Surprising “Star Wars” Shakeup: Episode VII Returns to a Jedi

Marcus Errico
Movie Talk

Luke Skywalker has lost Little Miss Sunshine as his wingman.

In a surprising move Thursday, Lucasfilm announced that Oscar-winning scribe Michael Arndt was out as the screenwriter for the hugely anticipated "Star Wars Episode VII," replaced by the tag-team of Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams, who is also directing.

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"I am very excited about the story we have in place and thrilled to have Larry and J.J. working on the script," Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy wrote on "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."

Despite the screenwriting switcheroo, the sequel remains on schedule to begin shooting next spring at Britain's Pinewood Studios for an expected 2015 release.

The bona fides for Abrams and Kasdan are inarguable. An admitted "Star Wars" fanboy, Abrams leapt at the opportunity to helm the sequel, leaving behind his successful rebooted "Star Trek" franchise. Kasdan, meanwhile, is a longtime ally of George Lucas, having co-written the screenplays for "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," as well as "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Most fans consider "Empire" the pinnacle of the franchise.

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But the bigger mystery is where things went wrong with Arndt. There was no immediate word on why his services were dismissed beyond a cursory mention at the end of Kennedy's statement.

"Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point," she wrote, "and we have an amazing filmmaking and design team in place already prepping for production."

A "Star Wars" scholar (Arndt has lectured widely on the films) with an unmatched résumé — Academy Award for penning "Little Miss Sunshine," a nomination for "Toy Story 3," and this fall's would-be blockbuster "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" in the pipeline — Arndt seemed like a perfect fit.

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He was hired by Lucasfilm even before the company was acquired by Disney and had delivered a 40- to 50-page treatment in 2012 that reportedly envisioned an older Luke, Princess Leia, and Han Solo teaching a new generation of space jockeys.

Earlier this month, George Lucas's son, Jett, said in an interview with Flicks and the City (via Mashable) that his father was "constantly talking" to Abrams about the direction of the new film, and that he had seen the story for Episode VII.

"I already know what happens," he said. "I'm happy with what's going to happen."

Based on today's bombshell, Jett might have been one of the few.