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Wednesday, December 16 2015 08:00

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy & The Legacy of The Force

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"I was actually in film school when I saw STAR WARS for the first time," recalls Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy about her first glimpse into a galaxy far, far away. "So as you can imagine, it was just jaw-dropping, mind-blowing. Everybody in film school was talking about it. You realize that there was so much possible beyond anything you could imagine once we all saw that movie." Nearly four decades later, Kennedy's career has proven just that - that so much is possible. After working closely with Steven Spielberg and moving up the ranks in the 1980s, she became one of the most prolific producers in the film world, a driving force behind Amblin Entertainment, and later co-founding The Kennedy/Marshall Company with husband Frank Marshall. Kennedy's resume reads like a "Greatest Hits" of the movies that impacted my youth - titles like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins, The Goonies, Back to the Future, The Money Pit and dozens more. In 2012, Kennedy would be hand-picked by George Lucas to become his successor at the helm of Lucasfilm, to lead a rebirth of STAR WARS under the new ownership of The Walt Disney Company. At the Global Press Event for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, I sat down with Kennedy for some insight into road that's led to here... The Legacy of The Force, if you will.

"George created STAR WARS from a very strong personal point of view," she says, beginning to explain what works not only in STAR WARS, but in her world of filmmaking. "When he made this movie, A NEW HOPE in 1977, obviously he was a young man coming out of film school and he had something to say. He didn't step into A NEW HOPE and decide that he was gonna make some huge blockbuster movie that we would be sitting here 40 years later talking about. I think that's what I've always recognized with any of the filmmakers I work with is that the really, really good ones - they wanna find something of themselves as a reason to tell the story. So they're looking for something that they wanna infuse into the characters and the storytelling and the emotion of the piece. J.J. did the same thing with this movie. I love recognizing that in somebody, and then helping to find the resources to nurture that and guide that. And, when somebody can't find that, then I get a little concerned because if somebody's just gonna go through the motions of making a movie without having that personal connection, then usually they're not gonna be able to excavate what's emotionally powerful in STAR WARS, or in any movie for that matter."

The ability to zero-in on what talent works, and what talent won't is likely the reason why the early stages of development on STAR WARS Episode VII (and later some of the forthcoming episodes and spin-off films) brought rumblings of personnel in, and personnel out as stories and personalities needed time to settle in, and shake out. In the hand-off of Lucasfilm from Lucas to Kennedy, there had to be some serious discussions about where the saga would go, and much of Lucas' own ideas were kept not on paper, but "in his head." This ultimately led to the creation of the Lucasfilm Story Group (the "brain trust," according to Kennedy) that would flesh out the STAR WARS universe and determine a definitive canon. So how did J.J. Abrams come to be the right director - the one with all of the qualities that Kathleen was seeking?

Kathleen Kennedy

"I think there's very few directors that have the bandwidth, if you will, that somebody like J.J. has. I think Steven's an example. George is an example. There's certain filmmakers where just who they are as a person - the exuberance, the childlike quality,  the sense of humor...  just the understanding of what it is to just be delighted by entertaining stories and movies. I think J.J.'s very definitely one of those filmmakers. He, he just accesses every beat of the storytelling process in a way that you feel that he's always connected to the audience, whether they're seven or 700. He just has that unique ability. He made it such a fun experience. He meticulous about story. He's meticulous about the technical aspect of making the movie. But he makes it a totally inclusive, really fun experience on the set. I remember all the years I worked with Steven, he used to always say that the kind of energy in the creative process gets translated to the screen. I think that's very much what J.J. does as well."

John Boyega and Daisy Ridley

That enthusiasm and inclusiveness is in large part why THE FORCE AWAKENS is the first time that audiences will see a female character take center stage - Kennedy and Abrams both having daughters, and deciding on day one that a woman (Rey, played by Daisy Ridley) would be at the center of the new film. 

"Without ruining the movie I'm gonna tell you that your daughters are gonna be so excited. This character of Rey is, I think, one of the most wonderful heroines to come along in movie history. I mean, she is great. So I think they're gonna be very happy. They're gonna have their own Luke Skywalker now. Let's put it that way."

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS opens Friday, December 18, 2015. Get tickets now via Fandango.

Check out more Exclusive Coverage of the STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Launch:

For the latest on THE FORCE AWAKENS, ROGUE ONE and more, keep your browser pointed at TheRockFather.com/StarWars

Disclosure: THE ROCK FATHER Magazine has partnered with Disney/Lucasfilm for this coverage series. Travel and accommodations provided by Mickey Mouse. Thanks to Louise Bishop of MomStart.com for taking photos of the interview.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade as Publisher of The Rock Father Magazine, he joined Adventure Publishing Group as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider—a destination for all things pop culture. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 25 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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