LAWRENCE KASDAN – CO-WRITER THE FORCE AWAKENS
A GIFTED WRITER, AS WELL AS BEING A TALENTED DIRECTOR, LAWRENCE KASDAN RETURNS TO THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE!
Star Wars Insider: How did you get involved in Star Wars?
Lawrence Kasdan: I fi rst met George Lucas in 1977. I had sold a screenplay to Steven Spielberg. Steven and George decided, based on that screenplay, that they wanted me to write Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was thrilled to do that. I was brand-new in the business and it was an amazing film to get for your first job. When I was finished with it, I took it up to Marin County to deliver it by hand to George Lucas. He threw it on the desk, and said, “C’mon, let’s go to lunch.” When we went to lunch, he said he was in trouble with The Empire Strikes Back because Leigh Brackett, who was working on it, had passed away. The draft was nothing like what George needed or wanted. He asked me to write The Empire Strikes Back. I was concerned because he hadn’t read Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he said he would read it that evening and if he didn’t like it, he would retract the offer. He read it, and I began working on The Empire Strikes Back several days later. It turned out to be a wonderful experience working with George and Irvin Kershner, who was the director of The Empire Strikes Back. We did it in six weeks. They were already building sets in England, so there was no time to waste. George had a story and I wrote the screenplay. When that was over, I went back to my original intention, which was to become a movie director. I met Alan Ladd, Jr., who was running 20th Century Fox and releasing the Star Wars movies. He was offering me jobs to write, and I told him I didn’t want to write; I wanted to direct. He asked what I wanted to direct, and I told him the story of Body Heat, which became my first film. After it was written, Ladd said he would make it, but he asked that I get someone to look over my shoulder as I was a first-time director. I went to George Lucas and asked him to do it, and he agreed. George was very generous with me and so supportive in many ways. After Body Heat I moved on to my next movie, which was The Big Chill. Then George came to me and asked me to write Return of the Jedi, which became my second Star Wars movie, directed by Richard Marquand.
How did you first meet Kathleen Kennedy?
After Steven Spielberg bought my original screenplay, Continental Divide, he introduced me to George Lucas. We were all going to do Raiders of the Lost Ark together. I had no place to work on the screenplay, so I worked in Steven’s office while he was off directing 1941. So, I wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark at Steven Spielberg’s desk and, true to his word, he barely showed up those six months. Kathy Kennedy was Steven’s assistant at that time, in 1977, and she really had not been there very long. She was in and out a good bit between the set and the office, but we became friends. So we’ve had a long, good friendship. We have vacation homes near each other, and we’ve been through a lot, with a lot of movies under the bridge. We haven’t worked like this for a long, long time, but it’s great to be back working with Kathy. When George and Kathy decided to reignite the saga, they came to talk to me about writing some of it.
When did you first meet J.J. Abrams?
I had met J.J. about five years before all this started, at a charity event in Hollywood. He was very friendly and I was happy to meet him. I had a wonderful, positive impression of him. After I became involved in the new saga, the question came up as to who was going to direct Episode VII. Kathy Kennedy was very generous in including me in that process. When we went to talk to J.J., who was everybody’s first choice, I started to get to know J.J. for the first time. That was in early 2013. We all went to his office and talked about what a new Star Wars would be like. His ideas about what should happen in the next trilogy were like mine, and I was enthusiastic about the idea that he’d direct it. We were all thrilled when he agreed to do it.
Do you remember the key elements that needed to be in the film?
