'Star Wars' vets line up to praise new helmer; Lucasfilm to struggle with loosening grip over franchise

The Force is officially behind J.J. Abrams now that he’s signed on direct the seventh “Star Wars” for Disney and Lucasfilm.

The companies may have waited a day to confirm what everyone with a passing interest in pop culture already knew, but when they finally did, at around 9 p.m. Friday night, they made sure to let fans of the sci-fi franchise know that its creators are fully behind the new helmer.

In a press release and blog post that went up on StarWars.com, Lucasfilm included quotes of glowing praise from “Star Wars” vets like the franchise’s visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren and Ben Burtt, the sound designer behind Darth Vader’s breathing and R2-D2′s beeps. Both had worked with Abrams on “Super 8.”

“It seems that a lot of the same things that were in George when he made the ‘Star Wars’ films are also in J.J. I think he’s going to fit into the other movies perfectly, with the energy that J.J. has,” Muren said. “We’re kick-starting ‘Star Wars’ again with dynamite. It will knock people out, including the people who get to work on it. I think it’s a great choice.”

Burtt added: “J.J represents the next generation of filmmakers from those that were making ‘Star Wars’ when I started. You feel that he’s already invested so many years in (‘Star Wars’), and he’s going to propel it forward in a new way. In other words, you’re having a fan who has grown up and developed tremendous directorial skills finding himself at the steering wheel to take the franchise into the next stage. I feel like I’m there watching history turn over from one era to another.”

And in handing the lightsaber to Abrams, George Lucas said, “I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new ‘Star Wars’ film, and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.”

Lucasfilm has long opted to release news and information for its films on its own terms and not according to the demands of the media. In this case, it once again relied on its website StarWars.com to reveal new details.

In Lucasfilm, Disney now has another company under its banner that prefers a tight grip over its projects. Marvel also operates under a high level of secrecy, given its strong fanbase eager to learn the minutiae of its films before they hit the megaplex.

In the past, Lucasfilm has been able to satiate “Star Wars” fans by releasing new information exclusively on its site, holding off the blogosphere for a moment until they became agitated for more.

Yet it’s been eight years since the last “Star Wars” installment, “Revenge of the Sith,” unspooled in theaters, and times online have changed significantly — especially in the age of Facebook and Twitter. The blogoshere is more hungry than ever to break news. And as Abrams begins casting his film, Lucasfilm may no longer have the same kind of control it’s enjoyed over the years.

Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII,” which the Mouse has previously said is targeted for 2015, will be produced under the direction of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new ‘Star Wars’ movie,” Kennedy said. “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the ‘Star Wars’ experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”

New film will be penned by Michael Arndt. Abrams and his Bad Robot producing partner Bryan Burk will produce along with Kennedy.

Also consulting on the project are Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg. Kasdan has a long history with Lucasfilm, as screenwriter on the “Star Wars” films “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” as well as “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Kinberg’s credits include “Sherlock Holmes” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

“To be a part of the next chapter of the ‘Star Wars’ saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor,” Abrams said. “I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid.”

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