Lawrence Kasdan is one of those screen legends that you kind of can’t believe is an actual human being, who you can sit down with in a cavernous room at the Los Angeles Convention Center on a sleepy Sunday afternoon to talk about the most hotly anticipated movie, maybe in the history of cinema. It turns out that Kasdan is a perfectly lovely man, who just so happens to have written Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the movie we were there to talk about: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (He is also writing the Han Solo-centered prequel film, to be directed by The Lego Movie team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller.) Not once did he interrupt our conversation and say, “You know I wrote and directed The Accidental Tourist?” Not once.
It’s amazing Kasdan returned to the franchise, especially considering George Lucas only drafted him for The Empire Strikes Back after the original writer died during pre-production. (Kasdan contributed all of the memorable moments we still talk about today; that first draft is something of an infamous unused relic.) But when Kathleen Kennedy was assembling a creative collective for upcoming Star Wars films, after their acquisition by Disney, Kasdan was an obvious go-to choice; both as a writer and a shepherd of the saga.
We got to talk to Kasdan about the initial draft of the film by Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt, how involved the art department was with the development of the script, and how long walks with co-writer/director J.J. Abrams eventually became Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
At the YouTube Space event the other night, J.J. described these long walks that you two would go on, where you’d just talk about the story. How does it go from that to a script?
He was recording everything on a cell phone and we would have it transcribed, by [co-producer and Abrams’ former assistant] Michelle Rejwan. She was transcribing it because no one was allowed to see what was being done. And Michelle has been integral to this whole process—she’s an incredible woman with a brilliant mind about these things. She’s the real go-to person. So she was transcribing them and we were remembering and talking about it. Eventually, we had to go to an office and work on it.
Abrams has stated that the art department was involved while you were writing. Was that a fun process?
It is. Rick Carter [one of the film’s two production designers] is old school. He’s done a lot of Steven [Spielberg]’s movies and he’s a man of the ‘60s, so he identified with me. He’s full of the spirit of the Force, even though he’s never worked on a Star Wars movie before. But he’s that sort of hippie, Zen master. He was full of wonderful ideas. They were turning out paintings by the dozens while we were just getting started. Anything you’d tell them, they’d turn back 50 drawings. It’s great. It would sometimes influence us. But it was great when we’d go, “We actually are going to do something like this,” and they would come up with stuff actually directed at something.
You were a part of the original trilogy. So what was it like bringing these characters and this world to a new generation?
The saga is very accepting. It accepted me early on and it accepted J.J. early on because it gives you what you give it. He absolutely adored the first movie and it changed his life. He loves the first trilogy and we felt exactly the same. When I first met J.J. and Kathy and I were there to talk to him about it, the things he said that he thought it should be were the same things we were struggling with, which is the physicality to it—the lack of dependence on CG, you need sets, you need puppets, you need props. Those were the things that gave the first trilogy its charm.
You’re co-writing the Han Solo movie with your son. Is that it for you?
Yes, that’s it for me.
Will you consult?
Oh yes. We just turned in the second draft, people are very excited, and Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] are amazing. They’re from another planet. They’re going to start shooting in a year. Between now and then, that thing is going to change a lot. But I’ll be there to help if I can. They have to take over. I have to get back to directing.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in a galaxy near you on December 18.