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Lucasfilm has made its official announcement and issued a statement addressing that writer Michael Arndt is no longer working on the Episode VII screenplay. That word processing task is now on the desktops of director J.J. Abrams (who's original 9-to-5 job was as a screenwriter) and grizzled veteran writer/director Lawrence Kasdan.
In the release Lucasfilm pres Kathleen Kennedy puts on her good corporate face and spins the news in the best possible way. Rightly so, as that's her job. Say kind things about Arndt's work, thank him for kicking things off, and then look forward to the passing of the baton to Abrams and Kasdan. Here's the ball, there's the goalline, let's make it happen.
Somewhere behind the surface there's the true story at what's happening here. If you follow Devin Faraci at Badass Digest, his sources tell him that the Episode VII script may be getting a major overhaul -- as in new characters and storyline, and Arndt's work is all-but jettisoned. Devin hasn't been sharing his inside news until after the fact, which leads me to suspect that his source is a little too close to the flame and is worried about getting their head cut off from Kennedy's lightsaber.
As for myself, I don't have any inside moles working on Star Wars, but I have developed my own film radar over the course of these past two decades. My gut tells me that this announcement is a solution issued by Kennedy, the overseer of the Star Wars franchise now, and for the best interests of everyone drawing a paycheck from the production and her bosses at Disney. J.J. represents what's new and hot, and his work at rejuvinating Star Trek into a supercharged, billion dollar franchise that appears to 20-somethings can't be ignored. If J.J. wants to overhaul the Episode VII script himself and inject lens flares, Chewbacca's adorable little cousin and baby sarlaccs along with Han and Leia's Justin Bieber-looking grandson, so be it. The dollars don't lie.
On the other side of the coin is Kasdan who represents the nolstagia that old school fans of Star Wars have. As a writer, Kasdan had considerable weight in making The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark all-time genre classics. He also wanted a darker Return of the Jedi and fought against Lucas for it. Lucas won, and the Ewoks blew up the second Death Star. But while Kasdan also directed some of the greatest films of the 80s (like The Big Chill, Silverado and the early 90s yuppie version of The Breakfast Club, Grand Canyon), he also hasn't shown much of that greatness for the past two decades. Much like an aging gunfighter who's been called out of retirement and given one last impossible battle to fight, Kasdan is riding out on his horse to meet the enemy and see if he's still got the magic left in him.
And that's where I think Star Wars Episode VII is right now, somewhere between Abrams' need for shiny pew-pew action and Kasdan's focus on a character's internal drama. Kennedy is the mediator and boss. Everyone wants to do greatness but each has a different vision of the road to get to that place.
One final thought: if you think Star Wars Episode VII is making its May 2015 release date, you're madder than a gundark flying around a lighting store.