Lucasfilm – which currently seems to be the place where directors not named J.J. Abrams go to get fired – had yet another messy breakup, this time with Benioff & Weiss of Game of Thrones fame/notoriety. They say there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to satisfy both their Disney and Netflix commitments. Disney says, under its collective breath, good riddance you bunch of Netflix-loving traitors. (The studio was apparently sucker-punched by the news of Benioff & Weiss’ Netflix deal in August.) Netflix, for its part, mostly says, um, did we really just give a five-year, $250 million deal to two of the most toxic men in Hollywood right now? Either way, not a good look for all parties.
Larger picture, insider reports argue the big problem is that without Luke, Leia, and the Next Gen cast of the new trilogy Lucasfilm actually has no idea what Star Wars is or how to define it. Kathleen Kennedy brings in talented filmmakers and tells them to have fun playing in the Star Wars sandbox, but when they color too far outside the lines either she or her bosses at Disney freak out. Plus, with the way the internet treated Rian Johnson after Last Jedi the future Benioff and Weiss’ of the potential Star Wars world aren’t sure they need that kind of aggravation.
One line which Kim Masters of THR keeps coming back to in her reporting on this ongoing story is that Disney has an optics issue as much as anything else here. Namely, Kathleen Kennedy is one of the only female studio heads at the company, and she’s also a living legend with a resume stretching back to the Spielberg/Lucas heyday of the 70s. Sticking with her through thick and thin is itself a form of virtue signaling to the rest of the industry, but she’s had more troubled productions than untroubled. Sure, the films, other than Solo, continue to turn a handsome profit, but the long term health of the brand must be protected. After all, Disney has a struggling Star Wars theme park attraction to worry about.
Throwing Kevin Feige her way – not too long ago, it was announced he will be making a Star Wars movie – had been read by some as an indication that Feige was being positioned to take the reigns of the entire Star Wars franchise away from Kennedy, leaving her focused on relaunching the Indiana Jones brand. Makes sense. After Sony spiraled the Spider-Man brand into irrelevancy, he helped them turn it around. He can surely do it again for Star Wars, and as his recent ascension to not just head of Marvel movies but also all of Marvel TV and comics books – meaning he vanquished Ike Perlmutter and Jeph Loeb – indicates he knows how to wait out the internal competition before making/earning his big power grab.
However, on this point I toe the Benioff/Weiss line – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. (That was always Sony’s public line about why it thought Feige was suddenly too busy to partner on the next Spider-Man movie.) I can’t imagine Kevin Feige running Marvel movies, TV, comic books, and everything Star Wars related at the same time. Or at least I struggle to picture him doing all of that well, no matter his powers of delegation.
I read his move into Lucasfilm more as a fulfillment-of-lifelong-dream reward for everything he’s done for Disney as well as an incentive to keep him around. If so, it might have worked. It’s only after the Star Wars move was announced that we learned Feige is now in charge of basically everything Marvel under the sun other than the films rights Sony still controls. Correlation is not causation and all that, but, still, a good time to be Kevin Feige.
Either way, with this latest Star Wars fuck up, it certainly seems like an executive shake-up is more likely than not. Bob Iger has been giving Kennedy plenty of PR cover lately by repeatedly taking the blame for pushing the brand too hard. Going to one new movie a year was too much, and then trying to go to two movies a year was finally too far. It’s time to let the franchise breathe.
That’s a bit rich for a franchise which has The Mandalorian and Rise of Skywalker due in less than two months’ time and at least two additional Disney+ shows – Obi-Wan and Rogue One prequel – in the works. However, if you’re looking for a sense of the franchise’s actual larger direction – the where does the story go after the Skywalker saga – well join the club. It seems like that’s the million – excuse me, billion-dollar question in Hollywood right now. There’s a new Star Wars movie on the calendar for 2022. Will that be the first of Rian Johnson’s new offshoot trilogy? Kevin Feige’s mystery project? Something else? And will Kathleen Kennedy still be around by then?
Palacial intrigue, aimlessness – a Jedi seeks not these things, yet here we are.
Where do you want Star Wars to go next? Do you think Kathleen Kennedy deserves to be fired? Should we hold off with all this talk and just enjoy this moment of anticipation for The Mandalorian and Rise of Skywalker? Let me know in the comments.