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'Star Wars' sequels aiming to please fans of the original trilogy

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 6:57 p.m. MDT

Mark Hamill, left, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Mark Hamill, left, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope." (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Details are still being kept close to the vest on the J.J. Abrams-directed sequel to 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” but last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Europe revealed a few nuggets that should get fans of the classic trilogy excited.

Kathleen Kennedy, who was appointed head of Lucasfilm last October shortly before the company was purchased by Disney, spoke to an audience gathered in Messe Essen, Germany, about the progress being made on the new Star Wars films.

Although she didn’t give away much, her comments showed a desire to fix some of the problems fans and critics had with the recent prequel trilogy, including what many felt was a lackluster story.

"The story and characters are all we’re talking about right now,” she said, referring to the new films, as quoted by Daniel Krupa at IGN.com. "We have an amazing team at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) who can create fantastic effects, but if we don’t have a great story and characters, the effects mean nothing."

FILE - This 1980 publicity image originally released by Lucasfilm Ltd., Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and the character Yoda appear in this scene from FILE - This 1980 publicity image originally released by Lucasfilm Ltd., Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and the character Yoda appear in this scene from "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back." The Library of Congress announced early Tuesday Dec. 28, 2010 that the film will be preserved by the Library of Congress as part of its National Film Registry. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

She also said that she’s meeting almost every day with Abrams and the team of writers assembled to bring George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away back to the big screen, including original “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” scribe Lawrence Kasdan, Academy Award-winner Michael Arndt and “Sherlock Holmes” writer Simon Kinberg.

Kennedy, whose past credits as a producer include films like “E.T.,” “Back to the Future,” “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park,” to name just a few, is no stranger when it comes to crafting big-budget spectacle that still manages to connect with audiences.

Once again, she emphasized the importance of story in accomplishing that:

"I do think making huge popular culture — and I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of a lot (of) it — is really hard to do and get right,” she said. “And if you don’t spend the time you need on developing characters and finding stories, complicated stories, the audience gets tired because they think they’re seeing the same thing again and again."

Kennedy also brought up another issue near and dear to Star Wars fans, indicating that the new films will try to balance CGI with plenty of practical effects and real locations — something many felt was missing from the recent trilogy.

“It’s a conversation we’re having all the time in the development of Episode VII,” she said. “Looking at all the Star Wars movies and getting a feel for what even some of the early films did, combining real locations and special effects — that’s something we’re looking very seriously at. … It’s using model makers, it’s using real droids, it’s taking advantage of artwork that you actually can touch and feel, and we want to do that in combination with CG effects. We figure that’s what will make it real.”

Previously, it had been revealed that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher would all reprise their star-making roles from the original trilogy with rumors suggesting that the sequels will focus on their children.

Along with them, it was announced at Star Wars Celebration that one more classic name will be joining the party. Legendary film composer John Williams confirmed he will return to write the scores for Episodes VII-IX, according to wired.com.

Williams, who turned 82 in February, scored all six films in George Lucas’ saga, creating some of the most memorable themes ever put to film.

In a pre-recorded interview made for the occasion, the five-time Academy Award winner told fans, “I’ve loved doing the Star Wars films with all the fanfares and flourish. The galaxy far, far away — I actually feel like I’m still in it, like I never left it. Having worked on all of the six films, I’m just happy to be continuing to be part of the whole fun of doing it.”

“Star Wars: Episode VII” is set to begin filming in the United Kingdom next year with a release scheduled for summer of 2015.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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