By now the story of how Star Wars: The Force Awakens made it to the screen is well known. George Lucas sold the rights to Disney for a whopping $4 billion (which they probably expect to make back pretty quickly). Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) was brought on to write the screenplay and J.J. Abrams was set to direct. That is until the time crunch had Arndt replaced and script duties fell to Abrams and producer Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back). So prior to any cameras rolling, the original writer was replaced along with Lucas’ original story treatment. Luckily they had solid backups for both, but was there ever anyone else in mind to direct?
We know that Abrams initially passed on the offer to direct the first episode of the new trilogy. But in Steven Spielberg’s mind, Abrams was always the only person for the gig. Spielberg sat down with CBS’ 60 Minutes and revealed he recommended Abrams for the job when producer Kathleen Kennedy was searching for a director. Per Deadline, Spielberg told Kennedy, “There’s only one director that really should undertake this daunting, epic task, and that’s J.J. Abrams.”
It’s interesting to think who else would have filled the shoes. A proven, established director was absolutely necessary to kick-off the new trilogy, and one that grew up as a fan of the films was obviously a goal. Abrams does indeed feel like the perfect fit, especially after his successful rehabilitation of the Star Trek series, and Spielberg’s endorsement is not too surprising. He has served as somewhat of a mentor to Abrams over the years, and Spielberg’s influence on the younger director can be felt in films like Super 8 (which he produced). It’s also a relationship that makes sense since Abrams is a generation removed from Spielberg and grew up watching and being influenced by his films.
And the fact that Kennedy sought Spielberg’s advice is not surprising in the least. Spielberg and Kennedy have a long-standing collaboration dating back to when she co-founded Amblin Entertainment with him. Kennedy also produced E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Jurassic Park, as well as many others that followed, but these two early ones cemented their successful working relationship.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters December 8.