You know what they say about best-laid plans and all that. About a year ago, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was doing the press rounds for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—the first-ever Star Wars “anthology” or “spinoff” movie—and she revealed that the Lucasfilm story team was about to convene to discuss what their slate of movies looks like down the road. We knew when Disney bought Lucasfilm that, in addition to a new Star Wars trilogy, other kinds of Star Wars movies would be made, but in the ensuing couple of years the indication was that these “spinoff” movies would be highly insular—a story about stealing the plans to the Death Star, featuring Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin; an origin story about Han Solo, with Young Chewie and Young Lando. These weren’t part of the new Star Wars trilogy, but they were certainly covering well-worn territory.
But in the wake of a few new developments, it feels like Lucasfilm may be changing course sooner than expected. First, ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was announced that writer/director Rian Johnson would be crafting a brand new Star Wars trilogy—albeit one that takes place in an entirely different location, with new characters. Then this week Lucasfilm announced that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been enlisted to write and produce a new series of Star Wars films that will be “separate from both the episodic Skywalker saga and the recently-announced trilogy being developed by Rian Johnson.” Disney CEO Bob Iger offered further clarification, saying Benioff and Weiss’ idea is focused on “a point in time in the Star Wars mythology” and “taking it from there.”
This stands in stark contrast to the initial slate of spinoffs that Lucasfilm was developing, In addition to Rogue One, the studio was pretty far along in developing a Boba Fett movie with director Josh Trank (Chronicle), but the film was put on ice when Trank was removed from the project following reports of tumult on the set of his Fantastic Four reboot. There was also talk of a Yoda movie in development, but thus far that has not been officially announced.
Indeed, “officially” is the operative word there. No doubt Lucasfilm has been developing a number of different ideas and films that we’re not privy to, so I’m connecting dots here while also admitting I may be missing some pieces. But based on what we know “officially,” it very much looks as though Lucasfilm is planning for a Skywalker-less future, and we’re starting to get a peek at how the Disney-owned studio will keep Star Wars relevant year-round for decades to come.
In addressing fan complaints about some of the major plot developments in The Last Jedi—many of which bring the Skywalker Chapter to a close while expanding the Star Wars universe beyond this one bloodline—Johnson affirmed his belief that while tough, these kinds of conversations are necessary at this juncture:
“The goal is never to divide or make people upset, but I do think the conversations that are happening were going to have to happen at some point if Star Wars is going to grow, move forward and stay vital.”
While much of the excitement around The Force Awakens was about seeing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill reprising their iconic roles, this is also a franchise that is now four decades old. The Disney era of Lucasfilm needs to create new fans in order to keep this franchise relevant (and don’t forget, Disney paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm, so as a business they also have to prove to shareholders this was a wise investment), and while older fans may have been jazzed about a Boba Fett movie or a Yoda movie, it’s starting to feel like Lucasfilm is gearing up to pivot hard into more of an expanded universe approach to this franchise.
Even the new characters in this ongoing Skywalker trilogy may be done after J.J. Abrams‘ Star Wars: Episode IX, as star Daisy Ridley has expressed her candid desire to walk away from the series after the trilogy concludes. That not to say some stories from this new trilogy might not continue in one form or another, but Episode IX will be a definitive conclusion. The question for Lucasfilm is, what comes next?
This May’s Solo: A Star Wars Story will be a curious test case. Will audiences be hungry for another Star Wars movie just six months after the release of the last one, and are they interested in learning the backstory to an already iconic character? It’s not hard to imagine a not-insignificant amount of people skipping this one, feeling as though they don’t need more clarity on Han Solo without Harrison Ford in the role. The film had a notoriously troubled production in which its original directors were fired with mere weeks of filming left to go, and Rogue One similarly had a fraught road to release, so could Lucasfilm’s own trepidation about making these kinds of “spinoffs” work be what’s partly fueling the desire to move into uncharted territory?
But then there’s also reportedly an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie in development with director Stephen Daldry, so perhaps Lucasfilm hasn’t abandoned the “A Star Wars Story” moniker entirely. It’s also possible the Boba Fett movie idea resurfaces, or Guillermo del Toro fulfills his dream of making a Jabba the Hut movie. But with so much at stake, and so much money already funneled into not just films but theme parks and merchandise, can Disney afford to allow Lucasfilm to keep resting its laurels on the past, or are we on the cusp of a hard pivot to the future?