In 2012, Kennedy took over Lucasfilm and now serves as the company's president

By Jodi Guglielmi
Updated December 16, 2016 01:50 PM
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Pick up PEOPLE’s special issue, Star Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One, on newsstands now — including a special Star Wars virtual-reality bonus with goggles included! (Or click here to order now.) And watchPeople Special: Star Wars Rogue One on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go toPEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.

Kathleen Kennedy still remembers the feeling she got after watching Star Wars for the very first time.

“I was in college and I was studying film and wanting to be a filmmaker,” she tells PEOPLE Now in an exclusive video. “Stepping into a theater and seeing this movie for the first time, I was like many other people in the world who walked out and said, ‘Oh my god, what was that?!’ ”

Fast-forward a couple of years and Kennedy is sitting down at lunch with her close friend of nearly 30 years, Star Wars creator George Lucas.

“We started talking about what we always talk about: family, catching up, the sort of thing,” she recalls in PEOPLE’s Stars Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One special issue. “Then he started to tell me about how he was thinking or retiring. He wanted to feel that if he was going to step away, that he would hand it off to somebody he trusted and knew he could communicate with.”

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Kennedy admits that she missed the point of Lucas’ confession at first. “I thought he was talking to me because he wanted to get some recommendations,” she says. “I didn’t ever imagine he was going to tap me, and I had never really thought about doing something like that.”

In 2012, she took over Lucasfilm and now serves as the company’s president.

But before solidifying her role as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, she worked as Steven Speilberg‘s assistant before climbing the ranks and eventually working alongside the director on Raiders of the Lost Ark (where she met Lucas). She later joined forces with Spielberg to launch Amblin Entertainment before breaking off to form the Kennedy/Marshall Company with her husband, Frank Marshall, in 1991, producing dozens of films including Lincoln and Jurassic Park.

So what’s her proudest moment so far as the head of Lucasfilm?

“That The Force Awakens seems to have awakened the idea in little girls of becoming heroes.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters Dec. 16.