Lawrence Kasdan will bring Balance to the Force
Ron Seifried | On 08, Jul 2014Somewhat lost in all the hype surrounding Star Wars Episode VII is the most important player in the galaxy far, far away Lawrence Kasdan, ex- school teacher/Clio award winning advertising copywriter, landed in Hollywood in the mid-1970’s looking for an outlet for his frustrated creative energies. He started writing screenplays and was promptly rejected over 60 times, before finally selling his script for The Bodyguard to Warner Bros. as a project for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross. Called one of the “best un-made films in Hollywood”, it sat in development hell for over 15 years before finally produced in 1992 with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. Kasdan then sold his screenplay for Continental Divide to Steven Spielberg, which later turned out to be one of John Belushi’s last roles and the only to feature the comedian as serious/romantic lead. Needing a break from the sudden success of Star Wars, Lucas escaped to Hawaii to decompress with his then-wife Marcia and Spielberg. It was during a walk on the beach that Lucas discussed his idea of making a movie based on the serial adventures he and Spielberg watched as kids, short cinematic stories that ended on a cliffhanger insuring the young audience’s return to the theater the following week. This mid-20th century version of the film franchise inspired the creation of one of the most recognizable characters: Indiana Jones. Some basic elements were saved during this initial, historic walk on the beach, including the character’s main traits of the fedora-wearing, globe-trotting, treasure-hunting PhD archeologist. The pair decided to team up back on the continent to flesh out the concept with Kasdan. Over a period of several days in January 1978 in Sherman Oaks, California, at the home of Lucas’ assistant, the threesome brainstormed the attributes and plotline that would eventually become Raiders of the Lost Ark with additional action sequences later incorporated into its prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A few years ago, the transcripts from the first Raiders development conferences appeared online and offer a fascinating look into the early career stage of three creators. This brief glimpse in the early development phase showcases what possibly was missing from the creative process of the Star Wars prequels and how Lawrence Kasdan may become the most important member of the franchises creative team for the next few years. During this span of several days, the trifecta spitballed ideas of the1930’s-era archeological adventure story. It is eight months in during the historic run of Star Wars, still playing in the theaters. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind has just been released weeks earlier. Lucas and Spielberg are now the fathers of the blockbuster age. Despite only selling one undeveloped script, the duo have enough respect for Kasdan to include during this important stage of Raiders development. This is the first time Lucas and Spielberg collaborate and due to the uncertainty of how the two unique personality’s could possibly get along during this early “dating” period, Kasdan’s invitation could be seen as much as a chaperone of the pair, dialing back any unwanted advances and disagreements. The Raiders transcripts is an improv session without filters, where the three are tossing ideas on the wall and see which sticks. The sessions include: Lucas’s concept of that the film will have one big action sequence leading into the other. Spielberg responds with “What we’re doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland,” and interesting piece of foreshadowing and a clear tangent away from the story and directly into merchandising. The inspiration for Indiana’s outfit of leather jacket, khaki pants and felt hat was from Humphrey Bogart’s costume in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. The rolled up bullwhip came later.
- Indiana is “a bounty hunter of antiquities,” traveling the world for more fortune than prestige. The oft repeated line “fortune and glory” from Temple of Doom is a clearer synopsis of Jones’s attitude before veering toward a more mystical attitude, and one of the reasons the followup takes place one year before Raiders.
- Piecing together elements from King Kong to James Bond, the story is an elaborate chase between hero and Nazis, with Marion, a “Marlene Dietrich tavern-singer spy” love interest in her early 20’s who briefly gets kidnapped.
- The discussion takes a disturbing turn toward pedophilia with Lucas suggesting Indiana’s earlier pre-Raiders relationship with Marion, saying “He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.” This is fixed by making Marion a few years older in the film.
- The birth of Anakin Skywalker. What was tossed in by Shmi Skywalker’s one liner of “…he doesn’t have a father” without an inquisitive response from Qui Gon Ginn, left the novices and geeks guessing until Palpatine’s statements in Episode III that a Sith Lord can control midi-chlordians to create life. These are the only two clues left in the prequels that partially explain the genesis of Anakin Skywalker, but it left more questions than answers in a close-ended trilogy.
- Midi-chlordians- In Empire, Yoda explained that the force..”surrounds us, binds us, not this crude matter” while pinching Luke’s skin, leaving the open-ended definition that the power of the Jedi was derived from a spiritual conscience understanding of a mystical power. It was constantly referred to as a belief system and a religion, bringing forth Lucas’s main inspiration of Joseph Campbell and his writings to the forefront.
- C-3PO-two massive holes in the development of the golden protocol droid was the fact Anakin built him, and his one liners in Episode II fit better in a Three Stooges short than an epic sci-fi fantasy. Having Anakin as the creator of 3PO was a lazy storytelling method to neatly wrap up one fabled characters back-story and Lucas’s bizarre obsession to fit parallels against the original trilogy. It’s almost as Lucas did not trust himself to come up with a better idea, and was much more interested in stretching out an already extended podrace. In Episode II, 3PO should have broken up as soon as he walked in the droid factory, limiting his tacky one liners to the equal amount in its parallel movie, Empire Strikes Back.
- Anakin and Padme’s love story. The established back story of the romance between the parents of Luke and Leia was filled with pathetic flirtations, grand costume changes and as much chemistry found in a dead Jawa. By the time Padme proclaims her love or Anakin, the audience is left in disbelief that she was actually awake during their sleepy conversations to raise a fragment of warm feelings higher than a frozen Tauntaun.