It’s easy to view Disney‘s $4 billion dollar purchase of Lucasfilm cynically: a corporate behemoth comes into possession of “Star Wars,” with sequel treatments by George Lucas ready to go. Disney could easily have thrown some production money at those treatments, banged out some scripts, and then put their feet up on the desk, call it a day and watch the cash pour in as through a spigot. Fans of the franchise numbering in the millions would certainly show up no matter what, so why invest even more money into development if the treatments are already there? To it’s credit, Disney not only want to cinematically revive a major brand, but they want to do it right, which means taking a whole new approach.
“The [treatments] that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the one that I originally wrote [for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’],” Lucas revealed at the beginning of the year. And a Vanity Fair cover story (print edition) reveals his treatments were focused on younger characters, in fact “teenagers.” However, executives at Disney were worried about a redux of the issues that faced the prequels if they went down that path again.
“We’ve made some departures…exactly the way you would in any development process,” producer Kathleen Kennedy said regarding this veering from Lucas’ outlines, without going into any specifics. “Disney and Kathy decided they should consider other options,” J.J. Abrams said equally vaguely. But Lucas is reportedly still supportive of this new direction.
So with largely a blank slate to work from, Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Toy Story 3“) was brought in to write the script for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But with pre-production on the shoot looming, he was having trouble finishing the script. In fact, he didn’t even have a draft done. “There was a ton of ideas and outlines, a lot of cards on the wall, a lot of writing on whiteboards,” Abrams said. But with time passing, he took over scripting duties with Lawrence Kasdan. With six months to go before cameras rolling, they started from scratch.
“We didn’t have anything. There were a thousand people waiting for answers on things, and you couldn’t tell them anything except ‘yeah, that guy’s in it.’ That was about it. That was really all we knew,” Kasdan said. The pair started writing in November 2013 and by January 2014 already had a draft. But time got so tight that Abrams and Kasdan were still working out story beats on set. And while that might sound shocking, it’s not uncommon on blockbuster shoots. But the ambitions to bring the spirit of the original “Star Wars” films back for is palpable.
“…there was a feeling I had not had since the original trilogy that was so familiar to me and still very possible to tap into —the sense of being transported to some other place where anything was possible but that was specific to ‘Star Wars’ in aesthetic, in history, in design, sound design, music. It was a very unique and specific world. I could taste and I could feel it,” Abrams said.
The finished product will be a bit of the old mixed with the new. “It’s sort of like going to a concert where you want to hear the new stuff they’ve written, but you really want to hear some of the old songs. And we’re in a similar kind of thing: we’re getting the band back together, and we know that people are going to want to be reminded of the things they love, but they’re going to expect to have a new experience,” Kennedy said.
We’ll find out if the band can make us fans again on December 18th.