Episode VII: Always in motion

Lawrence Kasdan with George Lucas and Mark Hamill on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back"

Lawrence Kasdan with George Lucas and Mark Hamill on the set of “The Empire Strikes Back”

Michael Arndt is out and Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams are in.

News has officially hit that scripting duties on Star Wars: Episode VII have switched from Arndt to Kasdan and Abrams. For some reason, fans are having a major freakout.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. For starters, let’s not forget that Kasdan handled rewrites on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; he also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark—the man has a proven track record when it comes to producing exceptional screenplays from Lucas’ stories.

Now, people are assuming this is going to be a complete rewrite, though there’s no evidence for this. If it is a complete rewrite, then that gives us an important bit of information: it means that Kathleen Kennedy et al are determined to get the script right before shooting begins, even if that means starting from scratch.

A very similar thing happened on Empire, with Lucas completely rewriting Leigh Brackett’s script before handing it over to Kasdan to produce further drafts. When producing Empire, Lucasfilm made a point of getting it right at the script level prior to starting production—none of this “fix it in post” nonsense. Similarly, everyone on Episode VII wants the best screenplay to result from this process, not something “good enough” that will be carried by the Star Wars brand. At the very least, they’re all aware that the next Star Wars needs to be great on every level just to return to the public’s good graces.

All that being said, it doesn’t appear that the story itself will radically change. Kennedy notes in the press release that Lucasfilm “are very excited with the story [they] have in place and thrilled to have [Kasdan and Abrams] working on the script.” In other words, the story fundamentals (originating in Lucas’ notes that he further developed largely over the course of 2012) will not be reworked from the ground up. Kasdan (who was already consulting on the story with Arndt and Simon Kinberg over the last year or so) and Abrams are now working to construct a great script from what is (presumably) already a great story. As Kennedy notes, Kasdan “fundamentally understand[s] the way a Star Wars story works,” given his history with the franchise, and is now “even more deeply involved in its return to the big screen.”

And what of Abrams’ involvement in the script? He’s going to be the one shooting the thing, after all. Just as Kershner tweaked things on-set to make the Empire script work during shooting (e.g. Han and Leia’s famous farewell), Abrams needs to be able to adapt the script to his style of directing as well. Abrams, however, will have the advantage of having a shooting script pretty much ready to go.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Abrams and Kasdan felt that they could more quickly and easily produce the screenplay they wanted than to continue to go through Arndt as a middleman. Abrams, for his part, continues to consult with Lucas, which means that Lucas’ role of “creative consultant” is more than just a title. More and more, Episode VII looks to be a collaboration between Abrams, Kasdan and Lucas, just as Empire was a collaboration between Kershner, Kasdan and Lucas, Raiders was a collaboration between Spielberg, Kasdan and Lucas and Jedi was a collaboration between Marquand, Kasdan and Lucas.

How could this be anything other than good news? We’ve got a very similar collaborative set-up to the team that produced some of the best films of the early ’80s (including Kennedy, who was also there for Raiders). In addition, we’ve got producers who are intent on getting the script right before shooting, not merely content to fix things as they go.

From my point-of-view, the news keeps getting better, not worse. After 30 years, Lucas and Kasdan are bringing us the next chronological chapter in the Star Wars saga, with John Williams and Ben Burtt returning as composer and sound designer, respectively. And, of course, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Anthony Daniels will all almost certainly return as well. It really does look like the old gang’s back to carry the saga forward.

When it comes to Episode VII, the Force is strong with this one.

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