This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away from Hollywood (San Francisco’s Bay Area), four men and one woman set out to crack the story for Star Wars 3.0.
It was around Christmastime 2012 when Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan, Simon Kinberg, Pablo Hidalgo and Kiri Hart converged for the first time in an office at Big Rock Ranch in Marin — the 1,000-acre spread George Lucas built next to his beloved Skywalker Ranch — to carry out an initial brainstorming session. Over the next month, they began creating the framework for Episodes VII, VIII and IX as well as such spinoffs as Rogue One.
Their credentials ran the gamut. Arndt is an Oscar-winning writer (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), while Kinberg is the tentpole maven behind such scripts as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Hart leads Lucasfilm’s story group, while her colleague Hidalgo is the man responsible for keeping the franchise’s labyrinthine mythology consistent and is said to know more about the Star Wars universe than Lucas himself. Kasdan served as the group’s only original Star Wars trilogy alum (he wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark).
“It didn’t really begin with much of an agenda other than to put a bunch of people in a room who love Star Wars and are storytellers and see what stories come out of it,” recalls Kinberg.
The first session lasted a week, with days typically beginning with a group breakfast at the Inn at Skywalker Ranch and wrapping around 5 p.m. The quintet relied upon only the previous six movies and the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series as official canon, ignoring the decades-worth of stories from hundreds of assorted novels, comic books and video games. Lunch was brought in from campus eateries within Skywalker Ranch — world-renowned chef Alice Waters and her team trained the food staff, who use organic herbs and vegetables from Skywalker Ranch’s garden, the 4,700-acre creative oasis that includes lakes, vineyards and a working farm.
Under tight security, the group was insular — with the exception of three or four additional story group executives typically on hand. “It was very collaborative, with all these conversations taking place around a big whiteboard,” remembers Hart. “It was very much about putting ideas up on the board and exploring together. There were millions of things that we bounced around and abandoned.”
In those early days, the group would meet for a day here and a day there but sometimes for an intense five-day stretch. “The dynamic was in many ways like a TV writers room, where you have writers breaking story, knowing many of the main characters from the original trilogy but not knowing where their story may go,” adds Kinberg.
The group continued to meet in the Bay Area over the weeks that followed, sometimes at Skywalker Ranch and other times at Big Rock or an office at Industrial Light & Magic’s campus in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would drop in occasionally. Surprisingly, Lucas never made a cameo.
Not long after director J.J. Abrams boarded in January 2013, the meetings began to shift to his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica or to Kennedy’s offices in The Kennedy/Marshall Co., just blocks away. Abrams became the driving force in the process and started working one-on-one with Arndt. Kasdan, who eventually replaced Arndt as Force Awakens‘ primary writer, and Kinberg would get involved again for short spurts. But nothing that followed quite replicated those early days of three writers (Arndt, Kasdan and Kinberg), and two executives (Hart and Hidalgo) working together as a close-knit team.
“It felt a little bit like being at camp in the best possible way,” says Hart. “It was like we removed ourselves from everything else and just talked about this thing that we all loved. It really was the best possible creative room.”
Read more from THR’s Star Wars issue:
- How ‘Star Wars’ Will Change Hollywood (Again)
- Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy on What George Lucas Thinks of ‘Force Awakens,’ Rivalry With Husband Frank Marshall
- The “Jackie Robinson of Jedis”: ‘Black-ish’ Creator Anoints ‘Star Wars’ Star John Boyega
- An Oscar-Winning Composer’s Ode to John Williams and the ‘Star Wars’ Score (Guest Column)
- ‘Star Wars’ Flashback: When No Theater Wanted to Show the Movie in 1977
- Furbacca and the Rest of the $5B ‘Star Wars’ Merchandise Bonanza
- When ‘Star Wars’ Script Was First Shopped: Read the Surprising Memo