Kathleen Kennedy: The Force Behind Lucasfilm And Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Kathleen Kennedy is a Hollywood powerhouse. She is president of Lucasfilm and producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She is also the mother of two teenage daughters. And it was a pleasure sitting down with her to talk about the new movie and how she manages it all. 

Kathleen Kennedy Lucasfilm
As a mom and a business owner, Kathy Kennedy is the type of woman I would love to sit down and have coffee with regularly. Not only am I certain that she has fascinating stories to tell about people she has worked with and things she has done, but she is also bright and warm and would be a delightful friend and mentor — I am sure of that. 

Of course Kathleen Kennedy had a lot to say about Star Wars: The Force Awakens and casting a female lead, but an important takeaway from the interview for me was what she said about the work/family balance. A question she is asked regularly, she credits her husband as supporting her equally as she also supports him in his career “leap frogging” and shifting responsibilities as needed. And making choices to put her family first “nine and a half out of the ten times.”

What stood out to me most is that when asked about her schedule I learned that she has a hard stop at night so that when she is home, she is home. Not working all night as many of us do. 

The hope is by the time I get home at around 8:30, 9:00 I can pretty much stop.

Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars The Force Awakens Red Carpet
The question on everyone’s mind for Kathleen Kennedy was the decision to cast a female lead, was that an early decision or did it just fall into place that way?

It was right from the beginning. It’s something that J.J. and I started talking about day one. It was really important to us. We both have daughters, so, very important.

To the rest of the world, they are GEORGE LUCAS, STEVEN SPIELBERG, J.J. ABRAMS and BOB IGER. But to Kathleen Kennedy, they are just George, Steven, J.J. and Bob. Not big names, but everyday people, colleagues and likely friends. And I loved hearing Kathleen Kennedy talk about their roles in this movie like they are everyday people, which they really are. 

JJ Abrams Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars

Kathleen Kennedy On Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So what does Star Wars personally mean to you?

What has always been very obvious to me is that George created this from a very strong personal point of view. When he made this movie New Hope in 1977, obviously he was a young man coming out of film school and he had something to say.

He didn’t step into New Hope and decide that he was gonna make some huge blockbuster movie that we would be sitting here 40 years later talking about. So I think that that’s what I’ve always recognized with any of the filmmakers I work with is the really good ones, they wanna find something of themselves as a reason to tell the story. So they’re looking for something that they wanna infuse into the characters and the storytelling and the emotion of the piece. J.J. did the same thing with this movie.

We’ve heard that Bob Iger was pretty involved in the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is that true?

He’s really involved.

At about 2:30 in the afternoon if my phone rang early, it was often Bob. He’d looked at dailies. He just wanted to check in. He was excited about something. He was absolutely involved. He’s been involved in every aspect of marketing. He’s had an absolute blast doing this with us. I think he’s really enjoyed it ’cause I think how often do CEOs of a company really get to touch what’s going on, you know?

They see bits and pieces but they sit at 30,000 feet most of the time, and I think this has been a really wonderful experience for him. And for us, by the way. He’s had lots of contributions that have been great.

Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars
What is your Star Wars story? How did it start for you?

I was actually in film school when I saw Star Wars for the first time. So as you can imagine, it was just jaw-dropping, mind-blowing. Everybody in film school was talking about it. You realize that there was so much possible beyond anything you could imagine once, once we all saw that movie. So it was sort of perfectly timed. I suppose you were either seven or eight or you’re in film school.

Force For Change has done so much to give back and has had a meaningful impact for fans as well. Can you talk a little bit about your involvement?

Yeah, that was really important to us when we started out the process of making the movie. And I might add for J.J. and Bad Robot, Disney, all of us sat down and said, “Okay, we’re, we’re lucky enough to be involved in a franchise that’s gonna generate tremendous goodwill and, you know, huge want to see. What can we do to give back as a part of this phenomenon?” So we sat down very early to start to talk about where that might go.

The idea for calling it Force For Change, I think, was a pretty brilliant one. It came about very early. We’ve spent a bit of time kind of getting our head around what that means and how broad it can be. I sat down with Carol Stern at Unicef. She is brilliant.

She and I just clicked immediately in recognizing that what they were doing with their initiative called Kid Power fit perfectly with some of the objectives that Disney and Lucasfilm had with some of the philanthropy that we were starting to look at. So that was a partnership that we formed almost immediately.


Star Wars Force For Change
With Rogue One wrapping up and The BFG coming down the pipeline, what’s it like shifting gears from this to that? 

The BFG is something that I had spent years off and on developing. Many, many years. And I must say many, many conversations with Steven. I kept saying, “This is really right for you.” And then, of course, within I would say a month after I decided to take over Lucasfilm he called me up and he said, “You know, I read the script again and I really wanna make the movie.” And I was ready to go through the phone and strangle him.

Not only having Steven involved in this but the fact that technology has caught up with making the film is really quite spectacular. What he’s doing with this is gonna be pretty mind-blowing. And very emotional. Sadly we had Melissa Mathison pass away recently. She wrote the script and she did E.T., and so I think people are gonna be incredibly pleased with how this movie turns out.

What is it about J.J. Abrams that makes him the perfect director for this movie?

I think there’s very few directors who have the bandwidth, if you will, that somebody like J.J. has. I think Steven’s an example. George is an example. There’s certain filmmakers where just who they are as a person, the exuberance, the childlike quality, the sense of humor. That just the understanding of what it is to just be delighted by entertaining stories and movies.

And I think J.J.’s very definitely one of those filmmakers. He just accesses every beat of the storytelling process in a way that you feel that he’s always connected to the audience, whether they’re seven or 700. He just has that unique ability. He made it such a fun experience. He’s meticulous about story. He’s meticulous about the technical aspect of making the movie.

But he makes it a totally inclusive, really fun experience on the set. And I remember all the years I worked with Steven, he used to always say that that kind of energy in the creative process gets translated to the screen. And I think that that’s very much what J.J. does as well.

Tell us a little bit about George Lucas and his involvement in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The interesting thing is early in the process I said to him, “You know, so there’s a lot to absorb here, George. How do we go about doing that? Are things written down? Is, is there…?” He said, “No! It’s in my head!” And so realizing that so much of it was in his head meant that there had to be a lot of discussion, and that’s what we all started doing right from the beginning.

We created this kind of brain trust where certain people within Lucasfilm who had been there for a long time with George and had worked with him day in and day out in the storytelling process or say inside of I.L.M. with creative visuals and production design and artwork and what not. So we started pulling all of those people together and then added into that some new people and and tried to get as much out of his head as we possibly could for as long as we could before he retired.

And my favorite moment of the entire interview was when Kathleen Kennedy was asked about a takeaway for girls from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Without ruining the movie I’m gonna tell you that your daughters are gonna be so excited. This character of Rey is one of the most wonderful heroines to come along in movie history. I mean, she is great. So I think they’re gonna be very happy. They’re gonna have their own Luke Skywalker now. Let’s put it that way.

I can hardly wait to take my daughters! 


Star Wars: The Force Awakens Opens In Theaters December 18

Do you have your tickets yet?

For more Star Wars: The Force Awakens coverage, don’t miss my previous posts. And stay tuned for more Star Wars all week.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

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