Disney CEO Bob Iger shed some light about the meetings that took place with Star Wars creator George Lucas and the possible direction The Force Awakens and the sequel trilogy could go. Iger detailed the exchange of ideas in his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.” Lucas had many ideas regarding where the new trilogy can start like having Luke Skywalker train a new Jedi in Episode VII. He also wanted to shift the focus to the “microbiotic world” and explore creatures call the Whills before having Luke train Leia in Episode IX.
At least one of the ideas was taken, but Lucas, as a creative consultant, was pushed out of The Force Awakens as Disney was not contractually obligated to use his ideas.
Early on, Kathy [Kennedy] brought J.J. [Abrams] and Michael Arndt up to Northern California to meet with George at his ranch and talk about their ideas for the film. George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren’t using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations.
The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan [Horn, Disney’s film chief], and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded.
When Lucas spoke about the encounter in Vanity Fair, he didn’t mince words, but respected their decision in going a different direction for Star Wars since he sold his company Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012.
“The issue was ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, ‘We want to make something for the fans.’ People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems – it’s not about spaceships. So they decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, ‘Fine.’
They weren’t that keen to have me involved anyway. But at the same time, I said if I get in there I’m just going to cause trouble. Because they’re not going to do what I want them to do. And I don’t have the control to do that anymore. All I would do is muck everything up. So I said, ‘Okay, I will go my way, and I’ll let them go their way.’”
Iger, Kennedy, and Abrams decided to go with the direction as planned for The Force Awakens and commented how Lucas was less than impressed.
Just prior to the global release, Kathy screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. “There’s nothing new,” he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, “There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.” He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars. We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do. Looking back with the perspective of several years and a few more Star Wars films, I believe J.J. achieved the near-impossible, creating a perfect bridge between what had been and what was to come.
While Lucas criticized The Force Awakens as not being new enough, it did introduce new worlds, stories and characters with many references to the original trilogy. Ironically, Lucas made a similar creative decision on the Star Wars prequels in referencing and banking on nostalgia to integrate his new stories as much as possible. Despite his misgivings about The Force Awakens, he did enjoy The Last Jedi.