(Updated: New Interview With Pablo Hidalgo Included)
Vanity Fair has been continuing there “Force Awakens” coverage this week with new interviews of the big creative forces behind the movie. Each day this week they have posted new interviews by journalist Bruce Handy with Lawrence Kasdan, Costume Designer Michael Kaplan, Kathleen Kennedy, and today an interview with John Williams.
Here are some of the more interesting portions of each interview, which gives us some more insight into creating “The Force Awakens!”
Interview with Lawrence Kasdan:
What was it like coming back to Luke, Leia, and Han and writing those characters again, picking up their threads after 30 years?
That’s just fun because they’re around my age. Carrie is a little younger, Mark is my age [66; Hamill is actually 63], and Harrison is a little older. So since we’ve treated it as 30 years passing in the film, there’s no artificiality about that. You get to infuse them to the extent that you can with your experience of 30 years on.
You wrote and directed The Big Chill, which certainly touches on that subject—time passing, youth in the rear-view mirror. Did you draw on that at all when you were working on episode VII?
I think everything that I’ve ever directed and written is about that in one way or another. And I’ll tell you something, I’ve got three grandchildren now and that theme just comes up every day. How am I affecting them? Is my experience of any use to them? Do they give a shit? I’ve just been reading a lot of Dennis Lehane. He’s obsessed with the same things that I am: fathers and sons and passing on wisdom; the inability to gain wisdom, which is really what interests me; and death, which defines all our life.
Interview with Michael Kaplan:
What other old looks did you update?
I remembered when I saw the original movie I was a little bit confused by the warring factions, because the uniform colors kind of overlapped—both [the rebels and the Empire] had some khakis and olive, and I kind of thought, Now I’m in a position to do something about this. So I made two very, very clean-cut palettes. The Empire is in very cold blacks and grays and metallics and teal blues. The Rebels are in khakis and olives and some oranges—warmer colors. So there are very clear separations and you know who you’re looking at when you see them. Also, the lines of the costumes. The Rebels are kind of wools and natural fibers, cottons, and the Empire is very hard-lined, almost like Thierry Mugler. Very kind of edgy. The haircuts are these three-quarter parts, which were big in the 1930s, so that’s kind of recalling something from the past.
Tell me about designing for Leia and Han and Luke. They’re such iconic characters and they had such iconic looks. Do you reference what we’ve seen in the past, or not at all?
A lot of it had to do with what was right for the story and the action, but a lot of it was also, you know, people have a way of dressing. I wouldn’t really be doing my job if I thought, Hey, let’s redesign this character totally and put them in colors they’ve never worn. It just wouldn’t make any sense. But you also want new, interesting things to look at. You want enough change to be there.
Interview with Kathleen Kennedy:
One thing that’s interesting about Star Wars is that, probably more than any other blockbuster-level franchise, it really came out of only one guy’s head. And that guy was probably as much of a control freak as any filmmaker ever could be working on that kind of scale. So how do you make a Star Wars movie without George Lucas?
I think that it comes down to one key principle, which is it is extremely important to make it personal. J.J. had to make it personal. Even [writer-director] Rian Johnson, when he moves into Episode VIII, he’s going to have to make it personal. George made it personal. He just made a movie that meant something to him. And I think that’s probably the biggest challenge for anybody stepping into this is that they can’t spend a lot of time thinking about what other people are going to think of the movie. They have to come at it from the point of view of, What does this mean to me and what does it have to do with me? Frankly, I don’t think great movies ever get made unless there’s some aspect of that going on between the creator and the story that’s being told. It can only become emotional [for an audience] if it’s operating on some kind of personal passion.
So that’s what I’ve tried to encourage with each of the filmmakers is: “Don’t get too hung up. You already are a die-hard fan. You already respect George Lucas and everything he created inside Star Wars.” Many of the people coming into this franchise know 10 times more about it than I do. And that’s fantastic. Because there is this allure to what George created from a mythological standpoint. It’s not just because it’s a successful franchise—it means something to people on a really deep level. And if you fall into that category of a generation that grew up on the movies, then for those filmmakers it ends up being one of the most meaningful movies in their lives, one that influenced their careers. But now you got to say to that fanboy or that fangirl, “Where are you in all of this?” Because otherwise it is just going to become derivative. And you don’t want that.
This is a question I’ve thought about a lot over the years and you’re the perfect person to put it to. My sense has always been that really successful popular-culture artists like Steven Spielberg or George Lucas are ultimately just making the films that they want to make and that, their talent aside, they’re kind of lucky because whatever it is that’s important to them somehow resonates with the public. Not that they don’t make commercial calculations. But fundamentally, do you think that’s true?
