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New 'Star Wars' Movie in the Works With 'Sleight' Filmmaker (Exclusive)

Director J.D. Dillard and 'Luke Cage' writer Matt Owens have been tapped to develop a project, but it is unclear whether it is a theatrical or Disney+ release.
Inset: J.D. Dillard   |   Lucasfilm/Photofest; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Director J.D. Dillard and 'Luke Cage' writer Matt Owens have been tapped to develop a project, but it is unclear whether it is a theatrical or Disney+ release.

As Lucasfilm maps out the next phase of Star Wars movies, executives are grappling with this question as development moves ahead: Which characters and stories justify theatrical releases and which should arrive exclusively on the streaming platform Disney+?

The Hollywood Reporter learned Friday that a new Star Wars project is in the works: J.D. Dillard, best known for writing and directing the sci-fi thriller Sleight, and Matt Owens, a writer on the Marvel shows Luke Cage and Agents of SHIELD, have been tapped to develop it. But insiders say it is undecided whether the project will be for the big screen or for Disney's highly prioritized streaming platform.

Plot, character and setting details are unknown and are being kept in the murky underworld of Exegol. It also is unclear whether Dillard would direct, should the project move forward. The Dillard project is understood to be unrelated to a Star Wars film pitch by Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige and potential work from Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. 

Disney and Lucasfilm appear to be shifting gears on the franchise to help boost Disney+, with Disney chairman Bob Iger saying earlier this month that Star Wars’ foreseeable future was in television, with theatrical movies going on a hiatus. The next theatrical film remains on the release calendar for Dec. 16, 2022, with other entries planned in December 2024 and December 2026.

While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has grossed $1.07 billion globally since its December launch and will likely end its run as the sixth-highest-grossing film worldwide of 2019, the trend line for Star Wars films at the box office has declined during the Disney era since 2015's Force Awakens' $2.07 billion haul. The 2018 spinoff film Solo, in particular, grossed $392.9 million and led Iger to concede last September in a New York Times profile that "we might've put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast."

Meanwhile, since its Nov. 12 launch, The Mandalorian, the series created by Jon Favreau, has been credited with helping to drive Disney+ to 28.6 million subscribers. (A second season of The Mandalorian is set to arrive in October.) On a Feb. 4 call with investors, Iger described the show as "a bona fide hit and a cultural phenomenon" and said the studio has "a few Star Wars series in varying stages of production and development."

Iger added that "the priority for Star Wars in the short term is going to be, I'll call it television for Disney+, and then we will have more to say about development of theatrical soon after that."

Disney+ Star Wars spinoffs are now being targeted even as several other shows are in the works, including one centering on Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi and another on Rogue One character Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). And, on Friday, the first episode of the seventh season of the revived animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars landed on the streaming platform. 

Owens is currently co-writing One Piece, an ambitious live-action adaptation of the manga, for Netflix. He is repped by CAA and Circle of Confusion.

Dillard made waves with 2016's Sleight, a genre thriller that was well-received when it debuted at Sundance and subsequently picked up by Focus. His last movie was Sweetheart, a horror thriller that starred Kiersey Clemons, and he recently helmed an episode of Utopia, the Gillian Flynn-created series set up at Amazon. Dillard already has some Star Wars experience, as he worked in a production capacity on 2015's The Force Awakens and played a stormtrooper in Rise of Skywalker. Dillard is repped by CAA, Circle of Confusion and law firm Ginsburg Daniels.

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