'Star Wars' Live-Action TV Series to Launch on Disney Streaming Service

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Still - Publicity - Embed 2017
Courtesy of Disney

Star Wars is getting the TV treatment with a forthcoming live-action series set to debut on Disney's digital streaming service. The still-untitled service is set to launch in 2019.

Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger confirmed the project Thursday while on a quarterly earnings call with investors. 

Additionally, Iger revealed that new TV series based on the 2001 Pixar film Monsters Inc. (which also spawned the 2013 sequel Monsters University) and the Disney Channel film franchise High School Musical also will debut on the service.

It also was announced that the Star Wars franchise will expand with the launch of a new trilogy of films from Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. The new movies will be separate from the continuing Skywalker saga and "Johnson will introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored," according to an official announcement made by LucasFilm, which is owned by Disney. Johnson will write and direct the first film in the trilogy.

That new trilogy comes as Lucasfilm also has Solo: A Star Wars Story due out May 25, 2018, and director J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode IX, which is set to bow Dec. 20, 2019. The Last Jedi is slated for release Dec. 15.

In addition to original programming on the streaming service, Iger said on the call that Disney will consider licensing programming from third parties. The exec also noted that ABC Studios could end up producing for the new service. 'We've talked about that a bit," he said. 

Although pricing is still being worked out, the plan is to offer the service for less than the price of Netflix, which currently costs $11 per month for its standard plan.

On the topic of Netflix, Iger noted that he doesn't necessarily see the streaming service as a competitor but as a means of helping Disney become "a viable player in the direct-to-consumer space, a space that we all know is a very compelling space to be in." 

Disney's ESPN service, meanwhile, will launch in spring 2018 and will be called ESPN Plus, Iger confirmed Thursday. The service will exclude sports that currently air on ESPN. 

While this will mark the first live-action Star Wars TV series, George Lucas' franchise has spawned five animated series, going all the way back to 1985's Star Wars: Droids, which aired on ABC (long before ABC and LucasFilm were under the same corporate umbrella), as did the second series, Star Wars: Ewoks. The most recent animated entry, Star Wars Rebels, airs on Disney XD, a sister network of Disney Channel. Next up is Star Wars: Force of Destiny, which will debut on YouTube. Both Rebels and Forces of Destiny are produced by LucasFilm Animation.

Over the years, there have also been three live-action TV specials, most famously the widely lampooned Star Wars: Holiday Special that aired on CBS shortly after the original 1977 film's release.

News that a Star Wars live-action series will be premiering on Disney's streaming service has to be disappointing for ABC, which is also owned by Disney. Network president Channing Dungey expressed her optimism about ABC possibly airing a new Star Wars series at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in 2016 and said talks about that possibility were ongoing.

"As a fan, I would absolutely love to say 'yes,'" she said at the time when asked if it was one of the goals of her tenure. "We have had conversations with Lucasfilm, and we continue to have them. I think it would be wonderful to extend that brand onto our programming." 

Like Star Wars and LucasFilm, ABC is also under the same corporate umbrella as the Marvel universe. In recent years, the network has launched two live-action Marvel series, Agents of SHIELD, which is going into its fifth season, and first-year drama Inhumans.

However, Netflix is also home to an expanding slate of Marvel series, including acclaimed entries like Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, as well as the mini The Defenders. The streamer is set to debut a Daredevil spinoff centered on The Punisher on Friday. (Marvel Television still produces the Netflix series with ABC Studios.) Marvel has also begun to spread out its original series, with The Gifted airing on Fox and The Runaways set to premiere Nov. 21 on Hulu.

And then there's New Warriors, which was set to debut on the Disney-owned cable network Freeform but is now being shopped to other outlets. There is speculation that New Warriors could also end up on Disney's streaming service, but insiders have stressed that is a long shot, given that the streaming service is not set to bow until 2019.

Disney first announced plans to launch its own streaming service in August. Subsequently, all Marvel and Star Wars films will leave Netflix and move to Disney's in-house service when it begins in 2019.

The decision to create a Star Wars live-action TV series is a no-brainer, given the lasting impact of the original trilogy as well as the success of the newer films. It's also not surprising given the rise of reboots, revivals and remakes of known IP as various platforms look for ways to break through the clutter of the "Peak TV" era. CBS All Access tried a similar approach earlier this fall with the launch of a new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery. The drama is just one of two original scripted series on the young streamer, with a third set to launch Sunday. Star Trek: Discovery has already been renewed for a second season.

As for the other series, Monsters Inc. most recently spawned a short film, Party Central, that was released theatrically in 2014 with Muppets Most Wanted. Disney Channel's High School Musical, meanwhile, jump-started the careers of Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale, among others, and led to two sequels, the second of which, High School Musical 3, was released in theaters. In 2016, Disney Channel announced it was developing a fourth film that would serve as somewhat of a reboot. However, it has not yet premiered and it is unclear if the High School Musical series would take its place.