I think that’s absolutely right. There’s no question. I’ve watched it with both George and Steven. That’s what I was saying about making it personal. Every frame is emanating from something that’s genuinely important to them. Authenticity inside each one of those guys is always on the screen. And whether it works or doesn’t work, that’s not what they’re thinking about. They’re literally artists in search of finding a way to communicate how they feel about things. And George, you know, his increasing need to use politics as a way to express some of his frustration with what was going on in the world is what comes through in the Star Wars [prequels]. And, you know, fans can look at that and determine whether or not they connected with that or not, but certainly George did. That was really important to him. And, you know, that was his prerogative. It was his story. He was using that in a way that was personally meaningful to him.
Interview with John Williams:
Now that you’re scoring your seventh Star Wars movie, do you find that you approach the series differently in terms of your creative process compared with other films or series you’ve worked on?
Very much so. It’s all a continuation of an initial set of ideas. It’s a bit like adding paragraphs to a letter that’s been going on for a number of years. Starting with a completely new film, a story that I don’t know, characters that I haven’t met, my whole approach to writing music is completely different—trying to find an identity, trying to find melodic identifications if that’s needed for the characters, and so on. Which I do here, but here it’s an extension of something that’s been really organic and continually growing. It’s a very, very different process. That’s really the best analogy I can come up with at the moment so I’ll repeat it: it’s like adding paragraphs to a letter rather than beginning the letter again.
In the new score, aside from the main Star Wars theme, are you going to be reviving any of the themes from the first trilogy which were associated with Luke, Leia, and Han?
There are some scenes where we do make reference to earlier thematic pieces. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re planning to do it. It’s something that I think will seem very natural and right in the moments for which we’ve chosen to do these kinds of quotes. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few that I think are important and will seem very much a part of the fabric of the piece in a positive and constructive way.
Interview With Pablo Hidalgo:
Tell me about how your job developed.
I’ve been here for 15 years now, and I started off ages ago working with marketing as part of the online group that was tasked to build up starwars.com as a destination for fans to find out what we were up to during the making of the prequels. And as part of the job requirement, it required all kinds of skills that you’d need as a writer, but also expertise to know about the Star Wars I.P. [intellectual property], to know about George Lucas’s own history, to know about Indiana Jones. As it happened, there just became more and more need for that specific expertise, so it just expanded beyond that. I became the kind of go-to guy for any sort of deep Star Wars mythology questions.
Now we’re at this new point in our history where we’re going to have a very production-focused future with [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy leading the way. And if we’re going to build onto this franchise, it’s important to know what’s happened in the past, to know what’s been established, to know what George’s intentions were and stuff like that. So I just got more and more roped into this process to the point where I’m now part of Kiri Hart’s story group. Among things that I do is I offer that kind of level of deep knowledge. I’m able to give my two cents when I see something that isn’t tracking, maybe pointing out that, well, you know, that spaceship doesn’t have that capacity or these two planets are closer than the script is suggesting that they are. That kind of deep universe history.
In terms of history, you’re not just talking about the films and the TV shows, but also novels, comics, games?
Yeah, any sort of storytelling that’s been done in the Star Wars space. We kind of break that out to different degrees of what we call canon, you know—whether or not we’re beholden to it in new storytelling going forward. It’s like if someone will come into a situation and say, “Have we ever done a story like this?” And I could be able to say, “Yeah, we did that, but it was, like, in a 1978 comic book, so, you know, take that as you will.”
In the past, our storytelling had been a little bit more haphazard, and we had to make those maps after the fact and make realizations of like, Oh, if we move this story here, it connects properly, right? But now we’re able to be bit more formal and organized beforehand, and that’s super-exciting. I’m the kind of guy who responds well to whiteboard illustrations that show, Oh, this is where we’re going next and this is where we’ve been, because that kind of builds the world in my mind as we start going towards there.
So all the novels that have come out over the years about, for instance, what happened to Han and Luke and Leia after Return of the Jedi, those are all “inoperative” now?
We’ve now branded that as Star Wars Legends, because, you know, there are great stories told there, but in all honesty they were written in an era where there was no expectation that we were going to add new movies or cinematic content onto that. So they blazed new trails there without the benefit of that knowledge, and they told really cool and compelling stories, but it’s not necessarily the stories that we want to tell on-screen.
Be sure to check out the full interviews with Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Kaplan, Kathleen Kennedy, John Williams and now Pablo Hidalgo over at Vanity Fair in the links below: