Kennedy too, and they want him to write another—another!—Star Wars. It turns out Lucas has been sitting on a whole crop of ideas. “Pick,” they tell him. Kasdan chooses something about Han Solo when he was a kid. “Because Han is my favorite character,” Kasdan says."

Wired also went into detail about how and why Kasdan was brought in to co-write The Force Awakens with Abrams,
"They cut the deal, but ask Kasdan for a little more. Could he stick around and, you know, consult a little bit on Episode VII? Could he help persuade Abrams to take the directing chair?

Then it was Empire all over again. The original writer, Michael Arndt, had fallen behind. People were already getting hired and money was being spent, so Abrams and Kasdan stepped in. “We started walking around, recording into an iPhone and breaking the story,” Kasdan says, using Hollywood jargon for outlining a plot. “We walked for miles, through Santa Monica and Manhattan and eventually Paris and London.” Kasdan says the only must-have item was to bring back Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia. “On the first day, I said, look: Delight, that’s the word. In every scene, that should be the criterion we’re using. Does it delight?”"

Wired also caught up with Gareth Edwards on the set of Rogue One to talk about what it's like to driect a Star Wars movie,
"Both Abrams and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards admit to having been dazzled by their first days on a Star Wars set, paralyzed by the coolness of being near Harrison Ford in a Han Solo costume or a platoon of stormtroopers. Eventually, both say, they settled into doing their jobs. But they also talk about sensing something bigger. Taking shelter against British weather beside a towering set I’ve been asked not to describe, Edwards—covered in black diesel soot and weighed down by gear—looks damn happy. “I feel I know this universe,” he says. “It feels like going back home, the place you live in your fantasy life.”"

Kiri Hart, who's the head of the Lucasfilm Story Group, spoke about the potential for new Star Wars stories (via Wired),
"The universe can extend for 10,000 years forward and back from the moment Luke blows up the first Death Star. “In the case of Rogue One, we’re essentially making a period piece,” Hart says. “The benefit of making additional episodes that move forward on the timeline is that we are making new space for ourselves.”"

JJ Abrams also spoke about the pressure of creating the first film in this new era of Star Wars.  According to Wired,
"Of course, Abrams and Kasdan had a whole new kind of pressure. They weren’t writing a second act. They were writing a new ending and a new beginning. “I do feel like there’s a little bit more of a burden on Larry and me to come up with a story that could at least be the beginning of what transpires over three films,” Abrams says."

This is a fantastic piece by Wired and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.  It goes beyond just the Star Wars shared universe and addresses how other studios are approaching the idea of a shared universe.

Follow The Star Wars Underworld on Twitter @TheSWU for more updates about this story and other breaking Star Wars news.


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