It seemed like things were trucking along nicely on the next Star Wars movie. Key personnel were in place for Episode VII, which was on track for a 2015 release. But it’s just been announced that writer Michael Arndt has been taken off the project, and the screenplay will now be co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and the film’s director, J.J. Abrams.
This comes as a surprise. Arndt has an impeccable background, having won an Academy Award for his Little Miss Sunshine screenplay, followed by a nomination for another Oscar for his script for Toy Story 3. An avowed Star Wars fan, it seemed like Arndt “got it” and with the approval of Star Wars creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy and Abrams, all systems seemed to be go.
Now comes the news that Arndt’s gotten the old heave-ho. Naturally, Lucasfilm put a happy spin on the news. “I am very excited about the story we have in place and thrilled to have Larry and J.J. working on the script,” Kennedy stated in a press release. “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.”
But the announcement of his replacements comes as a good news-bad news scenario for a small-but-vocal group.
The response online, in social media and on sci-fi/genre film websites, is predictably positive about Kasdan. This is not a surprise because he wrote the screenplay for what is considered by many of the franchise’s fans to be the best film in the series—Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back. He also wrote the scripts for Return of the Jedi (also liked, but not as much due to Ewoks, etc.) and another little Lucasfilm production you may have heard of, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Abrams is another story. There is a small-but-vocal faction of hard-core sci-fi/Star Wars fans who are not fans of Abrams, nooooooooo sir. They resented his “lens-flare”-heavy, continuity-trashing (but financially successful) reboot of the Star Trek franchise, as well as his work on genre TV shows, particularly the much-misunderstood Lost.
These Abrams haters don’t hesitate to express their venom at any mention of the director, who actually established himself in Hollywood as a writer, initially with TV shows such as Felicity, Alias and—to a lesser extent—Lost and Fringe.
The vocal minority point to Abrams’ last screenplay, the Steven Spielberg-influenced Super 8, as evidence of Abrams’ shaky writing skills.
Only time will tell if Kasdan and Abrams can pen a tale that will win over Star Wars’ fans, but one thing is sure: as I wrote in my defense of Abrams after he was announced as the project’s director, all of the vocal haters who actively dislike any news of Abrams’ continuing rise in Hollywood will all be camped out to see the new Star Wars movie in 2015 so they can see it on opening day—even just to hate it.
And then they’ll go back and see it again. And again. And buy it on Blu-ray. Just to make sure they hate it.