If you pay $4 billion for something, you expect to get your money’s worth. When Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, everyone expected it to milk Star Wars for everything it could. Sure enough, multiple new trilogies, TV shows, theme park worlds, games and cross-over partnerships were quickly announced, and Star Wars production went into overdrive.
Then Solo: A Star Wars Story happened. The Last Jedi might have split opinion among die-hard fans, but it still made an insane amount of money (it’s currently sitting as the 13th highest-grossing film of all time, now that Avengers: Endgame has jumped into the top spot). But Solo did the unthinkable: bombing at the box-office for the first time since never in the Star Wars franchise.
Of course, “bombing” is a pretty ridiculous word to use for a film that still made $392 million, but considering the budget was reportedly almost $300 million (and considering The Force Awakens made over $2 billion), it’s still a pretty poor show for a Star Wars movie.
The analytics company Comscore reported that Disney has already made back their investment on the Lucasfilm deal – recouping $4.8 billion on the $4.05 billion it spent just six years ago.
With nothing to gain but profit, and with a seriously underperforming movie to think about, Disney decided to put the brakes on its plans for a billion sequels and spin-offs. “I take the blame,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger in June last year. “It was a little too much, too fast.”
Announcing a “slowdown” in the production schedule, Iger confirmed that he was rethinking the future of Star Wars, post-The Rise Of Skywalker. “I think we’re gonna be a little bit more careful about volume and timing. And the buck stops here on that.” Soon after, the planned Boba Fett movie was cancelled, while talk of other trilogies and spin-offs went suspiciously quiet.
Lucasfilm is now turning its attention towards the small screen, with several Star Wars series in development for the new Disney+ streaming service. But with some big-name talent reportedly working on the cinematic side of things following the wrapping up of the Skywalker saga, there’s a lot to look forward to in this new era of Star Wars storytelling.
“Always in motion is the future,” Yoda once wisely pointed out. So, what do we actually know about the future of the Star Wars franchise?
Disney+, 12 November 2019 (US), TBC (UK)
More than 14 years after George Lucas first announced his plans for a live-action Star Wars TV show, that dream is finally being realised on Disney+. Written by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and boasting directors like Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars), Deborah Chow (Better Call Saul) and Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok), the footage screened at Star Wars Celebration in April felt like prestige TV set in space.
Starring Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers and Giancarlo Esposito, the series will explore the lawless fringes of the galaxy in the years after the Rebel Alliance’s victory in Return Of The Jedi’s Battle of Endor. “I’ve always been curious what the other people in the cantina are up to,” Favreau told Entertainment Weekly. “We’re digging really deep in the toy chest and pulling out the action figures that people were always curious about.”
The Clone Wars: Season 7
Disney+, February 2020 (US), TBC (UK)
As far back as February 2013, fans who feared the worst began campaigning on Twitter with the hashtag #SaveTheCloneWars. When Lucasfilm made an official announcement the following month that, yes, The Clone Wars had indeed been cancelled in the wake of Disney’s acquisition of the company, the hashtag became a loud and global phenomenon.
Fans kept the campaign alive until 2018, when director Dave Filoni confirmed the show’s return at San Diego Comic-Con. And at Celebration 2019, cast members including Ashley Eckstein, Dee Bradley Baker and Sam Witwer took the stage to tease a confrontation between Maul and Ahsoka, as well as the epic conclusion to the Siege of Mandalore story arc left unfinished years earlier. The series’ seventh (and supposedly final) season, consisting of 12 episodes, will bring the story right up to the events of 2005’s Revenge Of The Sith. It’ll air on – you guessed it – Disney+.
This spy thriller will bring back Rogue One fan favourites Cassian Andor and K-2SO, with actors Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk both reprising their roles from Gareth Edwards’ movie about the Death Star plans. Thanks to Lucasfilm’s official announcements so far, we know that the show will take place in the early years of the Rebellion (long before both characters got blown up in Rogue One) and “explore tales filled with espionage and daring missions” undertaken against the evil Galactic Empire. Stephen Schiff (The Americans) will act as showrunner and exec producer on the as-yet-untitled series, which we can expect to hit Disney+ sometime in 2021.
After years of rumours and speculation, Ewan McGregor joined Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy on stage at the D23 expo in August to confirm that he’d finally be donning the sand-coloured robes of Obi-Wan Kenobi again. Picking up eight years after Kenobi dropped off a newborn Luke Skywalker at the Lars homestead on Tatooine, the series will be directed by Deborah Chow (The Mandalorian). “We really wanted to select a director who is able to explore both the quiet determination and rich mystique of Obi-Wan in a way that folds seamlessly into the Star Wars saga,” Kennedy has said. Hossein Amini, the screenwriter behind Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed Drive, will handle scripting duties. As of now, no release date has been given for the show, which is another Disney+ exclusive.
Rian Johnson’s new movie trilogy
Rian Johnson’s name is a bit of dirty word in some fan circles (as is Kathleen Kennedy’s…) since his revisionist take on the franchise with The Last Jedi messed with a few too many memories for some. Still, others loved it, and the film made a ridiculous amount of money at the box-office – so much so that Lucasfilm put Johnson in charge of a whole new trilogy. “We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm in a statement. “He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.”
In summer 2019, while promoting murder mystery Knives Out, Johnson offered an update on the project. “We’re doing something that steps beyond the legacy characters,” the filmmaker said. “To me, the blue sky element of it is what was most striking about it. What’s fun about it is figuring out, ‘What’s the next step?’ It really makes you think and figure out what the essence of Star Wars is for me and what that will look like moving forward.”
Untitled Star Wars movie
Disney’s worlds are soon to be colliding, with the news that Marvel chief Kevin Feige is making the jump to the Star Wars universe, partnering with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy to produce a new feature-length story. “With the close of the Skywalker saga, Kathy is pursuing a new era in Star Wars storytelling,” Walt Disney Studios co-chairman and chief creative officer Alan Horn recently revealed. “And knowing what a die-hard fan Kevin is, it made sense for these two extraordinary producers to work on a Star Wars film together.”
There have been no further details on the Feige-produced Star Wars project since then but, whatever it is, don’t expect to see it for a while… His Marvel Studios obligations are pretty extensive at the moment, with a ‘Phase Four’ of MCU movies coming up, led by Black Widow and Eternals, and many more projects in development for Disney’s streaming service, Disney+.
Assuming The Rise Of Skywalker makes a boatload of money, assuming the TV shows are a huge success and assuming the new movie projects work as well as Disney hopes they will (that’s a lot of assumptions), the long-term future of Star Wars looks bright. If the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown us anything, it’s that Disney certainly knows how to milk a franchise without ruining it, and with the right people in the right jobs, there’s every chance that Star Wars will run for years telling interesting, original, exciting sci-fi stories in an ever-expanding universe.
But… A large part of what made The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi work was arguably down to nostalgia, with fans who grew up with the original Skywalker saga keen to see how it all played out. Once Abrams’ trilogy is told, will audiences still flock to see stories about new Star Wars characters in the same numbers?
Clearly, Disney is well aware of the problem. It has to make the new films appeal to young audiences if it wants any hope of seeing Star Wars last past 2020 – but that often means doing things that some old fans are going to hate. Is it possible to walk the line between both camps? Is it sensible to even try?
As Yoda rightly pointed out, this really is a “do, or do not” situation.
This article was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated.