The Force Awakens Lucasfilm: The Kennedy Era


Aug 11, 2008
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Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy on 'Star Wars,' 'Lincoln' and Secret J.J. Abrams Meetings (THR Exclusive)

The Woman Behind Star Wars - Star Wars has a new Emperor, and her name is Kathleen Kennedy.

Lucy O'Brien said:
For a moment, let’s forget about screenwriter Michael Arndt or the number of potential Episode VII directors bouncing around the rumour mill. The head creatives on the next Star Wars project are, if you’ll forgive the obvious allegory, the Darth Vaders of the franchise; the talented henchmen. Look beyond them and you’ll see Kathleen Kennedy, the one who holds the future of the franchise in her hands. Star Wars’ new Emperor, if you will.

For many casual moviegoers, the name doesn’t immediately evoke one of the most important people in the movie business today. Although Kennedy has played an intrinsic part in some of the most popular blockbusters from the last thirty years, she’s rarely in the spotlight, traditionally playing second fiddle to her frequent partner-in-crime, Steven Spielberg. She’s also a producer, and - let’s face it - producers are usually thought of as faceless Hollywood ‘suits,’ those who dot the i’s and cross the t’s behind the scenes.

But what’s so remarkable about Kennedy is her nose for good working partnerships and terrific stories. Alongside Lucas and Spielberg, she’s worked with Clint Eastwood, Robert Zemeckis, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese. She’s produced some of the greatest movies of all time, paving the way for the modern blockbuster. She’s also one of the most respected figures amongst her peers in Tinseltown, ranking #31 on Entertainment Weekly's ‘The 50 Smartest People in Hollywood’ in 2007.

So in the interests of keeping a keen eye on the evolution of George Lucas’ gift of a franchise - and it is indeed a gift - here’s all you need to know about Kathleen Kennedy.

The ‘80s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg

Kennedy caught Steven Spielberg’s eye while working as a production assistant on 1941. The director brought her on as his personal associate on 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was also her first collaboration with Lucas. During the period, she, Spielberg, and her future husband Frank Marshall formed Amblin Entertainment, the production company now synonymous with Spielberg and his close-knit buddy-buddy group of contemporaries.

For Kennedy and Marshall, it was remarkable timing. They may not have known it, but Spielberg’s star was about to soar into the stratosphere thanks to 1982’s E.T., for which Kennedy gained her first production credit. At the time, Kennedy was crippled with nerves – after all, she’d only had a couple of experiences on big-scale productions – and was violently ill with the stress. But E.T. was a resounding success, grossing just short of $800 million and nabbing Kennedy her first Academy Award nomination at age 29. Nerves, schmerves.

Spielberg, Kennedy and Marshall grew to become a powerhouse triumvirate in Hollywood. For many of us who grew up during the day-glo decade into the ‘90s, Kennedy, Spielberg and Marshall were entwined with our childhoods, whether we knew it or not. Gremlins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook, Back to the Future, *Batteries Not Included, An American Tail, The Land Before Time and The Goonies were amongst their early theatrical offerings. And on the small screen? The remarkable Amazing Stories, Tiny Toon Adventures, SeaQuest DSV, and Animaniacs. To this day, the production company holds onto a slightly dangerous and edgy ‘80s sensibility, particularly in its family fare. It’s telling that 2011’s nostalgic sci-fi romp Super 8 was produced by Amblin.

Although Kennedy branched away from the company in 1991, she continued to work with Spielberg on both his big commercial hits and his smaller, more personal films. The Temple of Doom (again, with Lucas), The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Munich, The Lost World, A.I., War of the Worlds, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Lucas), Tintin and War Horse were all directed by Spielberg and produced, or executive produced, by Kennedy. Their latest collaboration, Lincoln, is currently screening in cinemas, and looks like it’ll be another big-hitter at next year’s Academy Awards.

