Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams

As excited as I was to chat with filmmaker J.J. Abrams about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was even more excited to chat with super producer Kathleen Kennedy, who aside from producing many of the films of my childhood is the head of Lucasfilm — which means she is in charge of the future of the Star Wars franchise.

I talked to Kennedy about how she and her team are planning out the future of the Star Wars franchise, how George Lucas’ treatments evolved into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the abandoning of the Star Wars expanded universe, what was being developed at Lucasfilm before George sold to Disney, how the theme park stuff is being worked on, the differences between the Saga films and the Star Wars Story anthology films, the collaboration between J.J. Abrams and future sequel trilogy directors Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, and whether they can top Darth Vader with Kylo Ren. Obviously, some of these quotes were featured on the site last week, but there is so much here that wasn’t — so please read it in its entirety.

George Lucas JJ Abrams Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars

Kathleen Kennedy Interview: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Future of the Franchise

Peter Sciretta: I’m sorry to be the last interview at the end of your long day, but I really wanted to talk to you because I’m fascinated by the creation of universes, and you are kind of the architect of this whole grand thing.

Kathleen Kennedy: Well, with my team.

Peter: Yeah, I’m sure there is a huge team working on all of this. When you got brought on by George Lucas, how soon before the Disney acquisition did that happen? I’ve read a lot of things about it but the timeline is never presented very well.

Kathleen Kennedy: I sat with George in April of 2012, and the company was sold in September of 2012, so it was a relatively short amount of time before. But one of the first conversations I had creatively with George was about doing other movies than the saga films. And he had a few ideas he was kicking around but he was very open to where this might go in the Star Wars universe.

Home Alone in a Toy Store

Peter: So back before he sold to Disney, was he planning to make these films?

Kathleen Kennedy: No, he was planning to retire. He was talking to me about making these films.

Peter: Who and how is it decided that the treatments that George Lucas had submitted for the sequel trilogy were to be abandoned?

Kathleen Kennedy: Well, here’s the thing. There are certain things they retained and obviously everything George created, you can imagine, every single person involved in this process hugely respects and wanted to know as much as they possibly could about the universe that he was describing. He had specific plot ideas that evolved. He sat down with me in 2012, and now it’s almost 2016, and you know the development process, where you bring writers on and once the story starts to take shape, it evolves. George wasn’t a part of those development discussions, so it was a fairly natural process of evolution. It sounds like we ignored him but that’s not really what happened.

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Peter: How is J.J. Abrams’ final movie, The Force Awakens, different from what was planned early on?

Kathleen Kennedy: You mean from what George was talking about?

Peter: Yeah, like was George’s story more focused on the original trilogy characters?

Kathleen Kennedy: No, because the legacy characters play a significant role in this, and I would say and inside the balance that George was talking about to begin with. It was really much more to do with the specifics of the history of the saga. We changed the order of a few things, let’s put it that way. We didn’t make some wholesale change.

Star Wars: Episode VIII director Rian Johnson

Peter: Force Awakens is obviously your number one priority but how do you balance planning this one as a movie itself versus it being also a launching pad for a new trilogy of films. Like, you obviously can’t just plan for just this film, you must be planting the seeds for other stuff?

Kathleen Kennedy: We already have. We’re three quarters of the way through the shooting of Rogue One, which will finish on the day this is released. And Rian started working on the script for Episode VIII a year and a half ago. So he’s been in prep for a year. And he starts shooting in January, the end of January. So we need to be working a couple of years out in front of, at least in terms of the script, in front of these start dates.

Peter: So when J.J. is doing Force Awakens, did he also work on a treatment for the other films in this sequel trilogy?

Kathleen Kennedy: No, because at that point we were sitting down and talking about where this might go, even as early on as with Michael Arndt. We were sort of plotting out, because obviously if you know up front that you’re building the pacing inside a trilogy structure, we needed to have some sense of where this saga was going without locking in on things and leaving room for creative development. But we had to have some sense of where we were going.

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