There has been a lot of talk about a Star Wars live-action TV series over the years, but now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has energized the Disney-owned franchise in a big way, the absence of said series remains a head-scratcher. The series, once titled Star Wars: Underworld, was announced back in 2005 with George Lucas himself developing the gritty and ambitious hour-long drama. It experienced a number of delays thanks to the hefty amounts of digital animation it would have required, a budgetary expense that Lucas and his producer Rick McCallum neither had the finances nor the technology to handle. Disney certainly has both in spades; they just lack the interest in making the project a priority.
As TV Line summarizes, Star Wars: Underworld and its 50 third-draft scripts by writers such as Ron Moore are now firmly the property of Disney, but their focus was, understandably, on kicking off the new series of films. One would think that, now that the films seem to be on a very solid foundation what with Star Wars: The Force Awakens box office-record smashing performance, Disney might be inclined to bring the Force to ABC in live-action, but apparently that’s not the case.
Network president Paul Lee confirmed as much:
“They are focused on their movies, so we don’t have any plans at the moment.”
That’s not to say that Star Wars doesn’t have any presence on television, just not in the live-action format. A Lucasfilm rep supported that stance:
“Our current focus for TV is on animation [Star Wars Rebels, etc.].
The point about focusing on animation for TV is a major one. Not only do the existing animated properties cover roughly the same time period that the live-action series would have (Star Wars Rebels takes place about five years before Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and Star Wars: Underworld was expected to take place in the 20-year gap between the third and fourth films), they’re much cheaper to make per episode (the live-action hours clocked in a $5 million per). The big difference, however, is the live-action show’s thematic elements and target audience, something that recently drew Netflix’s attention.
There were some confusing rumors back in September that Netflix would be streaming the existing (and possibly new) Star Wars films, and more rumors last month that the streaming service was in talks with Lucasfilm brass about developing a series for 2017. Kathleen Kennedy told /Film:
[I]nterestingly enough, thats an area we’ve spent a lot of time, reading through the material that [Lucas] developed is something we very much would like to explore.
But there are still a couple of things standing in the way. One, as alluded to for TV Line by an anonymous industry insider, is that “it’s smart brand management” not to do one. “I imagine they’re looking to avoid the Marvel-ization of the franchise.” An odd choice of description considering the Disney-owned Marvel has done quite well with its cinematic and television universes, so perhaps a more apt way of putting it is a decision not to dilute their brand anymore than they already have. There are a lot of movies coming in the next few years, so Lucas’ series might not line up exactly with what Disney plans to do on the feature side of things.
The last thing preventing a Star Wars live-action series from getting the go-ahead is J.J. Abrams’ current deal for television production:
Since my TV deal is at [Warner Bros.],” he explains, “it is unlikely that [my production company] Bad Robot will be involved in any Star Wars television projects.”
In other words, things just aren’t aligned in a way that would make Star Wars: Underworld an easy sell for Disney at this point. In the future, perhaps that will change, especially if they’re able to make a deal with Netflix; that Marvel deal has worked out well for both parties so far, so at least there’s a precedent for it. Keep your fingers crossed, but don’t get your hopes up until we here something more definitive.
Here’s a look at just a few brief instances of news on the long-in-development Star Wars live-action TV series, starting back in 2011:
- STAR WARS Live-Action TV Series Still Three or Four Years Away
- STAR WARS Live-Action Series May be Titled STAR WARS: UNDERWORLD; Plus Other Details
- Rick McCallum Talks Tone and Logistics of Live-Action STAR WARS TV Series; Describes it as “EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on Steroids”
- ABC to Consider Live-Action STAR WARS TV Series
- Scrapped STAR WARS: UNDERWORLD Live-Action Series Would Have Featured Young Han Solo, Lando, and More
- Rumor: A Live-Action STAR WARS TV Show May Be in Development