Lucasfilm co-chair Kathleen Kennedy convinced J.J. Abrams to do ‘Star Wars’

Movie Talk

The Force is strong with this one.

Last November, J.J. Abrams went more or less on record as saying that he wasn't going to direct "Star Wars; Episode VII." As of last week, he is.

So what changed his mind -- like, really? The persuasive powers of producer Kathleen Kennedy apparently had a lot to do with the Bad Robot mogul's turn to the Dark Side.

Kennedy, Steven Spielberg's trusted collaborator and confidante since way back during the "E.T." days, was named the co-chair of Lucasfilm when the production company was acquired by Disney last year. She was also named as the go-to producer of the company for at least the next five years, which means she'll be overlooking all aspects of "Episode VII."

Kennedy wanted Abrams for the job. He was, after all, the kid who won a Super 8 moviemaking contest at the age of 14, which prompted Spielberg to hire the wide-eyed teenager to restore his own childhood Super 8 films. And he seemed to know what he was doing with that whole other sci-fi franchise he brought back to life, "Star Trek." But Abrams' agent said he was too deeply entrenched in the new "Trek" and about four hundred TV projects to even consider doing "Star Wars."

Nonetheless, Abrams agreed to meet with Kennedy at Bad Robot on December 14, with Kennedy summarizing her pitch as, simply, "Please do 'Star Wars,'" according to a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. She told him that Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine") was writing the screenplay and that longtime Jedi master Lawrence Kasdan (who penned both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi") had signed on as a consultant. Apparently, Abrams "was flipping out when he found out that Michael and Larry were on the movie already."

(Arndt at least was confirmed for "Star Wars" on November 9 ... did Abrams really not know that until December 14? Boy, he really is busy all the time!)

Five days later, Kennedy, Arndt and Abrams met secretly for a three-hour discussion about how "Star Wars" is so great and important and all that (a meeting during which perhaps a handful of Jedi mind tricks were performed). Abrams was "just on the ceiling when I walked out the door," according to Kennedy.

Well, maybe not "flipping out" and "on the ceiling" -- producers tend to exaggerate. But Abrams was definitely now interested.

"I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is," said Abrams to The Hollywood Reporter, as some -- but not all -- of his reservations were dispelled. "The thing about any pre-existing franchise -- I'd sort of done that," he said. "But when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing."

Abrams didn't commit to anything for another month, telling associates until the bitter end that he wasn't officially attached to directing the project. Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, he signed on the "Star Wars" line on January 25.

So Abrams is officially on board, apparently thanks mostly to the person who is now his producer. Now, just how realistic is that planned 2015 release date for "Episode VII"? Abrams is, after all, the guy who took four years to make a sequel to "Star Trek" ... though it seems that Disney and Lucasfilm may have been overambitious with that projected time period regardless.

"Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we'll see what happens," said Kennedy. "The timetable we care about is getting the story."

"Star Wars: Episode VII" will hit theaters someday. In the interim, we have Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness" opening May 17.