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Lawrence Kasdan will bring Balance to the Force

Lawrence Kasdan will bring Balance to the Force

| On 08, Jul 2014

Somewhat 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.
Continental Divide
Continental Divide was an early Kasdan script starring John Belushi and Blair Brown
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.
Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) was one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones
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.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The burning of the headpiece of the Staff of Rah onto Toht’s hand was one of Kasdan’s major contributions to Raiders of the Lost Ark
The exchange of ideas is mainly between Lucas and Spielberg, with Kasdan throwing in some suggestions. One of Kasdan’s contributions is the fire in Marion’s bar and the subsequent burning of the head piece medallion of the Staff of Rah into the Nazi’s toad’s hand.
These initial meetings eventually led to his participation in the Star Wars sequels.
Development of The Empire Strikes Back
Leigh Brackett was a science fiction author dating back to the 1940’s, writing dozens of novels and short stories. Her best known work was the Eric John Stark series, a direct influence of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan stories. The bulk of her space-opera stylistic work was published in the popular pulp magazines of the 40’s and 50’s. But science fiction wasn’t her only specialty. Brackett also took on contemporary crime subjects, leading her (with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman) to adapt Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep for Howard Hawks film noir classic. The blend of the dark crime with the screenplay’s clever dialog lends to the deviously creative story of drugs, sexuality and voyeurism.
Brackett continued to write screenplays, including Rio Bravoand El Dorado, but she eventually returned to writing sci-fi pulp she was intimately familiar with. Years would go by when she was introduced to Lucas by a mutual friend, who at the time was looking for a writing partner for what was then called “Star Wars II.”
According to some interviews Lucas gave in the late 70’s, he envisioned Star Wars saga as an epic told over a series of several films. Depending on the day and what mood he was in, his vision changed from three movies to as many as twelve. He also claimed that he wanted different directors and writers throughout the series, each bringing their own vision to the overall saga. Lucas even discussed the series becoming a competition between the artists to see who would make the better film, but reserved the right to direct the last film as his personal final word on the overall saga. This idea moved forward during Empire with the hiring of director Irvin Kershner and writer Brackett and later Kasdan, but by the time of the prequels, the Lucas vision was the only one.
The aging Brackett set to work on the Empire’s first draft in the first half of 1978, based on some vague ideas Lucas had for the entire franchise. The initial story development meetings lasted about a week, with Brackett co-developing Empire’s structure and elements for future films. Brackett’s one and only draft included Luke’s father appearing to him as Jedi ghost and training him in the ways of the force and Luke’s twin sister training as a Jedi on the other side of the galaxy.
The plan was for Brackett to complete two drafts and one polish draft, but she was hospitalized by the time the first version was being typed. Brackett would pass away soon after, without any follow-up notes or discussions with the creator, leaving much speculation to what she actually contributed to the franchise. It’s been rumored that her final credit in Empire was more for sympathetic generosity to her estate than actual story contributor.
Lucas then wrote the second draft for Empire based on his original story treatment, eliminating nearly all of Brackett’s ideas. Kasdan based all of his drafts on Lucas’s reboot, further separating Brackett from Empire’s story.
Enter Lawrence Kasdan
During the first few months of 1978, while Leigh Brackett was laboring over her first draft of Empire, Kasdan was hard at work on the first draft for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Based on the outline co-developed with Lucas and Spielberg in January, Kasdan delivered an impressive first draft. Needing a screenwriter to take over for the late Brackett and desperate to move forward with the Empire script with pre-production ramping up, Lucas offered Kasdan the opportunity to write the next draft of the Star Wars II screenplay.
Lawrence Kasdan Empire Set
Irvin Kirshner, Gary Kurtz, George Lucas & Lawrence Kasdan on the Hoth set of The Empire Strikes Back
Like Brackett before him, Kasdan was heavily involved in the story development stage, possibly more than his participation in the initial meetings on Raiders. Irvin Kershner was hired to direct, and along with Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz, the foursome set to work on a film with a darker, more serious tone than its predecessor. Kershner has stated that Kasdan’s main contribution was in the dialog department, giving each character more depth and emotion equal to an Akira Kurosawa film, which both Lucas and Kasdan were big admirers of. Empire ranks as the favorite of all Star Wars films, yet it has the least amount of action sequences in the series. Audiences were invested in the love story of Han and Leia, the teaching of the Force between Yoda and Luke, Vader’s obsession with finding young Skywalker and even the Wookie Chewbacca was given more depth from his emotional cry at the closing of the Rebel base shield doors, to his rebuilding of droid C-3PO. These character elements wrapped around a space opera surpassed the first film and were never equaled in either Return of the Jedi or the prequels.
Two years later Kasdan was an aspiring film director, with the release of Body Heat and pre-production on The Big Chill, but was asked back to help write Revenge of the Jedi the third film’s original title. Lucas had already written several drafts, so Kasdan’s involvement was limited to only two final drafts. Jedi was a story that needed to tie up several loose ends from Empire, including the father/son relationship between Vader and Luke, the rescue of Han and Leia and Han’s love story.
Lawrence Kasdan Empire Strikes Back
Kasdan inspecting the removal of Luke’s face mask in a scene that was ultimately deleted from Empire
But key plot points were sometimes tough to address. Ben Kenobi and Yoda’s last lines in Empire left open a plotline that kept the public speculating, but the often ambiguous Lucas was not fully vested in.
Ben Kenobi: That boy is our last hope
Yoda: No, there is another.
