The Force giveth, and the Force taketh away. That holds true for every Midi-chlorian in the galaxy far, far away, and it holds true for the filmmakers trying to explore it. As has already become legend, earlier this week David Benioff and D.B. Weiss officially stepped away from the Star Wars trilogy they were developing for Lucasfilm. Considering they were expected to at least write (and possibly direct) the first instalment in that trilogy which was slated for 2022, their exit once again left Lucasfilm plans in tatters.
Despite official statements by Benioff and Weiss, and Lucasfilm, that suggested an amicable split with room to work together again, conspiracy theorists and fans still disgruntled about that Game of Thrones ending were quick to suspect that the divorce was a little tenser. And according to multiple reports in various Hollywood trades, that is partially true, albeit not for the Game of Thrones backlash reason social media trumpets.
According to both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has been wary for months not of fan backlash, but of Benioff and Weiss’ $250 million payday to develop exclusive content for Netflix. And as Lucasfilm’s parent company of Disney becomes a direct competitor of Netflix via their new streaming service, having the two men in charge of half the Star Wars movies for the next decade also developing original content for Disney+’s biggest competitor turned into a precarious situation.
Anonymous sources told THR that Kennedy became “unhappy” when she learned of the deal that Benioff and Weiss inked with Netflix in August. While the pair would not begin working on their Netflix obligations until after at least the first Star Wars movie, Kennedy was allegedly unconvinced they “could develop a sci-fi trilogy while also overseeing film and TV projects at Netflix.” And to be fair, the duo is very exacting in their development process, having refused to begin work on Star Wars until they finished production on Game of Thrones a year later. And even then they were only handling writing and producing six episodes of television—and in a process where they were famously protective of, refusing to ever build a full writers’ room on the HBO series.
Compared with the prolific work of other major television executive producers like Ryan Murphy, who has put 10 projects in two years in development at Netflix, or J.J. Abrams who happily produces many shows he does not write or actively monitor the day-to-day production of, Kennedy’s trepidations make some sense.
However, Variety suggests that Benioff and Weiss had become unhappy with Lucasfilm itself. According to the other trade, the duo began workshopping their ideas for a trilogy of films about the birth of the original Jedi order over the summer, and repeatedly came into disagreement over creative choices with Kennedy and her team. “Lucasfilm executives and the creators began to see their visions for the films diverge during the meetings last summer,” the trade wrote. It also added that it was only then Benioff and Weiss signed a deal with Netflix, which Lucasfilm saw as a signal that the pair had gotten cold feet about Star Wars and wanted out.
This might be partially true, as THR adds one other crucial detail to the emerging narrative: that after the fierce backlash against Game of Thrones’ last season, Benioff and Weiss didn’t want to spend another 10 years being placed under the fanboy microscope.
“Who wants to go through that again? Not them,” notes another source with knowledge of Benioff and Weiss’ thinking. “This was in the ‘Life’s Too Short’ category.”
This certainly makes a logical sense from a creator’s vantage. Whatever you think about the Game of Thrones finale, the pair developed the series in relative obscurity and introduced it as a major creative gamble when it premiered in 2011. It of course went on to be a cultural phenomenon that changed the face of television. It also developed a fervid fanbase that went from praising the producers to still burning them in digital effigy on Twitter nearly five months after the series ended. Wanting to work on projects again where they have the latitude to develop an audience—instead of the folded arm expectations of a Star Wars fandom that is arguably more toxic than the Game of Thrones one—is a prudent move.
However, it leaves Lucasfilm in an awkward situation behind-the-scenes, as well as in the public after the studio has seen now four acrimonious creative departures. Lucasfilm previously fired Josh Trank after bad behaviour on the Fantastic Four set from an ultimately shelved “A Star Wars Story” spinoff, and similarly parted ways on brisk terms with writer-director Colin Trevorrow on what became J.J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker. Most infamously though is the firing of writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from Solo: A Star Wars Story near the end of production, leading to Ron Howard reshooting more than 70 percent of the movie. (Lord and Miller landed on their feet though, winning an Oscar for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shortly afterward.)
Kennedy of course has a tremendous batting average when three of the four Star Wars movies she produced earned more than $4.5 billion between them. This holiday season’s The Rise of Skywalker also promises to raise that another billion, and Disney+’s Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian, is the streaming series’ centrepiece during this November’s launch. Nonetheless, there is remains a great disturbance in the Force.