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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on Franchise History Repeating Itself

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on Franchise History Repeating Itself

It hasn’t been easy trying to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but the safest approach has been discussing themes and metaphors with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi”), the Yoda of the inner circle with J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy.

So what was the eureka moment when they finally cracked the story? 

“It was about keying in on what J.J. and I wanted to feel when we were done,” Kasdan emphasized. “What was it about ‘New Hope’ that was so exciting and so much fun? What was it about ‘Empire’? And we wanted that for this movie. It was about a feeling we wanted to restore the saga to.”

READ MORE: “Review: J.J. Abrams ‘Awakens’ the ‘Star Wars’ Franchise with a Heady Mix of Old and New” 

That required not simply restating the good vs. evil struggle, but making history repeat itself for the next generation’s hero and villain: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). “Whenever you see a historical film or read a book of history, you’re just shocked that everything’s being repeated,” Kasdan added. “And these horrifying news events [the Paris attacks and San Bernardino mass shooting] have such recent antecedents that are forgotten. And the things that threaten our peace of mind have not changed much over the years.” 

It’s worth noting that when “Star Wars” first arrived in 1977, it literally provided a “new hope” for moviegoers mired in a decade of cinematic despair, which Robert Towne (“Chinatown”) thematically characterized as “the futility of good intentions.” 

For Kasdan, storytelling’s about the most primal internal struggle, which “Star Wars” tapped into: “Everything I’ve ever done on my own is about the fact that we’re at war with ourselves and the constant battle between our sense of responsibility and our desires, which are not necessarily related to our responsibilities,” he explained. 

READ MORE: “Inside the ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Premiere”

In other words, it’s easier to be selfish than selfless, which connects Kasdan’s “The Big Chill,”  “Body Heat” and “Silverado,” as well his work on “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” However, Kylo Ren, commander of The First Order, who’s obsessed with Darth Vader, is very relatable. “There’s never been a character like Kylo in the saga—he hasn’t got his shit together… But what you’re getting is all the contradictions and the conflicts that any one of us could feel at any moment,” Kasdan has said.
But it’s no wonder that the roguish Han Solo remains Kasdan’s favorite “Star Wars” character, and that he’s currently scripting the standalone for directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”), who have an uncanny talent for exploring mythology from the inside out.

Yet despite George Lucas’ reverence for Joseph Campbell (“The Power of Myth”) and his blueprint for “The Hero’s Journey,” Kasdan said he never thought about it. “Maybe it’s because I’m interested in the journey of everyone around me and they don’t necessarily couch it in ‘The Hero’s Journey.’ I think that it’s exciting that you get to make up your life and all the decisions that will affect that, and some that are made for you and how do you deal with that?” 

This goes all the way back to the biblical “sins of the father,” which torments the new generation of “The Force Awakens.”

“That’s what ‘Star Wars’ is about,” Kasdan said. “It’s never an old story because everyone of us has to deal with that story. What are we carrying around from our parents that would be helpful to shed? Is it possible to shed it? What was the good thing that they gave us that we can sort out? It’s like panning for gold. You do the best that you can and you do that personally. You have a setback, you make a mistake and you say you’re never going to do that again. 

“If you can put that in a vessel that has this much potential audience, that’s really fun.” 

We’ll find out this weekend if they can capture lightning in a bottle again.

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