Producer Kathleen Kennedy talks about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I think what’s been thrilling about this experience is that every person who has come to the project has been a huge “Star Wars” fan.

George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams

George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams

Lucasfilm and visionary director J.J. Abrams join forces to take you back again to a galaxy far, far away as Star Wars returns to the big screen with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are producing with Tommy Harper and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt. Star Wars: The Force Awakens releases in S.A. theaters on December 16, 2015.


Kathleen Kennedy is an American film producer. In 1981, she co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall. She was a producer on the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Jurassic Park franchise, the first two of which became two of the top ten highest-grossing films of the 1990s. Kennedy is second only to Spielberg in domestic box office receipts, with over $5.2 billion as of October 2012. On October 30, 2012, she became the president of Lucasfilm and the brand manager of the Star Wars franchise after The Walt Disney Company acquired the company for over $4 billion. It was then announced that the first project under her authority would be Episode VII of the Star Wars saga (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) which is scheduled to be released on December 18, 2015. Overall, Kennedy’s work has included over 60 films, 120 Academy Award nominations, and over $11 billion worldwide including three of the highest grossing films in motion picture history

Q:        You go back with George Lucas 30 years plus. Tell us about that relationship.

A:         I started working with Steven Spielberg in 1978, and worked as his associate on, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1980. I also met George Lucas who had created the story for “Raiders” and served as executive producer. The producer was Frank Marshall, now my husband, so I would have to say that these introductions proved to be a fairly transformative time in my life.  I was completing film school when “Star Wars” was released and it had a huge impact on me as a film maker.  To find myself working with two of the most prolific film makers of my generation so early in my career was beyond anything I ever dreamed.  Little did I know that these relationships would change my life forever and continue to do so to this day.

Q:        What excited you about bringing the franchise back?

A:         I think what’s been thrilling about this experience is that every person who has come to the project has been a huge “Star Wars” fan. J.J. Abrams and many of the contemporaries that he’s worked with on the film grew up with “Star Wars.” There were people who were college age, like me, who brought a sense of nostalgia, but there were also younger people. Some had never seen the original “Star Wars” in the theater. So, we had this cross-generational group of people bringing all those sensibilities to the making of this movie. That’s what is so incredibly exciting. It makes you feel like you’re in this with people who genuinely care about it. The fans are sitting out there wondering what we’re going to do with it, and everybody inside the process is a fan. So, you’ve extended out to this community that is now becoming a part of the movie-making process. Even though there’s no guarantee, and there’s stress and expectation, I think it’s something we genuinely feel that we’re in together.

Q:        Talk about your relationship with J.J. Abrams and how you met.

A:         I was working with Steven Spielberg early in my career. This goes back 30 years ago. There were two boys written up in the LA Times who had won a video contest. I told Steven we should hire these two kids to clean up his student films and transfer them to videotape. He agreed and we hired them. The two 16-year-old boys who walked into the office were J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves. Matt has gone on to be a big director/producer. As for J.J., it was very clear from the moment we met him that he was going to have quite a career in the movie business. It’s one of those things I think about, to meet someone early in life who will play such an important role, not only in my life but in his life and in this whole world of “Star Wars.” He never dreamed at 16 that he’d be directing a “Star Wars” movie. I certainly never dreamed that I’d be producing a “Star Wars” movie, or running Lucasfilm. We stayed in touch but it wasn’t until J.J. made a name for himself and Steven worked with him on “Super 8” that we fully reconnected. It’s fantastic to come full circle and be working with someone as talented as J.J.

Q:        How did you get J.J. Abrams to agree to do this?

A:    J.J. is a huge fan of “Star Wars” and it’s a movie that in many ways kindled his early desire to be a filmmaker. I knew that it would take more than simply asking him to bring a beloved franchise back, which is what J.J. had done with “Star Trek.” “Star Wars” was something that was personal to him, so we talked about what it has meant to him over the years. His biggest concern was the responsibility to the fans. Could he create something that would meet their expectations?  Would his meet his? We talked for a while about the themes and the characters and how important it was to him that we preserve what these films had done so well, which was to create lasting and meaningful characters and stories. At some point, I posed to him some very simple ideas, one of which was this notion of a new character asking, “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

I think when J.J. heard me ask, “Who is Luke Skywalker?,” the innocence of that open-ended question was so provocative  that he lit up at the idea that we could create a character whose introduction would be at this juncture and that through that character, we could introduce a whole new generation to “Star Wars.” That excited him and almost immediately he said he wanted to do it.

Q:        Why Lawrence Kasdan?

A:         I met and got to know Larry during “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Larry, again, is one of the icons of the “Star Wars” series. His sensibility inside these movies is also unique. Larry brings a sense of humor to it but there’s an irony and emotional depth in the humor. He understands characters and understands dialogue. He’s a real film-noir buff and looks back at that fast-talking 1930s style of banter between characters and infuses it in a very modern way in “Star Wars.”  Read an interview with Lawrence Kasdan

Q:        How important was it to keep the practical look of the first movies?

A:         J.J. and I talked right away about real creatures and real sets. It’s just a grounded sensibility that goes back to the first three movies. I’ve always had a feeling inside the world of special effects that it’s important to ground the audience with what’s familiar, even though the stories take place in outer space. That was important to J.J., too. What he loved more than anything, and I love, were the tactile sensibilities inside the first three movies. All of the designs began with that premise.

I don’t think we initially thought that we could design the majority of the film that way, but the work that Neal Scanlan and his team have done is extraordinary. The technology involved in robotics engineering and puppeteering has improved to the same extent that the CG world has improved.

For the cast to be able to act in an environment where they’ve got real creatures and sets that they can touch and interact with makes a difference. It immediately feels real.

Q:        Are the creatures a fixture of “Star Wars”?

A:         The creatures in “Star Wars” are the vernacular of “Star Wars.” It’s a language, just like the crude, worn sensibilities of the spaceships and environments. It’s very Jules Verne, turn of the century. That’s what people expect. They don’t want shiny, new, perfect-looking spaceships or creatures. They want something worn and lived in. That’s a language of “Star Wars” we want to preserve.

STAR WARS POSTERQ:        How have you made “Star Wars” deliver on so many levels?

A:         The interesting thing is, when you look at the original “Star Wars,” it does deliver on many different levels. I think all of us were quite amazed when we started to pick it apart and discover what incredibly good storytelling it was. How simple and spare it was. And how fun. It was our job to pay homage to what had come before but to also make it for a new generation. We needed to understand why it worked and why it resonated with so many people on so many levels.

When you do a movie like this, you have to take it seriously. You can’t treat it like lightweight storytelling. Everything George did had meaning. It drew upon tried and true archetypes. He also drew upon the inherent values that we all try to live by. What does it mean to make a person feel like they can do anything? If they live their lives well, they can achieve greatness. Those are the values and ideas inherent in “Star Wars.” You don’t want to make that pedantic and pretentious, after all, it’s a movie and it should be fun

Q:        It’s not just about effects. It’s about characters and story, correct?

A:         It’s about relatable characters; it’s about story with a sense of humor and it’s emotional.  It’s about people you want to be with. Certainly the generation that knows Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill will get the feeling that seeing them again is like being reunited with old family members you haven’t seen for a while. But we’re also being introduced to new characters, with new stories and adventures.

Q:        What are you hoping for?

A:         I’m hoping that people who grew up with “Star Wars” can recapture a part of what that feeling and experience was like when they first saw the films and those who are just being introduced to “Star Wars” become swept away in a new adventure with new characters they can call their own.