The “other” Yoda would speak of would be Luke’s twin sister, a character in Leah Brackett’s original script, but left off all subsequent drafts. The question remained who would be Luke’s sister, and how to introduce this new character in the final film of the trilogy. Since she was the “only” woman in the galaxy, Princess Leia was used to address this newly discovered relationship. This may have been the most difficult scene Kasdan worked on. Luke first tells Leia on the Ewok bridge on Endor that one of the galaxy’s most feared henchman, Darth Vader, is his father. Luke then has the unenviable task of revealing to Leia that they are twins,    
The Prequels
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that Lucas decided to move forward with the production of Episodes I-III, telling the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side, the rise of the Emperor and the Clone Wars. The ambitious production would cover over 12 years in the Star Wars universe, on a much larger scale than the original trilogywith more exotic worlds and colorful characters.
It was a dream comes true for fans and film professionals, who were inspired by the creative storytelling and special effects that reset the movie industry forever. A return to the Star Wars universe was a no-lose proposition for everyone interested in returning to the galaxy, far, far, away.
Instead it became an important lesson in dictatorial creative control and the necessity of artistic collaboration.
The missing piece to the prequel puzzle was Lawrence Kasdan or someone of his creative caliber to question the script development of the prequels.
As a whole, the three prequel storylines was a visual epic that viewers of the original films intimately understood. Key plot points in the prequels were already established in the original trilogy: Darth Vader was a human male permanently disfigured by Obi-Wan Kenobi in a light saber duel near a lava-spewing volcano: Obi-Wan was his Jedi teacher before turning to the dark side; Vader was the father of Luke and Leia; and all of these events took place in a period called the Clone Wars.
But when Lucas set to work on the prequels, he did not have any collaborators like Kasdan or the others to question his motives or offer alternative suggestions. Instead, he completed the script for Episode I, surrounding himself with a team of “yes-men” and set to work on the films. By the time Episode I premiered, the tone was set, fans and critic’s eviscerated the movie and Lucas and company never fully recovered.
Sure, they all made a millions, but the price paid was the alienation of long-time fans and the revelation that George Lucas was not the genius he was purported to be. The flaws of a once remarkable artist were exposed on multi-level carnage of sloppy storytelling and mis-directed actors hiding in front of glossy special effects that wore on the minds eye.
The dialog in the prequel films was at times a jumbled mess of stilted conversations, lacking cohesive transitions between scenes that raised the level of poor character developments between each other and to the audience.
Leaving out the Jar Jar Binks escapade, Episode I was filled with talented actors sleepwalking through fragmented scenes. Lucas himself touted the technological advancements of placing actors from different takes in the same scene, replacing onscreen chemistry with animated actors, whether it is live action or CGI created. This set a dangerous precedent for the prequels and removed it further away from the real success of the original films; the strong character development and onset improvisation.
Star Wars original Cast
Missing from the prequel cast was the onscreen chemistry of the original cast
One of the most memorable scenes in the original trilogy was when Princess Leia told Han Solo she loved him and he delivered the memorable “I know” line, an onset improvisation completely missing from the prequels.
Lucas was on a tyrannical tear during the prequels, surrounded by Producer Rick MacCullum and his ilk desperate to become part of the Star Wars legacy.      
Lawrence Kasdan was intimately familiar with the Star Wars galaxy, spending months with Lucasfilm during the development of Empire and Jedi. He would of been the perfect counterpoint to Lucas’s vision, however flawed it may have been. Just to hire him as a consultant would of dramatically improved the final cut of Episodes I-III. We may never know if Kasdan was ever contacted, but we can only speculate what might of been.
Prequel plot holes needing the Kasdan touch
  • 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.
By the time of the prequels, Lucas appears to have morphed into a cynical old atheist, determined to define the Force as a scientific explanation controlled by microscopic organisms that can be measured in the blood stream. Lucas went from creationism to Darwinism, forgetting the magic of storytelling and the faith of the fans. Lucas simply condescended to the public that made him rich, disregarding our intelligence with a poorly conceived concept.
  • 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.  
Kasdan is our Last Hope
Fast forward to the present and Episode VII is in production with a mix of old and new faces intimately familiar with the Star Wars universe. Kasdan’s name was one of the first attached to the Disney/Lucasfilm project, with early reports of him developing the script for one of the three character spinoff films. After the departure of pre-Disney Lucas-hire screenwriter Michael Arndt, Kasdan was named co-writer for Episode VII along with director J.J. Abrams. Visions of a possible dictatorial visionary have slowly morphed into a collaborated effort further separating the new films from the prequels. Lucas’s original vision of different filmmakers directing each Star Wars film has returned with the recent hiring of Rian Johnson for Episode VIII.
The Episode VII team of J.J.Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan
It is not clear is Kasdan will continue past Episode VII because the Johnson hire includes the revelation he will write the treatment for Episode IX, a passing of the baton for that film’s still unnamed writer(s) & director. Apparent (but not confirmed) is Kasdan and Abrams writing the treatment for Episode VIII to be passed on to Johnson and his creative team.
Kasdan’s involvement in Episode VII will set the foundation for the future of Star Wars for years to come, possibly as much as George Lucas. Kasdan has been quoted he is “trying to start fresh. There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they’ve been missing, and we’re hoping to bring them that and at the same time, have them fell that it’s all new.”
Kasdan’s writing style is perfectly suited for the ensemble cast Lucasfilm has put together, a chemistry mix he perfected in films including The Big Chill and Grand Canyon. Effects may take a back seat to the human relationships, which are Kasdan’s creative strengths.
George Lucas Lawrence Kasdan Walt Disney
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