Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm Ltd in 2012, we have had two fantastic new Star Wars movies, a new TV series, a Disney theme park dedicated to the franchise and a whole bunch of drama as the writers and directors seem to be playing musical chairs. What has caused this turmoil and is it at an end? Get my take on it below...
In my opinion, and this is simply my opinion, Lucasfilm Ltd came out the gate with Kathleen Kennedy at the helm, eager to inspire confidence. Confidence from Star Wars fans. Confidence from the parent company and confidence from the shareholders. These are things Lucasfilm Ltd never had to worry about before. In fact, the company was born of a spirit that was so fundamentally opposed to these elements of Hollywood, that this new version of Lucasfilm Ltd is almost unrecognisable.
When Lucasfilm Ltd was born, George Lucas had already been part of a movement north, away from Hollywood, both geographically and creatively. American Zoetrope was established to give filmmakers power over their creations. This is where Star Wars was born, in the shadow of THX-1138 and American Graffiti. Two independent films from an auteur filmmaker keen to establish himself far away from corporations like Disney. It worked too, with George self-financing most of these movies and answering to nobody but his creative muse. But it wasn't easy.
It should come as no surprise that Lucasfilm Ltd today is a very different company that has no choice but to approach the production of these films in a different manner. Kathleen Kennedy has to consider Disney and it's share holders when making these films. Or at least she did before any of them hit theatres.
I suspect there was a decision made very early on to load a schedule with films. An ambitious schedule at that; one movie per year, with saga movies every other year and the new Star Wars Story (then Anthology) films filling in the gaps. A schedule in Hollywood terms is more than a white board with release dates written on it. This means having people in place, producers, writers and directors. This was never a concern that bothered OG Lucasfilm. George set his own schedule, took more time over his movies. Wrote them himself (for the most part), produced and directed himself (for the most part). I can imagine Kathleen Kennedy being asked to get these ducks in a row for Disney because it makes for a great reveal at a shareholder meeting and in a press release. Keep that Disney stock up before people have a chance worry about the lack of George or the lack of any real results.
It would be three years before the world (and Disney execs and shareholders) would see a frame of The Force Awakens. Another 12 months before people knew if the Star Wars Story gamble was going to pay off. In that time we had lost at least one writer and one director and added a second director to a project that required huge revisions before release.
Is this what happens when you try to plan too far out to inspire confidence in your overlords?
Phil Lord and Chris Miller were in place before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theatres, Colin Trevorrow was in place before The Force Awakens hit the big screen. Was that really required for these projects? Maybe, based on the schedule, but I suspect these were all "locks" because it helped calm the nerves of the company who just dropped over $4b on the franchise. I think they wanted a tangible timeline with talent booked and Kathleen Kennedy did the best she could, but who could tell that far out what would really be required for such an accelerated schedule.
Colin Trevorrow is the latest casualty of this new Lucasfilm, which I am choosing to recognise as a shift for the company and its projects. Colin's departure is probably a good thing for both parties, and good for Star Wars because now we can get someone to come in with a fresh perspective and tackle the challenge of making a Star Wars movie without Carrie Fisher.
All of this is speculation of course, but I'm seeing a Lucasfilm and a Kathleen Kennedy who is willing to take the actions required to secure the best result for their movie. Whats more with two huge successes, both critical and financially I'm beginning to see a Lucasfilm who can say, "just give us the room we need to make the film we want to make and trust us."
We can, if we choose to do so, see the hirings and firings at Lucasfilm as poor management or bad decision making or just poor luck. But to my mind, it is the result of attempting to placate the parent company and lock down the creative process years in advance. What will come next, I'm sure is a Lucasfilm that enjoys more freedom from Disney when it comes to planning the next series of films. And a Lucasfilm that better understands how to produce these films in such quick succession, whilst choosing from a stable of directors who understand how the company works.
If you want to know who will helm future Star Wars projects, I'd suggest looking to the past. J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Gareth Edwards and Ron Howard all seem to be capable and willing to produce movies in the Star Wars galaxy. That's a huge pool of talent to draw upon whilst you add new filmmakers like Patti Jenkins (my pick for future films) who can come on early and spend years developing a project from script to screen, just like George used to do.
That's the Lucasfilm I see establishing itself now.
That's why I'm not rattled by the Colin Trevorrow news this morning.
Thank you for reading,