In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, writer/filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan discusses his time on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi along with his co-writing chores on the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens film. He talks about his history with Lucas, the Darth Vader as Luke’s father question, and will Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) return to the new Star Wars franchise. Read on to find out!
How did you first get involved with Star Wars, back in the day?
Lawrence Kasdan: I had just written Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was my first job in Hollywood, and I gave the script to George. And he said, “Will you write The Empire Strikes Back?” George had hired Leigh Brackett to do a draft of Empire, and she was not well. Do you know anything about her? She was an amazing person. She has a credit on The Big Sleep, and she was one of the first female science-fiction pulp people. She was a big writer, important writer. [Her other screenplay credits include Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.] I don’t know all the things that happened [with Brackett’s draft of The Empire Strikes Back], but when George got it, it was nothing like what he wanted. It’s very hard to get into his head; I turned out to be able to get into his head a lot.
Anyway, Leigh Brackett died while I was writing Raiders. So when I went and handed George Raiders, he said, “Let’s go out to lunch,” and we went out to lunch. He said, “Will you write Empire Strikes Back?” And I was like, “Don’t you want to read Raiders of the Lost Ark?” And he said, “Well, I’m going to read it tonight. And if I don’t like it, I’m going to call you up tomorrow and take back this offer.” But he liked it, and Steven [Spielberg] liked it. And I immediately started working on Empire. They were already building sets, I think, in England. Irvin Kershner was going to direct it. So that became this very highly energized, totally fun thing. George was so much fun to work with, and hilarious, too. And we just sort of really wrote that fast with Kersh.
When you started working on the new film with J.J. Abrams, to what extent did you bring along your understanding of George’s ideas and intentions about Star Wars?
I think I did have a strong sense of George and George’s journey over those years. We weren’t really involved after Jedi. But before that, we were, very deeply involved. He even helped me get Body Heat made, which was my first movie [as a writer-director, released in 1981]. He was very supportive of that. So we were very close and then we sort of didn’t have much to do with each other for a long time. But my experiences with him had all been very positive and my favorite memories of him were this period of Empire and Jedi, which I came back, after Body Heat, and did for him. He was, again, in a situation where they didn’t have a script and I came in and worked with him and Richard Marquand. So I’m very much infused with the best of George, which was funny and inventive and obviously changed movies forever.
What was it like coming back to Luke, Leia, and Han and writing those characters again, picking up their threads after 30 years?
That’s just fun because they’re around my age. Carrie is a little younger, Mark is my age [66; Hamill is actually 63], and Harrison is a little older. So since we’ve treated it as 30 years passing in the film, there’s no artificiality about that. You get to infuse them to the extent that you can with your experience of 30 years on.
You wrote and directed The Big Chill, which certainly touches on that subject—time passing, youth in the rear-view mirror. Did you draw on that at all when you were working on episode VII?
I think everything that I’ve ever directed and written is about that in one way or another. And I’ll tell you something, I’ve got three grandchildren now and that theme just comes up every day. How am I affecting them? Is my experience of any use to them? Do they give a shit? I’ve just been reading a lot of Dennis Lehane. He’s obsessed with the same things that I am: fathers and sons and passing on wisdom; the inability to gain wisdom, which is really what interests me; and death, which defines all our life.
This may be a corny question, but have you ever thought about revisiting The Big Chill characters?
Well, it’s been suggested many, many times. I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I would like—I don’t know.
Going back to The Empire Strikes Back, I’ve heard different versions of whether or not Lucas always intended that Darth Vader would be Luke’s father. Someone recently told me there was an early draft of the script where Luke’s father was an entirely different character and showed up at some point in the film. Is that true?
The geek world, the scholars of Stars Wars, can tell you what scripts exist. I do not know. I’ve heard that. But what I know is when I came in to Empire and when I actually started to work, George said, “You know, Darth is Luke’s father.” And I said, “No shit?” So it was a total surprise to me and I thought wonderful. That to me was when the whole thing got really interesting and I thought, This thing’s going to be so much more complicated than I thought. It’s going to speak to things that I relate to very strongly and everybody who’s had to deal with their issues with their father, and this is really a mythic presentation of those things. And we’ve seen since then endless world catastrophes based on father problems. That’s why I think the saga is always going to be so interesting.
And this new movie, first of all, it’s turning out really great. J.J. directed it so beautifully, and it’s so exhilarating and everything. It’s a big movie. It’s full of wonderful stuff, incident and character stuff and jokes and effects. One of the things that we always refocus on from the get-go was that it not be one of these very long, bloated blockbusters. A lot of very entertaining movies lately are too long. In the last 20 minutes, you think, why isn’t this over? We didn’t want to make a movie like that. I mean, we were really aiming to have it be—when it’s over you’ll say, “I wish there’s more.” Or, “Wait, is it over?” Because how rarely you get that feeling nowadays, and I think we’re headed there. But it means that there will be constant critical looking at it from now to the end, saying, “Do we need this? Do we need that? Is it better if this comes out, even though we love it?” Killing your darlings.
Are we ever going to see Lando Calrissian again in a Star Wars movie?
Right now, there’s no Lando Calrissian in this movie. But Lando I don’t think is finished in any way, shape, or form.
Source: Bruce Handy via Vanity Fair