Whoever knew getting people to make Star Wars films would be so difficult?
This week, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss joined the likes of Colin Trevorrow, Josh Trank and The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller in the ranks of almost-Star Wars directors, with the pair withdrawing from a planned new trilogy that was due to begin in 2022.
Functionally, this means that of every big-name creative hired by LucasFilm since being bought by Disney only JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson have successfully navigated the terrain and delivered a new Star Wars film all the way through (Rogue One’s Gareth Edwards was unofficially sidelined for reshoots, while Solo’s Ron Howard only took over from Lord and Miller late in the day), and this latest news seems to only add to LucasFilm’s woes when it comes to its silver screen future.
Today, we’re in an odd situation when making a Star Wars movie is seen as a bigger risk than launching several expensive live-action TV shows set in that world – and following the release of Episode IX this December, it’s a bit unclear whether Star Wars has much of a future in the multiplexes at all.
And to think, it all started so well. When Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012 and released a Return of the Jedi sequel in 2015, interest was at its height – and with prequel Rogue One, released the following year, they appeared to have found a way to extend Star Wars beyond its natural numbered episode life cycle.
The first Star Wars movie released outside the main “saga,” the so-called “Star Wars story” was a critical and commercial hit and seemed to suggest that Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe model – whereby various franchise movies could be in production concurrently with a different cast and setting – could be somewhat imported into the House of Mouse’s other big live-action franchise, using prequels and spin-offs to enable a regular stream of Star Wars on the big screen.
But then came Solo. Beset by behind-the-scenes problems, expensively reshot and released within a few months of 2017’s The Last Jedi, the second “Star Wars story” prequel was something of a box-office bomb and the lowest-grossing live-action Star Wars film of all time.
In fact, Solo was such a failure a host of various Star Wars spin-off movies were quickly scrapped following its bad performance, including a spin-off in A New Hope’s Mos Eisley spaceport and another starring Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi (of which, more later), and the focus was apparently shifted to new narrative trilogies like the one planned by Benioff and Weiss and The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson.
Today, it’s less clear than ever what awaits Star Wars on the silver screen. We have Episode IX this December, of course, but after that very little is confirmed. Benioff and Weiss’ new trilogy was set to kick off in 2022 – given the long lead time, it’s certainly possible that the concept (apparently based centuries before the saga movies during the galaxy’s Old Republic) could be picked up by other producers and directors, but it could be that their exit means the project is entirely dead.
Johnson’s trilogy, meanwhile, is still shrouded in secrecy. While he has said he’s still working with LucasFilm on it, there have been no significant updates since it was announced two years ago, and it could be that even if it does happen it’ll take a long period of development before it arrives.
And then there’s Kevin Feige’s recently-announced Star Wars project, with the Marvel Studios President apparently already casting for his mysterious idea which could mean we should expect it much earlier than any other movies in the Star Wars universe. Given Feige’s success with Marvel, it might be that LucasFilm and Disney believe he can work a similar magic on Star Wars movies, sparking off a new interlocking franchise of different characters.
Alternatively, it could be that he just has a fun idea for one movie, which will be stuck in development for a good few years yet.
Whatever happens, something’s about to change. After having one film a year since 2015, the situation fans were in prior to Benioff and Weiss’ departure would be that they’d have to wait three years until 2022 before they saw another Star Wars movie (after The Rise of Skywalker) – now, it seems they’ll be waiting at least that long, maybe longer. And it could be that Star Wars’ main future won’t be in cinemas at all.
Clearly, Disney are putting a lot of eggs in the episodic streaming basket at the moment, with their first live-action TV series The Mandalorian dropping this autumn (later in the UK) on Disney+, and soon followed by others.
Notably, those include a series spinning off the lone non-trilogy success of Rogue One (which will examine the earlier years of some of that film’s characters) and another catching up with Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, with LucasFilm retooling the scrapped film pitch for TV in what could be a clear example of their changed priorities.
So will there never be another Star Wars movie? Well, obviously there will be – even if they are a bit riskier than they once were, they’re still too popular and potentially lucrative for Disney to leave alone entirely. But what we might be seeing here is something more like the end of the prequel trilogy in 2005, when we had no proper Star Wars movies for 10 years but had a LOT of TV spin-offs and other media (though at that time, they were animated).
Maybe what Star Wars needs is a bit of a fallow period to let the grass grow, metaphorically speaking, dialling back the big releases so that when they do reappear they feel like more of an event again, but still utilising the Intellectual Property and attracting hardcore fans with a regular array of small-screen spin-offs.
Or maybe making huge, expensive and divisive Star Wars movies is just proving too much of a headache, and they genuinely have no idea how to proceed with the franchise now that they’ve run out of roman numerals.
Either or both could be true but the result is the same – the past four years of regular Star Wars movie releases is definitively over. Now, a new world awaits. And we’ll just have to hope it’s a world where LucasFilm can hold on to a few creatives.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is released on the 19th December