Three of pop culture’s biggest pillars – Game of Thrones, Marvel & Star Wars – will say a partial goodbye in 2019. A song of ice and fire will reach its final bloody chorus. Superheroes will die for good as the Avengers enter their endgame. A far away galaxy will finally untether itself from the Skywalker family.
Thus, there is currently an overabundance of the one thing Hollywood’s money people abhor the most: uncertainty. How’s it all going to play out? Will the creators stick the landing or pull a How I Met Your Mother? How are fans going to cope? And – looking down the road – what can we reasonably expect from a Game of Thrones prequel, a potentially Captain America/Iron Man-less MCU, and Skywalker-free Star Wars?
Yesterday, I explored Hollywood’s inevitable, but futile search for the next Game of Thrones. Today, I ponder Kathleen Kennedy’s 10-year-plan for the future of Star Wars.
A Whole New Star Wars World
“We’ll always be with you. No one’s ever really gone”
So says Luke in the new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer, his voiceover perfectly teeing up the return of Emperor Palpatine’s maniacal laugh, because whenever a director asks for a 10 Palpatine always gives them, at minimum an 11. Welcome back, you old lovable – but totally evil – ham.
It makes sense for Palpatine to be here at the end of everything. Rise of Skywalker represents the end of decades of unprecedented Star Wars universe-building and merchandising as well as the beginning of a new phase in a story that started a long time ago in a galaxy far…well, you know the rest. Going forward, the Skywalkers – a group that may or may not include Rey, based on whether J.J. Abrams chooses to undo Last Jedi – will no longer be the gravitational force around whom all events rotate.
But after Last Jedi backlash and Solo turning into the first Star Wars film to genuinely bomb at the box office, how much of the past is Disney really willing to burn to the ground? The studio’s upcoming Star Wars brand extensions – the Disney+ series The Mandalorian and EA video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – are each gap-fillers. The former is set after the events of Return of the Jedi and the latter after Palpatine’s successful coup in Revenge of the Sith.
This has been the M.O. for Disney’s major Star Wars films, shows, and video games. Properties like Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels paint in-between the lines originally drawn by George Lucas. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, of course. Rogue One, which is itself a prequel, is due to get its own prequel starring Diego Luna. Dave Filoni, the multi-hyphenate behind animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels, is a master at this kind of thing. He capably plays with Lucas’ old toys while also adding plenty of compelling new ones of his own, like the crew of the Ghost and Ahsoka Tano.
But where will the next set of films go if Disney keeps choosing to explore the past? Reaching beyond Lucas’ original saga, for example, and actually exploring the timeline of Force Awakens and beyond has usually been relegated to canonical comic books and novels.
As decades of Expanded Universe fan fiction indicate, however, the Star Wars galaxy is vast and overflowing with storytelling possibilities. Figuring out where to go next is going to take time. That’s likely why Kathleen Kennedy says that after Rise of Skywalker the studio is going to take a bit of a break from new movies. The immediate focus will be on the various TV show in development. There’s a 10-year-plan in place, both of the new film trilogies are still in the mix, but they’re not the immediate focus.
Trilogy x 2
One of those trilogies will come from the mind of Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson. Reportedly, Kennedy offered him the job practically on a handshake basis with little in the way of an actual story pitch. They both just liked working together on Last Jedi so much that they wanted to keep a good thing going.
Then the Last Jedi backlash happened.
Naturally, the backlash eventually led to rumors about Kennedy canceling Johnson’s trilogy. However, those rumors have been disputed by all involved and he officially remains attached to see what he can come up with. Sadly, he’s already ruled out doing the kind of Knights of the Old Republic story fans have been clamoring for
(But after I originally published this article Kennedy dropped the following bomb: “Yes, we are developing something with the Knights of the Old Republic to look at.”)
The other trilogy might come from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who each know a little something about monumental endings. As the Game of Thrones showrunners – aka the guys who picked up the ball and ran with it when George R.R. Martin proved incapable of finishing his own story in a timely manner – they are responsible for quite literally the biggest TV show ever. They command an army of thousands and shoot in multiple different countries per season. Few in history have been more responsible for elevating what a TV production is capable of than these guys.
Even George Lucas recognizes the significance of their accomplishment. Much to their surprise, he requested a visit to the set during the filming of the season 8 premiere and even got to “direct” Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke for one scene. (His only note: “You’re great.”) For a brief moment, the old guard took back the baton, only to hand it back and retreat into comfortable, Disney-buyout-money retirement.
Whether Benioff and Weiss will ever get to return the favor and play in Lucas’ old sandbox remains to be seen. By the time Kathleen Kennedy’s 10-year-plan is sorted out, we could be on to season 2 or 3 of The Mandalorian on Disney+ and Disney World might have added a new addition or two to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Under Kennedy’s tenure, the Star Wars universe has seen its share of troubled productions and ultimately canceled projects. Taking a break to get everything sorted post-Rise of Skywalker seems like the prudent move, especially now that Bob Iger’s prior guarantee of one new Star Wars movie a year has faded away in favor of his new focus on Disney+ and incorporating Fox properties like Avatar into the fold.
Where can the story go next?
When Star Wars movies do return, what will they look like? I imagine Lucasfilm’s impulse must be to throw Monopoly money at Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac to bring Rey, Finn, and Poe back for their own set of films – ones which won’t need to be defined by legacy characters from the Lucas era. Frankly, I would watch those movies. However, if everyone is truly serious about this being the end of the Skywalker saga and those characters are now a part of that saga there’s no way to tell where the movies go from here.
My suspicion is either Johnson’s trilogy will get the green light or Benioff and Weiss’, but not both. Post-Solo, Disney seems more cautious and running with two new trilogies at the same time might prove to be too much, especially since the new priority post-Rise of Skywalker will be funneling Star Wars shows to Disney+.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.