In talking to J.J. Abrams, right from the start, there was a meeting of minds about the things we wanted the new Star Wars to be. How it would be similar to the first trilogy. How would it be different, because times have changed and it’s been imitated so much. It’s hard to make things look fresh. But all our thoughts were similar. The movies had to get back to tactile [effects and sets], rather than CGI. One of the wonderful things about the first trilogy is that it’s kind of funky and puts on a show. The creatures in the fi rst one are crude, but become more sophisticated in The Empire Strikes Back. Then came more effects and sophistication. But even through Return of the Jedi, there’s a tactile feel like we’re actually on a set somewhere shooting this movie. All of us wanted to get back to that feeling, which we thought maybe had drifted away in subsequent movies. So, that was common ground. Then, things that interested us in the story were similar. It was a family saga, and we talked about how we would continue to play it out in ways that are very interesting not just for new generations but for the people who saw it originally, 40 years ago. So, you’re paying tribute to a tradition, a saga that has made an impact beyond anyone’s imagination. You’re trying to be supportive of it, loyal, honest, and respectful of it, and at the same time, move it forward.
How much did you talk about balancing visual effects with the practical?
We discussed balancing the effects and the physical properties of the movie endlessly. It was the primary issue for us. How do we take a human story with relatable themes and keep it feeling like a real story that’s been done by actors on real sets? The sets certainly do feel like Star Wars. How did they go about getting that iconic feel? Rick Carter and Darren Gilford, the production designers, created an environment that’s so powerfully redolent of the Star Wars saga.
It has to do with the shape of the lights, the shine on the floor, the shape of the corridors. Creatures you remember from 40 years ago are in this movie, and that’s kind of fantastic. And, Michael Kaplan, the costume designer, totally entered the universe of Star Wars in this, his first Star Wars movie, and created a whole new generation that fi t in with A New Hope.
Did you and J.J. Abrams feel that the lead was always going to be a strong female?
There was never a question. It was not just J.J. and I, but Kathy and everyone else involved as well. We aimed very strongly toward one of the protagonists being a woman right from the get-go. It cries out for that. Leia was a wonderful character, but she was one of the only women in the original trilogy. This saga demands more in female leadership. We want to see more characters like that. As movies go, we’ll see more. We knew that this one had to be centered on both a girl and a boy.
Was it fun to revisit the classic Star Wars characters?
It’s great to come back to characters you love. Leia and Han are great people to write for, and now I’ve done it a lot. For someone who is their age, there’s a poignancy about how we lose our physical resilience. We deal with many things over the a course of a lifetime. Some take a toll and some show up in lines in our faces. When you stop resisting it, it can be a glorious thing. You can appreciate itand you’re grateful for this journey that put you through so many different paces. When you see Carrie Fisher and you see Harrison Ford, you see all that. We’ve followed them since they were so young. They grew up on camera. For Harrison, it’s been non-stop movie stardom, which is a burden in itself. Very few people have had the long, varied career that Harrison has. Harrison was in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he was also in Witness, Clear and Present Danger, and so many more. He played fear and aspiration, and had heroism and neuroses. I don’t think anyone can watch Harrison walk back onto the Millennium Falcon as Han and not be thrilled. He looks so right and so comfortable. In the same way, Carrie Fisher had a cerebral nature at 21 and she’s got it now. We’re trying to have everyone come through with who they are. The dream in a movie is to bring out what’s best in an actor, whether they’re 12 or 70. Acting is magical; it’s mysterious. Why someone can do it, I could never figure out, and I spent my whole life with actors. I wanted to be an actor and I couldn’t. What is your hope for this film? I used one word from the beginning, it must “delight.” When you have John Williams writing the music, you’re part of the way there. When you have this group of craftsmen creating the images, you’re part of the way there. When [director of photography] Dan Mindel shoots a movie, you’re going to be delighted and when J.J. directs a movie, you’ll be delighted. We all know that there’s going to be an audience for this movie, but we want them to feel satisfied when it’s over. We want them to say, “It delighted me, made me laugh, made me excited, and the images affected my body in a way I have no control over.” That’s what great movies do. That’s what anything that really hits the chord does. You sit in an auditorium with an orchestra, or a single guitar, or a rock concert and they are somehow capable of touching something in you that you have no control over. It’s beyond reason, beyond criticism, beyond preconceptions or disappointment. I was engaged, I was enraptured, I was delighted for a certain amount of time. If we do that, we’ll have succeeded.