Over the past month, the internet has been ripe with speculation that Kathleen Kennedy’s days as Lucasfilm boss are numbered. The latest comes from Grace Randolph’s YouTube Channel, which cites an anonymous Disney insider in reporting Bob Iger gave Kennedy a public tongue-lashing on a conference call involving both the heads of Marvel and Pixar. However, Randolph continues, Iger’s hands are tied because even though he’d prefer to fire Kennedy he can’t do that until they’ve found a replacement. Not surprisingly given the current toxic environment surrounding everything Star Wars, everyone they’ve approached – even J.J. Abrams – has turned them down. For now, they’re stuck with Kennedy, a woman who has made a mess of the franch….
[Spit take] WTF? Why are they wanting to fire this woman? Thanks to her, as Chandler Bing would put it, Disney’s collective wallet is too small for its fifties and their diamond shoes are too tight.
Yeah, but there’s also this:
And, sadly, the downward trend at the box office:
Which finally bottomed out with Solo: A Star Wars Story, the first legitimate Star Wars box office bomb. Latest estimates indicate Solo, which probably won’t even crack $400m at the worldwide box office, will lose at least $50m in the long term for Disney after accounting for marketing costs.
Then, of course, there’s this:
Yes, a subsection of Star Wars fandom is in open revolt because, as the above manifesto declares: “We believe that, should fans—lifelong fans especially—be purposefully shunned, insulted, and tossed aside by those at the head of the Franchise, it is the unalienable right of said fans to boycott or force change in such Leadership.”
Any charges of misogyny – i.e., you’re just pissed because a woman is in charge and she’s re-stocked the franchise with more female characters – seems to only reinforces this viewpoint. A mentality has taken hold among such fans that when Kennedy or her apparent loyalists in the media disregard Force Awakens/Rogue One/Last Jedi criticism as being the whining of Jordan Peterson-worshipping manbabies they are merely deflecting blame from themselves because to truly engage with the critics is to acknowledge fault. That might be a fair argument to a certain extent, but when fans harass Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran off of social media and launch moronic campaigns to remake Last Jedi it gives the impression of an openly hostile assault as opposed to an actual conversation.
The larger challenge is in identifying how much of this is the shoutings of a vocal few and how much is a sign of a legitimate and potentially long-lasting rift between fan and franchise. Kathleen Kennedy’s moves have upset the base, but she’s also run afoul of more progressive fans as well, many of whom jumped on her for continuing to hire male directors over women, giving new trilogies to Rian Johnson, the Game of Thrones duo as well as a TV series to Jon Favreau.
Point being: You can’t please everyone. But exactly how much of the base has turned on her? Those seeking validation for their dissent will point to and twist many of the numbers I’ve cited as proof, but the reality is harder to parse out.
For example, yes, Star Wars toy sales are down, but so are toy sales for all movies since, as with ticket sales, there are simply too many blockbusters grouped too close together on the release calendar. That same Fortune article I quoted actually concludes, “The lesson toymakers will draw from the 2017 slate is that they can’t just rely on the movie to do the marketing anymore. ‘There is a new paradigm,’ analyst Gerrick Johnson said. ‘Just because there is a movie with a toy tie-in doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work.’”
Moreover, Solo’s underperformance could be directly attributable to the Last Jedi backlash, but it could also be due to a variety of other factors – crappy, practically non-existent marketing, lingering competition from Infinity War and Deadpool 2, poor word-of-mouth, negative reactions to Alden Ehrenreich performance in the trailers, concerns over Ron Howard being rushed into re-shooting two-thirds of the movie with just a week of prep, coming out just 5 months after Last Jedi, and just the general sense that this isn’t a movie anyone was actually asking for. Did a boycott from George Lucas loyalists cause all of that? No. It’s simply another variable for Disney and Lucasfilm to consider as it reassess what exactly went wrong.
Those in the anti-Kennedy camp don’t trust that any such after-action analysis will reach a meaningful result because clearly Kennedy will just skapegoat her way out of any real accountability, and until Iger can find a replacement she’s staying put. Reports continue to conflict over whether Kennedy has put a halt to any further anthology standalones, and where exactly we currently stand on anything other than Episode IX remains a bit of a mystery.
Randolph’s now widely-cited report argues Disney already has a perfect in-house replacement candidate for Kennedy: Dave Filoni, the Clone Wars/Rebels creator and Star Wars superfan who started at Lucasfilm under George Lucas and has stayed there since the Disney buyout to spearhead the animation department. This logic aligns with a common anti-Kennedy argument, which is that she’s not a “true” fan and should be replaced with someone who speaks the fan’s language. It’s the J.J. Abrams/Star Trek thing all over again.
As Iger assesses all of this and looks to right the Star Wars ship while also finalizing a purchase of 21st Century Fox, prepping a launch of a Netflix killer, and wondering what the heck to do with ESPN, there is one thing Kennedy can’t really explain away in any defense she might mount for herself. As someone with a long background in film production, the one thing she should be good at is putting together a solid crew than can sail a movie through production. As a co-founder of Amblin Entertainment, she also has experience with running a company, but when you hire the woman who helped produce pretty much every single Spielberg classic that’s the chief skillset you think you can count on.
In that area, Kennedy has been surprisingly suspect. When you have to unofficially fire one director (Rogue One’s Gareth Edwards) and replace him with an industry veteran (Tony Gilroy) who can push through extensive reshoots, that’s concerning, but these things do happen in Hollywood, increasingly so in the age of micromanagement. When not two years later you have to do it all over again, except this time officially firing the directors (Solo’s Chris Lord and Phil Miller) and then reshooting almost the entire film in question, that’s a problem. That – along with the hiring and firings of Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow before their films went into production – suggests systemic mismanagement and poor judgement, and has now contributed to skyrocketing production budgets. Solo simply happens to be the first film to truly suffer the consequences of this at the box office.
Not a “true” fan? Too feminist? Alienated the base? Hurt toy sales?
Debatable on all counts.
Has had a rocky road as a producer and keeps hiring idiosyncratic directors to execute her vision only to then dismiss or push them aside when she didn’t like their work?
Not up for debate. The same used to be true of Marvel Studios as well, but then Kevin Feige fought for his creative independence and turned the reins over to eccentrics like Taika Waititi to deliver some of the best Marvel films to date. Lucasfilm, on the other hand, is stricken by a fanbase that never seems to agree on what it actually wants and a production team that is at war with itself. Recent reports indicate Kennedy plans on doing the anti-Marvel thing by only hiring proven directors from here on out, which sounds like the recipe for a lot of boring work.
Personally, up until Solo I was a fan of what Kennedy has done with the franchise, and even after the pleasant, but forgettable Solo I’m certainly not planning to boycott Episode IX. However, if Kennedy doesn’t make it that far as Lucasfilm head her critics will shout victory for having pushed her aside when, in fact, it might end up being her own practical mismanagement as a producer that does her in.
Iger likes to let the various Disney film silos operate on their own, and Kennedy’s production woes haven’t been a problem with the end result until now. But Kennedy doesn’t get credit for Ron Howard “saving” Solo and getting it to market on time. That was a problem of her own creation, and now, apparently, it’s Disney’s problem as well.