Kathleen Kennedy Named One of Fortune Magazines Most Powerful Women
How the Star Wars producer went from secretary to studio boss
Kathleen Kennedy has long worked in the shadows of moviemaking legends such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Now, as The Force Awakensreadies for release, she is getting her star turn. It’s a tale perfect for Hollywood.
The blond, dreadlocked German to my left is on the verge of tears. And perhaps a grand mal seizure. “Oh, mein Gott, oh, mein Gott,” he says, hyperventilating as he jumps up and down, his sandaled feet hitting the floor with a series of thuds. In his hands: a small camcorder, which he desperately tries to keep steady while catapulting himself into the air. The footage he’s capturing will surely be unwatchable, beyond the corrective capabilities of even the most advanced image-stabilization tools. But right now it doesn’t matter. My overly enthused neighbor, one of more than 60,000 frenzied fans who have traversed the globe to attend the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim this past April, is about to have his mind blown.
This annual gathering of the sci-fi franchise’s most fervent followers is the first such event to coincide with a new episode of the space saga in a decade. (Unless you’ve been living on the remote, icy planet of Hoth, you probably know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is due in theaters Dec. 18.) Celebrants, many of whom camped out in line the night before, file into the Anaheim Convention Center’s auditorium. Some are bearing lightsabers (the ones with the new, surprisingly controversial “crossguard” design) and wearing costumes—or at the very least T-shirts emblazoned with the iconic, bulbous-lettered Star Wars logo. Furry Ewoks, robed Jedis, and way too many dual-bunned Princess Leias to count take their seats. But they won’t stay seated for long. As composer John Williams’s overture, one of the most recognizable motifs in cinematic history, blasts from the sound system, everyone is on his feet. This year’s star-studded, opening day presentation will include appearances by Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and other members of the original cast (Harrison Ford, sadly, is still recovering from a recent plane crash), as well as emerging idols from the new film and its red-hot director, J.J. Abrams.
But the biggest newcomer on stage is the queen of the entire intergalactic Star Wars empire. No, not Padmé Amidala, but Kathleen Kennedy.
Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm and the producer ofThe Force Awakens, appears from stage right, microphone in hand. Her shoulder-length, light-brown hair is salon-grade shiny. Her smart white blazer and dark, fitted pants are board-meeting-ready. But the rainbow-colored Star Wars logo on her T-shirt gives her just the right amount of understated nerd cred.
“Thank you for the pizzas!” one of the adulating fans yells out. The night before, she and Abrams had ordered pizza for those camped out in line. “You’re welcome!” shouts back the matriarchal leader of this tribe. Three years ago these were George Lucas’s people. They’re now Kennedy’s. Outside of the franchise’s fanboy and fangirl orbit, however—and beyond Hollywood’s inner rings—the longtime movie producer is far from a household name. She is no Lucas or Steven Spielberg. But she has spent decades making movies with both über-directors. In fact, Kennedy is the most prolific female filmmaker in Hollywood, having produced 77 movies in a nearly 40-year career. Her curriculum vitae is chock-full of sky-high-grossing and critically acclaimed blockbusters: Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, andSchindler’s List, to name a few. Collectively these movies have raked in more than $11 billion in worldwide box-office sales and garnered 120 Academy Award nominations.
And yet Kennedy has largely remained in the shadows of the very men who helped propel her career forward—most notably Spielberg. In an industry that often spits out women when they hit “a certain age,” Kennedy, 62, is finally coming into her own. Handpicked by Lucas himself, she now presides as president of Lucasfilm, the San Francisco–based company founded by the Star Wars creator in 1971. These days it’s up to her, not Lucas, to restore the once-revered studio, steering it out of a 10-year-long funk. It’s a story line worthy of an elevator pitch: the secretary turned studio boss. A 21st-century Working Girl.
The tale, though, is by no means over. Her task remains a formidable one: returning the franchise to its celebrated roots—making movies that focus on story and character, and less on computer-generated imagery. (One of her first moves: To rework the plotline for The Force Awakens, she recruited screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote some of the most-beloved earlier episodes of the space saga.)
The entire article can be read at Fortune.com.