The Kennedy/Marshall Company

It was through the Kennedy/Marshall Company, formed in 1991, that Kennedy and her husband were able to carve out identities away from Spielberg. She’s always cited her attraction to great stories above all, and the Kennedy/Marshall filmography can lay claims to a handful of the boldest mainstream hits of the last ten years. Their prestige reached new heights in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, and continued to grow through the new decade with The Bourne Identity (2002), Seabiscuit (2003), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

Amongst the American Oscar-bait and slick action flicks, Kennedy found time to focus on more intimate projects, bringing prestige pics like French biopic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and art-house animation Persepolis into fruition. The Kennedy/Marshall Company is also responsible for the American versions of two recent Studio Ghibli productions, Ponyo and The Secret World of Arriety.

Together, the duo has brought over 90 films to the big screen. In terms of box office domestic box office receipts, Kennedy is second only to one. Spielberg.


In June 2012, Kennedy was named co-chair of Lucasfilm. Considering Kennedy/Marshall had just signed a lucrative deal at CBS, it was a move that befuddled many. Why would one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood leave her own baby to sign on as co-chair to a company the CEO of which seemed to be shuffling his way towards retirement?

And then came the $4.05 billion Disney acquisition, announced last month. Lucas stepped down, Kathy was named President, and now has full control over the future of the lucrative franchise. Considering their close working relationship, one can only assume that Kennedy and Lucas began discussions well before work on Lincoln began, and indeed, that the Disney deal was always a part of these discussions. The Disney/Lucas revelation rollout is still ongoing. But one thing is for certain: George Lucas has complete faith in Kathleen Kennedy.

“I don’t have to give advice to Kathy,” he said, during the most recent of his chat series with the producer. “She knows what to do. I mean, she knows better than I do.

“She has all the qualities to run a company like this. To make it great.”

Kennedy has kept her cards close to her chest since the announcement. But if we look back at some of her most recent interviews, it’s clear she’s got a firm grasp of today’s landscape. “I do think the movie industry is changing” she said in an interview with Collider, after the recent release of E.T. on Blu-ray. “I’ve been doing this a long time, I love it but I really want to know where this is all going, where the creative process is going. Some of the things that are going on with distribution online… across many different platforms and in a wide variety of formats, I actually see as a good thing. I think it’s very exciting. That’s what’s intriguing to me; hopefully being at the forefront of figuring out what that might be.”

In Kennedy we trust?

In Kennedy we trust.
George Lucas Claims He’s Ready to Retire from Blockbuster Filmmaking
“I’m retiring. I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.”
From /film Friday, June 1st, 2012:
Kathleen Kennedy Named as Co-Chair and Successor to George Lucas at Lucasfilm [Updated]
Germain Lussier said:
Ever since George Lucas finished his Star Wars prequel trilogy, he’s said he’d like to return to the movies of his formative years. Small, experimental films in the vein of his student films and THX 1138. He sort of did that with Red Tails, a film he’d been wanting to make for a long, long time but it certainly wasn’t experimental, small, or particulaly good.

Now, it seems he’s finally going to really make that leap. In an upcoming interview with Empire Magazine (what isn’t in this upcoming issue?) Lucas says that he’s going to be “moving away” from his company, LucasFilm, to concentrate on making those kind of movies. Sounds like that retirement is finally going to happen. Read his quote and more below.

Update: Kathleen Kennedy has been named co-chair at Lucasfilm. She’ll leave the Kennedy/Marshall Co to run Lucasfilm. George Lucas will remain CEO and co-chair of the board at Lucasfilm, but Kennedy will be in charge day-to-day. A press release from Lucasfilm has been added after the break.

The pointed out the quote from the preview of the new issue of Empire:
I’m moving away from the company, I’m moving away from all my businesses, I’m finishing all my obligations and I’m going to retire to my garage with my saw and hammer and build hobby movies. I’ve always wanted to make movies that were more experimental in nature, and not have to worry about them showing in movie theatres.
That’s a hell of a declarative statement and I, for one, say “Bravo George.” I really hope he does it this time. No matter how you feel about the prequels, in recent months it’s become increasingly obvious that he needs to get away from the game and if spending his time in a garage making small movies for YouTube or whatever is going to make him happy, then do that.

