Since last week’s announcement that J.J. Abrams would be directing the hotly anticipated film Star Wars Episode VII, everyone’s been wondering, “What happened?” After the film was first revealed, Abrams was asked if he’d be interested in helming and he said “No.” Fast forward a few weeks and now the director of Star Trek is heading to a galaxy far, far away.

The main reason for Abrams’ change of heart was Kathleen Kennedy, the head of LucasFilm. In an new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kennedy explains in detail how she went about persuading the director the make the movie, which included long, secret meetings at Bad Robot with screenwriter Michael Arndt and consultant Lawrence Kasdan.

Read the full story below, which includes Kennedy’s admission that the film’s 2015 release date isn’t set in stone.

The Hollywood Reporter has an in-depth profile on Kennedy that starts with her latest work at LucasFilm and moves along into her incredibly diverse and eclectic history. It’s a great read and you can check it all out at that link. Here’s a brief excerpt about Abrams, as written by THR reporter Kim Masters:

Kennedy already had called Beth Swofford, Abrams’ CAA agent, and been told Abrams was too deeply engaged in the next Star Trek movie and other obligations at Paramount — not to mention innumerable television projects — to consider the job. Nonetheless, Abrams agreed to meet with Kennedy on Dec. 14 at his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica. Famously plain-spoken, she summarizes her pitch like this: “Please do Star Wars.” And she had cards to play. Not only was Oscar winner Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) writing the script, but Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote 1980′s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983′s Return of the Jedi, was on board to consult. Abrams “was flipping out when he found out that Michael and Larry were on the movie already,” says Kennedy.

Abrams tells THR, “I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is.” Some — but not all — of his reservations were dispelled. “The thing about any pre-existing franchise — I’d sort of done that,” he says. “But when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing.”

Kennedy, Abrams and the writers met secretly for about three hours Dec. 19, and “J.J. was just on the ceiling when I walked out the door,” she recalls. But still, she says, Abrams had “very genuine concerns” about his obligations elsewhere and the impact on his wife and three kids, given the likelihood that the film would not be shot in Los Angeles. And then there was the unique nature of the franchise. “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.”

Indeed, the six Star Wars films have grossed more than $4.3 billion at the worldwide box office and spawned an empire that includes TV spinoffs like The Clone Wars, books, theme park rides and, of course, merchandise sales. Disney has said Lucasfilm generated about $215 million in licensing revenue in 2012 without having released a Star Wars-related movie in five years. Managed correctly, Star Wars by far is the most valuable franchise in Hollywood, making Kennedy — its new steward — one of the most powerful figures in entertainment.

So Kennedy had to do what she does so well: put one of the industry’s most prominent directors at ease. And she’s known Abrams since he was 14, when Spielberg had read an article about him winning a Super 8 moviemaking contest and hired the future director to restore his own childhood Super 8 videos. “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 says. Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, the deal closed the afternoon of Jan. 25. To the bitter end, Abrams was telling associates that he still wasn’t fully committed to directing the project. But Kennedy is confident that he will be in the chair when the cameras roll. She is less clear that the first film in the new trilogy will be ready by 2015. “Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we’ll see what happens,” says Kennedy. “The timetable we care about is getting the story.”

What do you think about this story? Are you happy Kennedy pushed so hard? Do you understand Abrams’ trepidation? Will Star Wars Episode VII be released in 2015?

Thanks again to The Hollywood Reporter.

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