'Star Wars' Chief Kathleen Kennedy's Lucasfilm Deal Extended for Three Years (Exclusive)

After the box-office disappointment of 'Solo: A Star Wars Story,' the studio plans to expand the universe with new characters introduced in movies and television shows.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy has reignited her lightsaber. The lead producer and architect of the Star Wars franchise has renewed her contract to remain president of Lucasfilm for another three years, through 2021, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. 

The move is a vote of confidence in Kennedy, who took command of Lucasfilm after Disney’s $4 billion acquisition from George Lucas in 2012 and has overseen the relaunch of Star Wars, one of the most revered movie properties in cinematic history. Disney's four new Star Wars films have grossed almost $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office. Ancillary and merchandising have brought billions more into the studio's coffers.

But it hasn’t always been easy money. Kennedy has had to replace directors on two movies that were either in production or postproduction. Chris Lord and Phil Miller were fired from Solo: A Star Wars Story on June 20, 2017, less than a year before the film's release. Kennedy also effectively replaced Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards with helmer Tony Gilroy, though Edwards kept his directing credit. Last year, Colin Trevorrow, who was to have directed Star Wars: Episode IX, was fired and replaced with the series' Episode VII helmer, J.J. Abrams, a week later. 

Kennedy’s position is one of the most visible, and her actions the most highly scrutinized, in Hollywood, due to the immense popularity of Lucasfilm’s franchises, which also include the Indiana Jones series. So it's notable that her renewal follows this summer's Solo: A Star Wars Story, the first box-office disappointment for the franchise, which grossed "only" $392 million worldwide and led analysts to estimate a loss for the film at $50 million to $80 million or more. (By contrast, 2017's The Last Jedi and 2016's Rogue One grossed $1 billion globally, and 2015's The Force Awakens topped $2 billion in receipts.)

Kennedy's deal extension also follows a polarizing reaction to Last Jedi — which sits at 91 percent fresh on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes but was flooded with unusually angry fan complaints on social media about key plot choices. The reaction to Last Jedi and Solo has resulted in a shift in studio strategy, with Disney making plans to slow the output of movies. "You can expect some slowdown," Disney CEO Bob Iger told THR in an interview published on Sept. 20, adding, "but that doesn't mean we're not going to make films."

The only Star Wars film currently underway is Episode IX, currently shooting in London and set for release Dec. 20, 2019. Sources tell THR that Episode IX will be the last of the "chapter" installments, with Disney planning on touting it as a selling point in the promotion campaign for the film in the year leading up to its release. Lucasfilm is developing feature projects from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, as well as a potential trilogy from Rian Johnson, the filmmaker behind Last Jedi. Johnson, however, is currently prepping to shoot a detective thriller that is to star Daniel Craig.

Sources say that the near future of Star Wars lies in television, with Kennedy-led Lucasfilm planning on expanding the universe with new characters in that medium. The shows at this stage include a live-action series (which is currently casting) run by Jon Favreau and the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, both of which will air on Disney’s untitled streaming service, which is slated to launch in the second half of 2019. Meanwhile, another animated series, Star Wars Resistance, is set to premiere next month on The Disney Channel.

Lucasfilm is also developing a new Indiana Jones movie, the fifth in a series starring Harrison Ford and directed by Spielberg, but that project recently saw its release date pushed back from July 10, 2020, to July 9, 2021. Script issues were the cause. The last installment, 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, grossed $786 million worldwide, adjusted for inflation. 

Kennedy got her first breaks working as an assistant to writer John Milius and then Steven Spielberg, becoming a co-founder of Amblin Entertainment. She has established one of the most enviable producing careers in Hollywood, with credits on classic blockbusters like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, as well as critically acclaimed Spielberg dramas like Schindler's List, Munich, War Horse and Lincoln

Earlier this month, Kennedy was named as a recipient, along with her husband, producer Frank Marshall, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Award for a "body of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” She will receive the honor at the 10th annual Governors Awards on Nov. 18.