Making a Delightful ‘Star Wars’

J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan talking about "The Force Awakens" at San Diego Comic Con 2015 Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that there would also be new “Star Wars” films that continued the story beyond “Return of the Jedi,” some fans got worried. Since the 1991 release of Timothy Zahn's novel “Star Wars: Heir to the Empire,” many fans of the franchise thought the period after “Return of the Jedi” was settled history. Would a new film follow any of the continuity built up over the last 20 years of books and comics? Or would the filmmakers unshackle themselves from the existing content in the continuity and come up with something brand-new?

The answer became apparent when it was announced on April 25, 2014, that everything that had been published before that point would be counted as “Legends.” These stories would still exist and be in print, but none of the stories moving forward, on film, television or print, would be bound to them.

We were aware, we're respectful of the canon, but we really wanted to tell a story that interested us and delighted us, and we didn't really want any rules and parameters, particularly.
Lawrence Kasdan, Screen writer, "The Force Awakens"

When asked about this issue at the world press conference for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan explained, “We were aware, we're respectful of the canon, but we really wanted to tell a story that interested us and delighted us, and we didn't really want any rules and parameters, particularly. We can do anything we want with this story, what would be the most fun thing to do on this page? On the next page? The page after that? That was sort of the guiding principle, more than the canon or anything that had come before.”

For some writers, such freedom to create on a blank canvas as varied and rich as “Star Wars” might come with it a sense of fear. Not so for Kasdan, who previously penned “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Kasdan noted, “I don't associate the process with fear. J.J. and I jumped into the thing under a lot of time pressure, and we had fun.

“In fact, the first day we started real work on it, we said, ‘We must have fun with this every day.' It's really a privilege and you have to be very lucky to get to write the next ‘Star Wars.' We didn't really have fear. I think we had trepidation about fulfilling people's expectations, that they be satisfied with what we came out with, but we didn't want them to know what we were going to come up with and this moment that's coming up next week would be a fresh moment for as many people in the world as were interested in it. The only pressure is, ‘Can you do something that's worth that much anticipation?'”

For his part, co-writer, producer and director on the film, J.J. Abrams agrees with Kasdan on the need for fun: “When Kathy Kennedy and Larry [Kasdan] and I started talking about what this was at the very beginning, the fundamental question was: What do we want people to feel when they came to this movie? That was really the beginning of the discussion.

“The answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise, the comedy that George Lucas put into ‘Star Wars.' That was, for me, the thing that made me love the movie. When you look at all the things he got right, it's impossible. It's stunning. For us, at the very beginning, it was about knowing why we were telling this story and it was to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt when we first saw the original ‘Star Wars.'”

Abrams stated directly that they wanted to do their best to recreate the feeling of "A New Hope," and he implied that the only way to do that would be to create an environment where audiences can be surprised but have a familiarity.

“This is all to tell a new story,” he said. “Meaning it's not a nostalgia trip. We had to go backwards in order to go forward. If you look at Episodes IV, V and VI, these are stories that continue, this is VII, and so the history of VII will be what we've seen before, so the fabric needed to be such that we were familiar with it, in order to tell a brand-new story.”

That brand-new story hits theaters in less than a week. Then, and only then, will viewers find out if Abrams and Kasdan were successful in their quest to “interest and delight.”