How the Force lured JJ Abrams to Star Wars

LucasFilm boss Kennedy talks about getting the new Star Trek guru to take the helm of sci-fi’s other great franchise.

By now, you’ve likely heard the news: J.J. Abrams is going to be at the helm of the next Star Wars trilogy. Months before the announcement, Abrams had said in no uncertain terms that, if asked, he wouldn’t do Star Wars. He felt it would conflict with his work on Star Trek, not to mention the dozen other film and television projects he’s tied to, and take him away from his family in L.A. for too long. So, everyone wonders, what made Abrams change his mind when Disney asked him to take the reins of what is now one of their biggest properties?

According to Lucasfilm’s CEO, Kathleen Kennedy – who was recently hand-picked to run the company after the retirement of founder and owner George Lucas – it only took a frank conversation about the project.

Kennedy sat down with The Hollywood Reporter this week to be interviewed for the first major profile on the industry veteran. Kennedy has been working with big names like Lucas and Steven Spielberg for over thirty years, and has been a side-lines part of some of the best, most iconic genre productions of our time, including the Star Wars films, E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future.

She met Abrams when he was fourteen after he won a film contest that got Spielberg’s attention, and so when she came to him about Star Wars, it was as a friend coming to ask a favor. She knew he would be the right director for the job, and she wanted to show him why.

According to Kennedy, she told him straight up what the studio wanted to do with the franchise, and who was already onboard, including writer Michael Arndt, who wrote the Oscar winning Little Miss Sunshine and writing consultant Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the second and third Star Wars films in the original trilogy. “If there was any pause on J.J.’s part, it was the same pause everybody has – including myself – stepping into this,” she says. “Which is, it’s daunting.”

“We spent a lot of time talking about how meaningful Star Wars is and the depth of the mythology that George has created and how we carry that into the next chapter,” She continued. “J.J. was just on the ceiling when I walked out the door.

“I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is,” said Abrams to THR. “The thing about any pre-existing franchise – I’d sort of done that, but when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing.”

THR also asked Kennedy about the release window for Star Wars Episode VII, which has been asssumed by many to be 2015’s blockbuster season.

She was unwilling to commit to the rough date, however.  “Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we’ll see what happens,” she said. “The timetable we care about is getting the story.”

You can catch the rest of THR’s profile and interview of Kathleen Kennedy, including more about her plans for the future of LucasFilm and LucasArts, and more details of her own life and career, over on their site.