Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof remembers exactly where he was when he heard that Disney had bought LucasFilm. "I was in a production meeting next to Brad Bird for a movie we're working on together," he says. "A bunch of guys at the table started passing notes to each other. Suddenly I'm like the teacher at the front of the class. I was like, 'Is there something you'd care to share with the rest of the class?' I grabbed a napkin, and someone had written on it, 'Disney bought Lucas Film!'"
The meeting continued, but about three minutes later, even bigger news hit. "Someone said, "Disney is making Star Wars VII for 2015,'" Lindelof recalls. "We stopped the meeting and everyone went online to see what the story was."
As the producer of the 2009 Star Trek reboot and the co-writer of Prometheus, Lindelof was one of the first people we called when we found out about Disney's plans for Star Wars. The following is a lightly edited account of his take.
My first knee-jerk reactions was just a tremendous level of excitement and enthusiasm. I really believed that I would not see another Star Wars movie as long as George Lucas was still alive. You know, he's a pretty hale and hearty guy, so that's a long time from now. I had totally written off the idea of ever seeing a Star Wars movie with my six-year-old son. So for that to all change in the space of five seconds, where suddenly two summers from now that's gonna happen – it's just about the most awesome thing ever.
I can't imagine what it's going to be like for the person that has to sit down and write that movie. Whoever takes that job is going to be in the hot seat. That's not even doing it justice. It's going to be beyond scrutinized. Look at the other pop culture phenomenons, like Twilight or Hunger Games, and all the scrutiny that went into the casting decisions and other behind-the-scenes stuff. The fact you have 13-year-old girls who know who Gary Ross is is a testament to our culture now.
As far as casting, my feeling is that they have to bring back the original actors. How can you express that these movies take place after the original trilogy unless some of those characters are in it? I don't feel that they have to be at the epicenter of the drama, and I definitely think they should introduce new characters. People don't want to hear the same songs over and over again, but if you see the Rolling Stones, they better do "Satisfaction" as an encore.
I like the idea of the original characters being Obi-Wan's age now. Previous movies have opened at a time of incredible galactic conflict. As opposed to this next series opening where everybody is happy, I imagine that something happens between this Return of the Jedi and this new film that has split everybody up and created some turmoil that needs to be resolved. The arc of the first movie, if not the first trilogy, would be about getting some of our favorites back together for one last hurrah, in partnership with whoever's going to be carrying the torch forward.
The fundamental first decision they have to make is whether they actually are going to bring back the original characters. All I'll say is, if the goal is to try and recapture the energy and feel of the original movies, my relationship to those movies is not just the groundbreaking design and special effects work and the costumes. It's to those characters. So, the fact that I haven't had any experience visiting with Luke and Han and Leia since 1983 creates a certain degree of nostalgia.
Now, there's a fine line between nostalgia and sentimental bullshit. The question becomes: how do you modulate these things? I know that Harrison Ford often lobbied for Han Solo to be killed off. If I were producing the first movie, the first call I would make would be to Harrison. I would say, "We can finally make your dream come true! But we can't kill him off without you."
My understanding is that there's going to be a movie every two or three years, and they're not even calling it a new trilogy. I think one should look at it in more the same realm of the way that Star Trek worked. They made twelve of those things. It's going to be ongoing, and the story can sort of jump around as much as it likes, in the same way the Marvel universe can now.
I went and saw all the prequels on opening day. According to the zeitgeist, they were inferior to the originals. I happen to agree with that, but my anticipation for all three of them was enormously high. They haven't, whatsoever, affected my enthusiasm for the new ones.
I've said this to his face, but as a storyteller, George Lucas is responsible for everything that I aspire to be. If it weren't for him, I don't think that I'd be doing this job. He's literally everything. That said, it's really courageous of him to hand off the franchise. Now someone who is obviously a huge Star Wars fan gets to put their own stamp on it. Think of what Christopher Nolan did to the Batman franchise or, somewhat self aggrandizing, what J.J. [Abrams] did to Star Trek. It's the idea of someone kind of coming in and bringing their own take on it. That just brings it to a whole different level of excitement.
It's hard for me to handicap how Disney is going to handle the franchise, but to me the real X factor is obviously Kathy [Kennedy] is an incredible producer. From everything I've heard George say, she's going to be the caretaker of the franchise. It seems like it's going to be more of a model like Kevin Feige at Marvel. He brings in incredibly talented filmmakers like Jon Favreau, who will launch Iron Man III and then he'll step back and producer some other movies, [or] like The Avengers and then Joss Whedon basically becomes the point guy on Avengers II. Joss Whedon is Joss Whedon. He has a whole set of original stories that he wants to do, although it's fun for him to play in the Marvel universe. I can't imagine he's going to spend the next 15 years of his life making Avengers movies.
That's the challenge of getting a distinct filmmaker. Whose vision is the next movie, or movies, going to be in? Is that person going to commit, like a Christopher Nolan did, to essentially eight years of filmmaking, or like Sam Raimi did on the original Spider-Man? I feel like you're going to want some level of consistency there, and the question is, is that person going to be a sort of multi-hyphenate, like a Christopher Nolan or J.J. where they are writers, producers and directors? Or do you go with somebody like Rian Johnson, for example, who is another name I've been reading today? He's got a couple of movies under his belt. He's maybe a movie behind where Christopher Nolan was when they handed him the Batman franchise, but obviously immensely talented and a superfan.
I do think you need someone who is a huge Star Wars fan to take on the mantle. It shouldn't be so much of a fan they're afraid of taking risks, but you want that person who feels like they understand exactly what it means to be carrying the baton for their leg of the relay.
By the time you walk into that theater in 2015 you'll have some sense of what the movie is going to be like. You'll know whether or not some of the original actors are returning. You will have seen the trailer and all that stuff. But it is going to be – I can say this with 100 percent confidence three years out – the biggest event movie in the history of modern cinema. The level of excitement and anticipation about Episode VII is going to be double what it was for Episode I.