February 17, 2013

Screenwriter starting fresh with a spinoff to 'Star Wars'

By NOELENE CLARK, McClatchy Newspapars

LOS ANGELES - "Star Wars" fans were relieved to learn that Lawrence Kasdan would be writing another installment in the movie saga. After all, it was Kasdan who penned "The Empire Strikes Back," the film that is almost universally regarded as the best in the series.

at the Los Angeles Premiere of "The TV Set". Crest Theater, Westwood, CA. 03-27-07
click image to enlarge

Lawrence Kasdan

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It was partly for the fans, Kasdan said, that he decided to return to "Star Wars" -- just not the fans you'd expect.

"(My) kids are looking forward to it," the 64-year-old filmmaker said. "It's a movie that my grandson, who's not even 3, is already excited about. There are not many movies like that."

Indeed, and Kasdan wrote three of them. After 1980's "Empire" (Kasdan shared a credit with Leigh Brackett), George Lucas recruited Kasdan to pen "Return of the Jedi" -- the final installment in the trilogy -- as well as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the film that began the "Indiana Jones" franchise.

What followed for Kasdan was a prolific writing and directing career, which boasts such cinematic landmarks as "Body Heat," "The Big Chill" and "The Accidental Tourist."

But it is his contribution 30-plus years ago and his upcoming return to the "Star Wars" universe that have made him the subject of intense focus in the world of fandom. Kasdan and "X-Men: Days of Future Past" scribe Simon Kinberg will each write a stand-alone "Star Wars" spinoff movie for Lucasfilm and its new corporate parent, Disney. The spinoffs will follow the J.J. Abrams-directed "Episode VII," the first in a planned "Star Wars" sequel trilogy.

Kasdan reflected on his career in a sit-down interview before his induction into software firm Final Draft's screenwriting hall of fame last week at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, and said he was excited about writing another "Star Wars" film.

"Hollywood's become such a difficult place to do certain kinds of stories, and a lot of them are the kind of stories that I did all the time," Kasdan said. "To do a big movie that Hollywood does now, that you think can be better than most of them ... that's a rare opportunity."

Kasdan would not confirm reports that the spinoff films would center on iconic characters Han Solo, Boba Fett or Yoda, but said he wasn't focusing on his previous scripts or the extended "Star Wars" universe in his approach to the new film.

"I'm trying to start fresh," he said. "There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they've been missing, and we're hoping to bring them that, and at the same time, have them feel that it's all new."

Kasdan said he was looking forward to working with "terrific writers" Kinberg and "Episode VII" screenwriter Michael Arndt. Asked if it would be strange to work on "Star Wars" without Lucas at the helm, Kasdan was quick to point out that it was Lucas who recruited him to the project last fall.

"George sort of brought me into this part of it, and he's stepping back from the company," he said. "He's sort of given his blessing to everybody, and he'll be there if you need him. I think everyone's interested to see where this can go. It's been some very different places over 30 years. ... I think with J.J., we'll get something entirely new."

It's well-trod territory. Since the original trilogy three decades ago, "Star Wars" has expanded to include novels, comics, video games, the critically praised animated TV series "The Clone Wars," and the oft-maligned prequel trilogy, beginning with 1999's "The Phantom Menace." But the first three films stand apart, he said.

"The ones I worked on were a long time ago, and they had a slightly different feeling than the ones that followed," he said. "The first three, 'Star Wars,' 'Empire' and 'Return of the Jedi,' are all sort of more about people than the ones that followed. 'Empire' appeals to people, I think, because it's the second act of a three-act play, and everything sort of goes to hell during the movie. And when you leave, everyone is in trouble, and that is the best part of the story to write. And people responded to it. Irvin Kershner was a completely different kind of director than George, so the movie's much darker than the first 'Star Wars.' It's more edgy."

Despite its popularity, "Empire" is not his favorite installment in the series.

"I must say, I think that the great, great film is the first 'Star Wars,' " he said. "I do. It's hilarious, and it changed movies forever."

It also had a profound effect on pop culture, inspiring a deeply devoted fan base that has only grown with the advent of the Internet. But Kasdan says that the exposure and scrutiny haven't changed his process.

"Nothing changes, really," he said. "I don't read that much of it. But when it was announced that I was doing it, it was a really nice response on the Internet. People have a lot invested in 'Star Wars,' and I think some of them were happy that I was back."

 

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