The question that everyone’s still asking is why was Michael Arndt replaced as scriptwriter on Episode VII?
The answer seems to be simpler than “His screenplay was a mess”—indeed, by all accounts it was a great Star Wars screenplay that delivered what most people would want. In short, the issue was that Arndt’s screenplay emphasised the Solo clan at the expense of Luke Skywalker (and possibly his children).
Rumblings earlier this year were that J.J. Abrams was unhappy with how Episode VII was progressing. He was unhappy with how tight the schedule was, needing to deliver a completed film in two years; one of the main sticking points was the focus of Arndt’s screenplay. As good as it was, it didn’t respect the thematic spine of the previous six films: a story of fathers and sons following the lineage of the Skywalkers. Focusing on the Solos may have satisfied those who felt there was not enough roguish fun in the prequels, but for over 30 years Episode VII has been planned as a continuation of Luke’s story as he struggles with the complexity of being the first of a new generation of Jedi.
Keep in mind that Abrams has been in constant consultation with George Lucas, no doubt trying to get a better grasp on what the true heart Episode VII should be. The months were ticking away with shooting fast approaching, and yet the screenplay was moving in a direction that Abrams didn’t feel was appropriate. Something had to give. So, Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took the reins directly, beginning work on reshaping the screenplay several months ago. The spotlight will now return to Luke.
For the curious, here’s a rough timeline of Episode VII development thus far:
- Early 2012: George Lucas develops story for episodes VII-IX
- Mid-2012: Michael Arndt develops full treatment for episodes VII-IX running roughly 45-50 pages based on Lucas’ story; Arndt works in further consultation with Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg; Pablo Hidalgo also has some involvement, presumably as part of Lucasfilm’s nascent “story group”; Lucas approaches Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford about returning for the new trilogy
- Late 2012: Disney announces intent to purchase Lucasfilm for over $4b; Arndt begins work on screenplay drafts for Episode VII
- Early 2013: J.J. Abrams signs on to direct Episode VII
- Mid-2013: Kasdan and Abrams begin writing further drafts of the Episode VII screenplay, replacing Arndt; Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid are both rumoured to return, with Benedict Cumberbatch also entering the fold; other actors auditioning are told that characters’ ages are currently not finalised; Ford signs a multi-picture deal based on Han Solo’s character arc across the trilogy