While J.J. Abrams is the director at the helm of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the head of all things Star Wars for the foreseeable future is Kathleen Kennedy. The prolific and extremely gifted producer stepped in as president of Lucasfilm when George Lucas left the company, and as filmmakers will come and go over the course of this franchise, Kennedy remains the creative constant through it all.
And indeed, with a property this big there are massive plans to keep it going for as long as possible. It begins with the films, of course, and at this moment in time there is footage in the can for two new Star Wars films with a third set to begin production imminently. Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) directs the anthology picture Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which began filming earlier this year in London. And Rian Johnson (Looper) is heavy in pre-production on Star Wars: Episode VIII, which starts filming in January (also in London, Lucasfilm’s base of operations). Then we also have Phil Lord and Chris Miller (22 Jump Street) at the helm of a young Han Solo adventure film, and finally Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), who is in the nascent stages of developing the trilogy-capping Star Wars: Episode IX.
With so many moving parts, how much of this is already planned out? Speaking with THR, Kennedy says they already have the basic story outlines up through the film that will conclude the story Abrams begins in The Force Awakens:
“We’ve thought this all through. The story group has put together a very carefully thought-through strategic plan for how we’re developing the stories and what those stories are and targeting filmmakers. We’ve looked at it up through, I would say, 2019, Episode IX.”
Indeed stories may change as the filmmakers get deeper into their specific movies, but Lucasfilm is certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to planning out this new saga. Although it wasn’t always as smooth—the delays during the script phase of Force Awakens resulted in what Kennedy hopes will be a unique occurrence:
“Over the last almost five months now, I’ve been working on Rogue One, and then Episode VIII will start up at the end of January. This will be the only time that it’s really one right after the other because our whole slate got upended a little bit when J.J. and I needed to postpone [the release of] Episode VII from summer to Christmas.”
Obviously the film franchise isn’t the only part of Kennedy’s job, but she had nothing but great things to say about the collaboration between Lucasfilm and Disney:
“We’re the creative entity. We have a franchise management team. We have Lucasfilm employees working within Disney consumer products. We spend a great deal of time sitting with the various divisions inside Disney talking everybody through our plans, showing them our artwork and, eventually, footage, helping them create the style guides, identifying what it is that the various companies that we’re in partnership with are going to execute. That’s a collaborative effort between Lucasfilm and Disney.”
And as for those big, big shoes Kennedy had to fill? The producer admits that while Lucas always wanted to sell to Disney, it took some time for him to decide whether he wanted to be involved with the new films or not:
“I talk to George all the time. George has gone through his own personal process of trying to find his own way of letting go of something that has a huge amount to do with his entire adult life. It’s really impossible for him to only get involved a little bit. He either feels he needs to get involved 100 percent and really be running everything or not at all. He had to make that choice for himself, to step away. When I first came into this company, I had about five months where it was back and forth in his mind as to whether he was going to sell, when he was going to sell. At the same time, we were talking about making new movies. He was the one who initially approached Harrison and Mark and Carrie. All of that he initiated, and I think realizing what it meant to stay involved with its execution was what he had to reconcile. And it’s been tough, watching this go on without his direct involvement, but at the same time, I think he really wanted to step away, knowing that it was in good hands. That’s why he always, always wanted to sell to Disney. There was no debate around that.”
Lucas has already seen The Force Awakens, which he “really liked,” but I’ll be interested to hear his thoughts on the franchise going forward, especially as Lucasfilm starts delving into origin stories of characters he created. Will he simply refuse to comment, or will he speak his mind? Whatever the case, we’re certainly at the dawn of a brand new era for Star Wars, and I can think of few people better suited to spearhead the franchise than Kathleen Kennedy.