Lucasfilm's Carrie Beck on Star Wars movies, animation, and the Story Group

Contributed by
Oct 12, 2017

Lucasfilm has built Star Wars into a multi-media empire with the ability to reach fans before they even know how to talk. Toys, games, books, animation, and TV shows are just some of the ways fans can connect with a story "in a galaxy far, far away."   

While you may know the names of creators both past and present, like George Lucas or Dave Filoni, you may not be familiar with Lucasfilm's Carrie Beck. Beck is involved in almost every project in some way or another as a member of Lucasfilm Story Group. She's also the Vice President of Animation Development, the executive producer of the new Forces of Destiny animated shorts, producer of LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures and the co-creator and producer of Star Wars Rebels.

In other words, she wears a lot of hats, keeps a lot of secrets, and manages a lot of different things on any given day.

But Carrie Beck is, first and foremost, a Star Wars fan. 

Where did your love of Star Wars start?

I think it is the connection to Leia that really brought that generation of women into Star Wars. She had such an active, heroic role to play in the first movie. [It] was so powerful because it wasn’t about her waiting to be rescued. You knew she was in trouble, but she takes action, she sends the droids off on a mission, and it kickstarts the whole story. Without that character, I don’t know if it would’ve taken hold of me in quite the same way.

[Luke] thinks he’s on a princess rescue, but it’s how Obi-Wan’s manipulating him to galvanize Luke into action. It’s not that she’s some damsel in distress. She is an active participant in this battle that is raging across the galaxy. If he doesn’t choose this task then he has failed her. He has failed everybody. Because she is the very first hero we identify.

You’re part of the story group, and you created and produced both Rebels and The Freemaker Adventures. What is a day in the life for you? On any given day? 

We’re always receiving new materials, but animation has such long lead time. I don’t have to do everything at once. Sometimes you’re in script meetings on one project, in story conferences on another. The most difficult thing is keeping up with the volume. I feel fortunate to work with such a high-level group of talented people that are all dedicated toward the same goal and making something we all care about so deeply.

Some days are all creative, some weeks it’s just story processes all week long. Some weeks it’s reading scripted materials, giving feedback, looking at cuts of animation. It really runs the gamut. Much of my role is about interfacing with the Walt Disney Company and I have other responsibilities outside of television. I work on theme parks with the folks at Imagineering. It always feels exciting because there’s always something new to think about. 

How do you keep track of all the different projects you have? You have the books, the movies, the animation, the comics, the theme parks. How do you think the Story Group has changed things within Lucasfilm as far as managing all of that?

The first answer is Pablo Hidalgo, Leland Chee, and Matt Martin. We all keep ourselves as deeply informed as possible but those guys are such a hub of information. I don’t think there’s ever been this much Star Wars in development at any one time in the history of Star Wars.

I remember having this feeling before episode 7 came out, thinking to myself, "Wow, more Star Wars currently lives in our brains than the audience could possibly fathom.". We really have to rely on each other. We are all committed to this canon, the interconnectivity of this universe, the demands of generating stories that feel meaningful. I think that’s really something we all take so seriously.

You’ve worked in development and production for much of your career, starting as an intern at Dreamworks then also through your time at different studios and different companies, doing development and production work. What about that appeals to you?

The funny thing, when I was in school studying film, they never actually talk about this thing; development. You have this sort of fallacy that you do a couple of drafts then go off and make something. For me, I always was focused on production, and when I went to go work in the story department at Dreamworks it was so eye-opening to understand how you help participate in the shaping and building of a project. 

One of the things I love about development [is being] part of the beginning. To help build the foundations of the project before a story gets into production, whether it’s a filmmaker you’ve already chosen from the beginning or finding the right group of collaborators to come in and see something through. I find it deeply satisfying to be a part of that.  

What would you say are the differences, if any, between a great Star Wars film and a great Star Wars series or basically the live action versus the animation?

[On] Rebels, we’ve been able to spend so much time with those characters. It allowed us to take a look at different aspects of their personality and really dive deeply into the things that motivate them. When we talk about Forces of Destiny we talk about the smallest of moments. I think television is really powerful in its way to engage people.

In a movie, you’d have no time for the Zeb/Kallus episode. Even when we were breaking it down we knew it was interesting in terms of understanding both of those characters. The television shows build a long-lasting bond with some characters. I hope people see [Rebels] and Freemaker as being a regular part of their lives. 

As we come into [Star Wars Rebels] Season 4 we're looking at the relationships between all the leads - for example, between Kanan and Hera. We can remember Ezra being seen by Sabine as the bratty little brother, and then we see them as two young people who’ve grown into these positions of power, of leadership, together. I think that’s awesome.

The movies are powerful, and that medium is powerful. With television, the challenge is making something incredibly compelling while people are sitting in their living room. The strength of the movie is it very succinctly brings you into a deep relationship with those characters, with their journey. I think the TV show provides and fills in some of those details. If we all do our jobs well it leaves you hungry to know more about who they are.

Television allows you a format to really get to know these people to a greater degree. There’s so much you wouldn’t necessarily have the time to tell. It would be driven by "What is the essential storyline to tell within the plot?" The rest would fall away. [On television, everything] adds up and makes sense. We’ve had a tremendous amount of narrative real estate to do all of this work. To set all of these stories up.

One of the genius things about The Clone Wars [is that] you get to know that Anakin Skywalker had a Padawan. You don’t have time for that in the movie. You get to know more about all these other Jedi on the Jedi council, and you get to have so much more with the clones. Television allows you a format to really get to know these people to a greater degree. I think that’s really valuable [to make] these characters like real people with agendas, with personal lives and issues. With joy and sadness and all of that.

There’s been a lot of talk, especially in the last few years, about female creators, for women to be part of development, on writing teams, and directing. Lucasfilm and the Story Group are a really good example of what that gender parity looks like. How do you think that impacts the stories being created?

It allows all of us to unlock the most creative potential within one another. We all share a common goal. Having somebody bring something up you haven’t thought of or having somebody bring something up that you have, and trying to give voice to that. 

When you get down to it, it’s about the diversity of experience we’ve all had; being able to share that and have that be part of the process. It’s valuable to be able to share perspective. I don’t even think that’s about storytelling. I think that’s about everything in life. Being able to share perspectives and have a dialogue about the choices we’re making. It isn’t agenda creating, it’s about the most powerful story. Our audience is everybody. That's the strength of having a varied group of people to work with.

We’re in the business of making emotional connections. Dave Filoni is very mindful of the expression of his characters on screen. The same with Bill and Bob with [The Freemaker Adventures] and themes of family, how family interacts, how they see one another. I feel very fortunate that I work with a group of people that are invested in trying to represent that human experience. 

Star Wars Rebels returns on October 16th on Disney XD or check out Forces of Destiny and LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures on the Disney XD app.