Artwork courtesy of Joshua Stolte
Welcome back to the Star Wars HoloNet Digest, a weekly feature where I bring you a recap of the latest news from the world of Star Wars. Whether it’s an Episode VII rumor or a noteworthy author interview, you’ll find it here. Let’s check the HoloNet and see what happened in the past week.
It hasn’t exactly been a quiet week for Star Wars, as Lucasfilm dropped an Episode VII production bombshell on October 24: screenwriter Michael Arndt was no longer working on the project and had been replaced by Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams. “Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, “and we have an amazing filmmaking and design team in place already prepping for production.” Along with this production shakeup news, Lucasfilm also announced several new names for the film’s crew, including, most notably for Star Wars fans, Ben Burtt as sound designer and Matthew Wood as supervising sound editor.
These days, it seems like nothing ignites the passions, fears, and frustrations of Star Wars fans like J.J. Abrams. When the Arndt/Abrams/Kasdan news broke, I saw reactions ranging from outrage to suspicion and from trepidation to relief. The replacement of Arndt as screenwriter is interesting, although certainly not unprecedented in the normal course of filmmaking. First-pass screenwriters often depart and leave their work to be touched up by other core team members. It’s not clear why Arndt left, although there’s certainly been no shortage of anonymously sourced reporting on it. Devin Faraci at Badass Digest says that “Abrams wasn’t satisfied with what Michael Arndt had written and wanted to take a crack at it,” and that “the focus of the story has changed in a big way, that it’s a whole new set of characters being followed than in the Arndt script.” Jedi News pours cold water on that report and urges caution. “There is no dramatic change of direction, there is no new script being written from scratch,” they write. “Ardnt’s [sic] story remains intact.”
I tend to agree with Jedi News’ depiction of the story. Lucasfilm was careful to point out in their news release that “[l]ocation scouting, production design, casting, and costume design are already underway on Episode VII.” You don’t get that far without at least a rough version of your story. If Abrams were reworking Arndt’s script from the bottom up, there’s no way it would be ready for these other phases of pre-production by now. It’s easy to gravitate to the conspiracy-theory view of things, to assume that Abrams is a megalomaniac who, like the Emperor himself, seeks more and more control over everything he encounters. No doubt some fans’ existing anxieties about Abrams make it easier for them to believe something like that.
I have my own concerns about what Abrams will do with Star Wars, as anyone who listens to The ForceCast will know. Even so, I’d stop short of saying that he used whatever leverage he has as director to force out Arndt and completely rewrite his script. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Episode VII shared some of the same elements of Star Trek Into Darkness that annoyed longtime Trek fans, I do think that Abrams genuinely loves Star Wars and wants to do right by it. I also don’t believe that Abrams would try to junk a script that had George Lucas’ fingerprints all over it –– and remember, Arndt was writing based on Lucas’ story treatments for the sequels. If you ask me, one of the biggest X-factors here is how much of George Lucas’ vision, as found in Arndt’s screenplay, has been (or will be) reworked by Abrams and Kasdan.
Oh, and lest anyone worry too much about this turn of events, remember that Abrams isn’t alone in taking over screenwriting duties. He’ll be joined by a man with strong bona fides vis-à-vis the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas’ vision, and Star Wars scriptwriting in particular. Lawrence Kasdan is probably better-suited than any other living person to help rework Arndt’s script for Episode VII. He was already consulting on the film, along with Simon Kinberg, and he’s also writing one of the first two spinoff movies (with Kinberg writing the other one). It’ll be interesting to see how his now-intensified work on Episode VII’s story dovetails with his plans for his spinoff movie.
I won’t say I’m unreservedly thrilled at the news that Abrams will be helping with the screenplay, because I don’t know enough about Abrams to fully predict how he’ll handle things. I have concerns about his style, but I also have reasons to be confident in his vision. I face no such ambiguity over Lawrence Kasdan. I’m thrilled that he’ll be more involved in the story development process, and I think Episode VII will be better because of it. This past week has been an object lesson in overeager restlessness and melodrama, demonstrating what happens when information-starved fans are given dribs and drabs of news with little to no context. Nobody wants to just wait and see how Episode VII turns out, and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop speculating about the film and its creative leads. All I’m saying is that we don’t have the full picture and we often have less representative of a picture than we realize.
The Arndt/Abrams/Kasdan story drove the conversation this week, but a rumor about Harrison Ford also made waves. Jedi News’ anonymous source “Jedi Master SQL” is claiming that Ford recently signed a multi-film deal that includes Episode VII after several of his ongoing concerns were settled. “Ford wanted to see the synopsis for his character’s development over more than just Episode 7,” according to SQL. “He saw this in August and is happy with the story arc.” Ford then agreed to Disney’s request for multiple films.
Two things are interesting about this rumor. The first is that Disney wants Han Solo in multiple movies. Sure, some of those could be spinoff films, but this could also mean that Han will be in all three sequels. Given Ford’s well-known request for Han to be killed off in Return of the Jedi, many fans had assumed that his character would meet his end in Episode VII, as a way of raising the stakes and further cementing the transition to a new generation of lead characters. I didn’t personally believe that this would happen, and I continue to doubt it now. The second interesting thing here is that it suggests enthusiasm on Ford’s part, which is as surprising as it is welcome. Character death aside, Ford’s public misgivings about being associated with Star Wars did suggest to me that he’d have limited involvement in Episode VII and perhaps no involvement beyond that. If this rumor is true, and Ford is game to reprise his role on several future occasions, I’ll be very pleased.
This week saw the release of The Bounty Hunter Code: From the Files of Boba Fett, the third book in author Dan Wallace’s series of in-universe manuals packaged with all sorts of creative goodies. This book includes extras like the memoirs of former Bounty Hunter Guild leader Cradossk; a Kaminoan saberdart, for all those covert operations in your daily life; and Slave I’s operating license, although regrettably not Slave I itself. If you liked The Jedi Path and Book of Sith, you’ll probably enjoy The Bounty Hunter Code as well. You can also check out our conversation with Wallace on a recent episode of The ForceCast, where he talked about writing this bounty hunter book and its two predecessors.
Eric Geller is a college student majoring in political science whose interests include technology, journalism, and of course Star Wars. He co-hosts The ForceCast podcast and manages social media for Star Wars fan sites TheForce.Net and Rebelscum.com. He is originally from the Washington, D.C. area.