JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kadan take control of ‘Star Wars’ script

Honestly, this may be the least surprising story we’ll run all month.

I have no doubt Michael Arndt’s work will be the spine of “Star Wars Episode VII” when we finally see the film, but from day one, it sounds like there’s been a larger brain trust involved, a group of writers who have all had some sort of active hand in the process. At this point, Arndt’s been on the film for a while, and they’ve got to be getting close to putting everything in front of the camera. I would be shocked, frankly, if JJ Abrams didn’t do at least one pass at the script just so he’s comfortable that the final version is something that represents his voice.

Of course, there’s a larger master to serve here, and that’s where Lawrence Kasdan comes in. Abrams has spoken in print about trying to recapture the intangible essence of “Star Wars,” and if there’s anybody whose name is not “George Lucas” who is qualified to decide what is or isn’t “Star Wars,” it’s Kasdan. His voice helped define “The Empire Strikes Back” in a fairly significant way, and having him in the mix has been the thing that has had me most excited about these new films so far.

There has been some talk, hard to substantiate, that there was a fairly major internal divide over some big story points, and this would seem to indicate that Abrams has won whatever struggle there was about the direction these stories are heading. Considering how quiet things have been on the “Star Wars” front in terms of actual concrete news and not just speculation, fans have started to worry. If you’ve been reading press release language as long as I have, the following paragraph is positively laden with subtext:

“I am very excited about the story we have in place and thrilled to have Larry and J.J. working on the script,” states Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy. “There are very few people who fundamentally understand the way a Star Wars story works like Larry, and it is nothing short of incredible to have him even more deeply involved in its return to the big screen. J.J. of course is an incredible storyteller in his own right. Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point and we have an amazing filmmaking and design team in place already prepping for production.”

What she’s really saying is, “Okay, enough debate. We’ve picked which direction we’re going with the story, and it’s the JJ direction. He’s on the film, Arndt is off. Lawrence Kadan’s been here from the start, but we should remind you, he is in fact The Man. And don’t worry… everyone else is already deep into pre-production, so we’re going to make our date or die trying.”

I’m sure we’ll see all sorts of reactions today. Indignation, anxiety, accusations about ego… and the truth is, until the film opens, none of this is possible to judge from the outside. No one’s read the script outside the production. No one really knows what debates they’re having or why. I would argue the pressure on these filmmakers is exponentially worse than it was on George Lucas when he made “The Phantom Menace.” While that was a major cultural moment of anticipation, he was facing nothing but goodwill while he was working. People were excited. Everyone wanted to believe that new “Star Wars” films were going to be awesome.

Abrams faces a much more cynical landscape. He is, to put it lightly, a polarizing figure at this point, and he is making the first after the prequels, which basically shredded “Star Wars” fandom into a million different factions. People are skeptical of “Star Wars” now, and that’s always a harder thing to face as a director. You’re starting out with an audience that is suspicious of you and your product. There are going to be a lot of people sitting down in theaters, arms folded, saying “Prove it.”

Whatever they put in the front of the camera, Abrams has to get it to a place where he feels confident about it. He’s the guy who is ultimately charged with getting it right, and who can blame him if he’s insisting on as much authorial control as possible. It’s the only real weapon he has in fighting all that cynicism.

According to StarWars.com, where the news broke today, “Shooting is scheduled to begin Spring 2014 at Pinewood Studios for an expected 2015 release.” This train’s leaving the station, and it is clear that at least as of today, JJ Abrams is the main hand on the controls.