Of course, everyone will quickly ask what “finishings all my obligations” to LucasFilm means for not only the Star Wars TV show but a fifth Indiana Jones movie, for which Lucas is the sole person who needs to sign on. As a fan of both franchises, I say, let it go. I’m fine with things just the way they are and have felt that way since the second I walked out of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Update: Here’s the press release announcing Kathleen Kennedy’s new position:
SAN FRANCISCO-Lucasfilm Ltd. today announced that Kathleen Kennedy will become Co-Chair of Lucasfilm. In an effort to move forward with his retirement plans, George Lucas will work with Kathleen Kennedy to transition into her new role. Lucas will become Co-Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm and continue as CEO. Micheline Chau will remain as President and COO of Lucasfilm, and continue to focus on the day-to-day operations of the business.

“I’ve spent my life building Lucasfilm and as I shift my focus into other directions I wanted to make sure it was in the hands of someone equipped to carry my vision into the future,” said George Lucas. “It was important that my successor not only be someone with great creative passion and proven leadership abilities, but also someone who loves movies. I care deeply about my employees—it is their creativity and hard work that has made this company what it is today. As the company grows and expands I wanted to be sure the employees of Lucasfilm have a strong captain for the ship. I also care deeply about our fans and it was important to have someone who would carry on the passion and care that I’ve given the films over the years. So for me Kathy was the obvious choice, she is a trusted friend and one of the most respected producers and executives in the industry.”

Director Steven Spielberg said, “George’s prescience is once again proven by his choice of my long time producing partner, Kathy Kennedy to co-chair Lucasfilm. Kathy has been a member of both of our families going into a fourth decade so it does not feel like she is going to another galaxy far far away. She will get just as much support from me with Lucasfilm as George has given both of us all these years.”

“George is a true visionary,” said Kathleen Kennedy. “I’ve seen him build Lucasfilm from a small rebel unit in Northern California to an international fully integrated entertainment company. I’m excited to have the chance to work with such an extraordinary group of talented people. George and I have talked about the enormous opportunities that lie ahead for the company, and as George moves towards retirement I am honored that he trusts me with taking care of the beloved film franchises. I feel fortunate to have George working with me for the next year or two as I take on this role—it is nice to have Yoda by your side.”

Seven-time Academy Award nominated Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most successful and esteemed producers and executives in the film industry. As a producer she has an impeccable record with a robust filmography working with such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher and Gary Ross. As a testament to her standing in the film community, she previously held the position of governor and officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees. She is also a former President of the Producers Guild of America.

Kathleen will step down from her role at The Kennedy/Marshall Company, shifting her responsibilities to partner Frank Marshall. The Kennedy/Marshall Company is currently in post production on LINCOLN, directed by long time collaborator Steven Spielberg whom Kennedy also produced for on the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC PARK franchises, and THE BOURNE LEGACY, written and directed by Tony Gilroy and produced by Marshall. Under the Kennedy/Marshall banner, the pair has produced such Academy Award nominated Best Picture films as WAR HORSE (six nominations), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (thirteen nominations) THE SIXTH SENSE, (six nominations) and SEABISCUIT (seven nominations), as well as blockbusters including the BOURNE series and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Marshall will oversee the company’s current slate of projects and continue to expand it via their development deals with DreamWorks and CBS TV Studios.
I'm excited for the Kennedy era. I think George picked the right person to handle things.
I agree. The Kennedy era of Star Wars has already been injected with new life. Much needed life and energy. It's going to be exciting to see where they take the franchise.

My wallet not excited.
Although you included the link on top, you forgot to quote the article, Gabe.

On how Kennedy got JJ to do Star Wars:

Kennedy already had called Beth Swofford, Abrams’ CAA agent, and been told Abrams was too deeply engaged in the next Star Trek movie and other obligations at Paramount — not to mention innumerable television projects — to consider the job. Nonetheless, Abrams agreed to meet with Kennedy on Dec. 14 at his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica. Famously plain-spoken, she summarizes her pitch like this: “Please do Star Wars.” And she had cards to play. Not only was Oscar winner Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) writing the script, but Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote 1980′s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983′s Return of the Jedi, was on board to consult. Abrams “was flipping out when he found out that Michael and Larry were on the movie already,” says Kennedy.

