HEAT VISION

Marvel's Kevin Feige and the Future of 'Star Wars'

Feige and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy both enjoy making movies for the masses, but neither are as risk-averse as some fans have made them out to be.
Kevin Feige; Kathleen Kennedy   |   Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
Feige and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy both enjoy making movies for the masses, but neither are as risk-averse as some fans have made them out to be.

Kevin Feige is heading to a galaxy far, far away. Wednesday night, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that the Marvel Studios president, hot off the success of producing the highest grossing movie of all time, will be teaming with the Lucasfilm president to produce a new Star Wars film. While no story details have been released and the setting and the appearance of familiar characters are anyone’s guess, fans are already speculating about what this team-up means for the future of Star Wars following the upcoming release of December’s The Rise of Skywalker, which is said to end the Skywalker Saga that George Lucas began in 1977. While details may be scarce, the history of both producers gives us some inkling of what to expect from their pairing.

Feige is longtime Star Wars fan, and he has cited George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard as his favorite filmmakers, each an influence on his desire to be part of the film industry. With Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm under one roof, it only seemed like a matter of time before Feige got the opportunity to fulfill his dream of working on a Star Wars film. Although some are guessing that Feige will eventually succeed Kennedy at Lucasfilm, leaving Marvel Studios behind, such talk feels premature. Feige has already discussed his long-term plans for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Kennedy’s staying power and influence at Lucasfilm aren’t to be underestimated. Instead of speculating on future executive moves inside Disney, let's turn our attention to just what kind of movie the two could make together.

The news of Feige’s involvement in Star Wars is understandably big news because he’s only produced Marvel films, beginning with X-Men (2000), and has become synonymous with the brand. But the reality is that most producers, even those who shepherd giant franchises, work in multiple spaces and genres. J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and Feige’s personal trinity of Lucas, Zemeckis and Howard have all broadened the sphere of influence, taking a part in multiple franchises, independent films and studios. Kennedy is a perfect example of that, having spent the majority of her career producing the films of Steven Spielberg, beginning with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Joe Dante, Zemeckis and M. Night Shyamalan, among many others. Even with gaining her position at Lucasfilm in 2012, Kennedy has managed to produce The BFG (2016) and line up a list of non-Star Wars projects in development. Looking at the filmography of most producers and studio presidents, it’s more surprising that Feige has only produced Marvel movies than it is that he’s lending his talents to Star Wars.

When it comes to envisioning what a Feige and Kennedy Star Wars movie looks like, I’d hazard to guess that it won’t be significantly different from the approach we’ve seen Lucasfilm take thus far. Both producers have the same influences and interest in telling big stories that bring in big audiences. Both are interested in delivering moments that leave audiences cheering, talking about the film long after seeing it and returning to the theater for repeat viewings. Neither producer seems particularly keen on taking big risks with their brands, meaning that Feige wants Marvel Studios films to feel like Marvel Studios films, and Kennedy wants Star Wars to feel like Star Wars. And because of this, both have encountered creative differences that led to directors leaving projects — Edgar Wright on Ant-Man (2015) and Phil Lord and Chris Miller on Solo (2018). Despite having clear ideas about what their brands are and utilizing a formula to achieve that, neither are as risk-averse as some fans have made them out to be.

Feige pushed for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) to get made, and notably by Troma filmmaker James Gunn. And while a reliance on Iron Man has certainly allowed Marvel Studios’ brand to become the multi-billion dollar enterprise it is, it’s also allowed for some of the chances the MCU seems to be taking with Phase 4 and the increased attention to diversity we’ve seen in the past couple years now that Feige no longer has to go through Marvel's Ike Perlmutter, the notoriously cost-conscious and risk-averse Marvel Entertainment CEO whom Disney CEO Bob Iger even singled out in his new memoir for not wanting to make Black Panther or Captain Marvel.

And although Kennedy wasn’t interested in the tonal shift to Star Wars that Lord and Miller allegedly offered, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is one of the riskier blockbusters to come out from Disney in some time. There are certainly faults to be found at both Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, ones that have resulted in the idea that the producer in the role of showrunner is more important than any singular filmmaker’s vision. But that case isn’t always true, and it relies on ignoring the fact that no studio gives its filmmakers complete freedom on blockbusters, and that most franchises employ a recognizable formula that makes the franchise what it is.

There’s some concern that Feige will attempt to Marvel-ize Star Wars with stakes-deflating humor and winks at the audience that suggest none of it is taken too seriously. But the thing is, the MCU is relying on stories and characters that fans know and attempting to provide both fan service and welcome in new audiences who are frightened by the immensity of comic book lore. That tonal balancing act, which admittedly doesn’t always pan out, isn’t the same thing that’s driving Star Wars. Star Wars doesn’t have the weight of source material on its back. But speaking plainly, Feige is a smart man, and given his love for Star Wars, he surely isn’t interested in making it into Marvel, which is decidedly not Star Wars. In the same way we expect filmmakers to stretch their creative limbs when entering a new project, the same holds true for producers, meaning that for Feige to want to add another project to his already sizable plate means that it has to be a vision that couldn’t simply be substituted with Marvel characters.

As for who might direct Feige and Kennedy’s Star Wars project, fans will surely suggest the Russo Brothers, Taika Waititi, James Gunn or Jon Favreau. But Feige has a habit of choosing unexpected directors for new projects, often from the world of low-budget features and television. Given Kathleen Kennedy’s comments a few years ago that there weren’t any female directors ready to take on Star Wars, and the fact that Feige’s next Marvel films, Black Widow and The Eternals, are both directed by women, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the producers work together to confirm that yes, there are women ready to take on Star Wars.

Ultimately Feige and Kennedy’s Star Wars film will likely be large in scale, more than “A Star Wars” story or a project that could be just as easily achieved on Disney+. Their film will undoubtedly be populated with spaceships, lightsabers and new worlds — all the aspects that anyone who has dreamed of making a Star Wars film since childhood would want to include. And because Feige likes to have breathing room for his stories to grow, we also expect it to take place in an unexplored era in Star Wars history, with enough years, or centuries even to separate it from the upcoming trilogies of Rian Johnson and David Benioff & D.B. Weiss. Don’t expect the world-building to go off the rails, in the way Lucas’ sequel outline that dealt with the mircobiotic origins of the Force and the Whills planned to, but do expect Feige and Kennedy’s film to have enough major ramifications on the Star Wars universe to make the telling worthwhile.

The biggest takeaway from the news isn’t anything that suggests drastic changes for either Marvel Studios or Lucasfilm, rather that Feige and Kennedy are invested in expanding what they can achieve as producers and together make a Star Wars film that, when all is said and done, will capture all of the imagination, spectacle and energy to make it feel exactly like Star Wars.

  • Richard Newby
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