How Lucasfilm corralled J.J. Abrams to direct next 'Star Wars'

The Hollywood Reporter details Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy's cajoling of the "Star Trek" director and drops a bomb: The next "Star Wars" may not be ready by 2015.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
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Lucasfilm scored J.J. Abrams as the director of the next 'Star Wars' film, but not because of a sit-down with George Lucas. Instead, it was new Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy who sealed the deal, writes The Hollywood Reporter. Joi Ito

For someone who has said that "Star Wars" was "the first movie that blew my mind," you'd think that the chance to direct "Episode VII" would have been a no-brainer. But J.J. Abrams wasn't so easy to convince.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the "Lost" creator and "Star Trek" director needed some cajoling, and in the end, it was left to new Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy -- the woman handpicked by George Lucas to run his beloved empire -- to seal the deal.

New Lucasfilm co-chair Kathleen Kennedy Lucasfilm

Late last week, word began to leak out of Hollywood that Abrams was in discussions to take the helm of "Star Wars Episode VII," which is currently slated for a 2015 release, and which would be just the first in a new trilogy of films meant to be sequels to the original 1977 to 1983 trilogy. Yet despite Abrams' known affinity for "Star Wars," many noted the potential oddity of having someone so closely tied to the "Star Trek" universe taking over the reins of "Star Wars." Nevertheless, late Friday evening, Disney -- which bought Lucasfilm in October for $4.05 billion -- announced that, indeed, Abrams will direct "Episode VII."

Kennedy works her magic

The 59-year-old Kennedy is no stranger to big-time Hollywood wheeling and dealing. She's earned seven Oscar nominations producing and working on films for the likes of Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and others. And she'd even known Abrams since he was 14, according to the THR article, when Spielberg read about his victory in a Super 8 filmmaking competition and hired Abrams to come and restore his family's Super 8 collection.

In its in-depth interview with Kennedy -- the first she's given since assuming the Lucasfilm gig -- The Hollywood Reporter noted that Abrams had been asked last November if he was interested in directing the next "Star Wars" movie. He "quickly shot the idea down," THR reported. Kennedy, however, "was not so easily deterred."

[She] already had called Beth Swofford, Abrams'...agent, and been told Abrams was too deeply engaged in the next "Star Trek" movie and obligations at Paramount -- not to mention innumerable television projects -- to consider the job. Nonethless, Abrams agreed to meet with Kennedy on Dec. 14 at his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica. Famously plain-spoken, [Kennedy] 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.

THR wrote that Kennedy, Abrams, and the "Episode VII" writers met in secret on December 19, but that despite very obvious excitement about the project, Abrams worried it was too much.

It's easy to understand why a man as busy as Abrams would hesitate, even in the face of an opportunity like this one. After all, in addition to his many professional responsibilities, he has a family, and a new "Star Wars" film would certainly be a major commitment of time and energy and would likely be shot far from Abrams' Los Angeles home. "If there was any pause on J.J.'s part," THR quoted Kennedy as saying, "it was the same pause everybody has -- including myself -- stepping into this...which is, it's daunting."

So Kennedy had to do what she does so well: put one of the industry's most prominent directors at ease...."We spent a lot of time talking about how meaningful 'Star Wars' is and the depth of the mythology that [Lucas] had created and how we carry that into the next chapter," [Kennedy] says. Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, the deal closed the afternoon of Jan. 25."

Perhaps one of the most shocking tidbits from the THR article is that despite Disney's and Lucasfilm's very public announcements that "Episode VII" will be released in 2015, Kennedy doesn't seem sure that they will make that deadline. And her reasoning will be music to the ears of "Star Wars" fans who cringed at the poor storytelling that doomed the prequels to terrible reviews and endless derision from devotees. "Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we'll see what happens," Kennedy told THR. "The timetable we care about is getting the story."