Abrams tells THR, “I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is.” Some — but not all — of his reservations were dispelled. “The thing about any pre-existing franchise — I’d sort of done that,” he says. “But when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing.”

Kennedy, Abrams and the writers met secretly for about three hours Dec. 19, and “J.J. was just on the ceiling when I walked out the door,” she recalls. But still, she says, Abrams had “very genuine concerns” about his obligations elsewhere and the impact on his wife and three kids, given the likelihood that the film would not be shot in Los Angeles. And then there was the unique nature of the franchise. “If there was any pause on J.J.’s part, it was the same pause everybody has — including myself — stepping into this,” she says. “Which is, it’s daunting.”

Indeed, the six Star Wars films have grossed more than $4.3 billion at the worldwide box office and spawned an empire that includes TV spinoffs like The Clone Wars, books, theme park rides and, of course, merchandise sales. Disney has said Lucasfilm generated about $215 million in licensing revenue in 2012 without having released a Star Wars-related movie in five years. Managed correctly, Star Wars by far is the most valuable franchise in Hollywood, making Kennedy — its new steward — one of the most powerful figures in entertainment.

So Kennedy had to do what she does so well: put one of the industry’s most prominent directors at ease. And she’s known Abrams since he was 14, when Spielberg had read an article about him winning a Super 8 moviemaking contest and hired the future director to restore his own childhood Super 8 videos. “We spent a lot of time talking about how meaningful Star Wars is and the depth of the mythology that George has created and how we carry that into the next chapter,” she says. Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, the deal closed the afternoon of Jan. 25. To the bitter end, Abrams was telling associates that he still wasn’t fully committed to directing the project. But Kennedy is confident that he will be in the chair when the cameras roll. She is less clear that the first film in the new trilogy will be ready by 2015. “Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we’ll see what happens,” says Kennedy. “The timetable we care about is getting the story.”

Originally posted on
After the rule of two being too confusing for them to follow in the Clone Wars, I fear that other little details such as that will simply be phased out of continuity. I enjoy a good Sith as much as the next guy, but come on...

And yes, I know that at least after the events of VI the rule is no longer in practice; I was just using that as an example since they broke it during a time that it was still practiced.
After the rule of two being too confusing for them to follow in the Clone Wars, I fear that other little details such as that will simply be phased out of continuity. I enjoy a good Sith as much as the next guy, but come on...

And yes, I know that at least after the events of VI the rule is no longer in practice; I was just using that as an example since they broke it during a time that it was still practiced.

The Rule of Two has been perfectly observed...Ventress was never an Official Apprentice, only an Assassin, Maul & Savage have acted alone on their own...Even now Maul will do the bidding of Sidious, but not to replace Dooku...
After the rule of two being too confusing for them to follow in the Clone Wars, I fear that other little details such as that will simply be phased out of continuity. I enjoy a good Sith as much as the next guy, but come on...

And yes, I know that at least after the events of VI the rule is no longer in practice; I was just using that as an example since they broke it during a time that it was still practiced.

Like someone else said...the rule is being followed in the Clone Wars. Maul and his brother may call themselves Sith, but Maul is delusional. So you can't really take him at his word. :) Sidious and Dooku are the only "official" sith.
Disney Takes Control of 'Indiana Jones' Franchise
Disney and Paramount have reached an agreement for the future of the Indiana Jones franchise, giving Disney control over all future films.
Rebecca Ford said:
Disney and Paramount have reached an agreement for the future of the Indiana Jones franchise, giving Disney control over all future films.

Paramount retains rights to the first four films and "will receive a financial participation on any future films that are produced and released," says the statement from the studios.

The Walt Disney Co. completed its acquisition of Lucasfilm, the moviemaking company founded by George Lucas, in December 2012 for a cash payment of $2.21 billion and just under 37.1 million Disney shares.

The first four adventure films in the Harrison Ford-starring franchise -- 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- were all directed by Steven Spielberg and distributed by Paramount.

More to come...
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Wow I just assumed Disney already had Indy.
They had the character/franchise, just not the movies.
I wonder if they'll ever ressurrect this studio, aside from Star Wars and Indiana Jones now and then, they barelly do a high profile film since the 90s
Film and TV Now - Lawrence Kasdan, Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars: The Force Awakens SDCC 2015 Interview

Kathleen Kennedy said:
The Saga films focus on the Skywalker family saga. The stories follow a linear narrative that connects to the previous six films. The Force Awakens follows Return of the Jedi and continues that generational story. The Anthology films offer opportunities to explore fresh characters, new storylines and a variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe.
Kathleen Kennedy said:
What George was trying to explore in his storytelling, [everyone involved, from the Lucasfilm staff to the individual artists is] equally interested in exploring. And then they bring their own personal point of view to it and their own personal passion. Because if you don't have that, then the decisions you're making along the way aren't authentic. So that's why it lasted, and I hope that that's why it will continue to last, because that's the important piece that we are trying to carry on: the legacy that George created.
Kathleen Kennedy said:
There are people in this company who are like walking encyclopedias. So I immersed myself initially by sitting down with many of them to just talk about what it was we were going to begin to do. And I had George at my beck and call for almost six months. And he did say to me, ‘You know, so much is in my head.' So I spent as much time as I could just picking his brain and asking him questions and really just trying to understand fundamentally what the values were that George personally brought to Star Wars.

Fortune - How the Star Wars producer went from secretary to studio boss

Fortune - Most of the story team for the next Star Wars film is female
I can already hear the MRA's going crazy.
I can already hear the MRA's going crazy.

To be fair, the people who called for the boycott of Fury Road (or to be more specific, blogger Aaron Clarey on the website Return Of Kings) are not MRAs; in fact they have been rather critical of the movement. They are more Pick-Up Artists than anything. In fact, YouTube personality Sargon of Akkad asked actual MRAs on Twitter if they had any issues with Fury Road, and most of them said that they liked it or were neutral. Not defending Return Of Kings, just thought I'd clear the air a bit.

Also Kathleen was the quarterback on her high school football team? I like her even more now.
US Weekly - Star Wars The Force Awakens Producer Answers Your Burning Questions

Us: With Rey, this film is also the first in the series to have a female character in the central role. Was that important to you?

KK: Yes! In fact, I am such a hero with my teenage daughters. They’re like, “Mom, this is fantastic!” Again, these kinds of questions and issues shouldn’t be huge factors in our society any longer. It’s kind of amazing that these conversations that I remember certainly taking place at the beginning of my career many, many years ago, and even things I talked about with my own mother, are still occurring. It is quite staggering that we’re still having to make a big deal out of the fact that there’s a female protagonist.

Fortune - Kathy Kennedy at the Most Powerful Women Summit 2015

(October 13, 2015)

Kathleen Kennedy (2:06): The fact that that opportunity was afforded me, it's really put me in a position to make decisions that affect a lot of the women that I work with today, that I think has made a huge difference. I mean, the fact that I can sit in a meeting and say, "I think the protagonist should be a woman," I think that those are the kind of changes that are really really important in our business...

Kathleen Kennedy (8:14): Well one of the things, I mean the fact that the company was bought by the Walt Disney Company has been amazing because they very much support the fact that we are trying to grow in the workforce a number of women in executive positions and in all positions inside the company and with the movies that we're making and with the protagonists that we're putting in the stories. And so I got a huge amount of support with that. But we have 50% of our executive team are women. And six out of eight of the people in my story group are women. And I'm sure there's a lot of people that would be surprised that we're making Star Wars movies and the majority of the people involved in the development of those stories are women. And I think that it's making a huge difference in the stories that we're trying to tell.

Kathleen Kennedy (10:40): [The new female lead character] is one of the first things J.J. [Abrams] and I talked about and that we talked to [Walt Disney Studios Chairman] Alan Horn about. It was a very early decision and a choice and something that we worked a long time developing. I think the interesting path we've had is the conversation that took place around consumer products because there were a lot of companies that were in place who frankly didn't initially feel that Star Wars was for girls. And when you have a company situation where between Lucasfilm and Disney we were all looking at this situation and saying, "No, with Star Wars we have to change this. We have to make sure that we create products that are in a sense appealing to both boys and girls. What's wrong with that?"
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