To the surprise of no one, Kevin Feige is a huge Star Wars fan. It might surprise many, however, that the Marvel Studios chief is going to be developing a Star Wars movie as Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy makes new plans for a wave of projects set in the universe, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Feige had discussed a foray into the Star Wars universe in a late summer meeting with Kennedy and studio co-chairmen Alan Horn and Alan Bergman, sources say. In response to a query from THR, Walt Disney Studios co-chairman and chief creative officer Horn said, “We are excited about the projects Kathy and the Lucasfilm team are working on, not only in terms of Star Wars but also Indiana Jones and reaching into other parts of the company including Children of Blood and Bone with Emma Watts and Fox. With the close of the Skywalker Saga, Kathy is pursuing a new era in Star Wars storytelling, and knowing what a die-hard fan Kevin is, it made sense for these two extraordinary producers to work on a Star Wars film together.”
Some see this move as a prelude to a larger role for Feige within Lucasfilm, while others say it merely reflects the Marvel executive’s passion for the franchise. A top Disney source says Kennedy remains in charge with no plans for any changes. One knowledgeable source says Feige has told a major actor that there’s a specific role he would like that person to play if and when he makes the movie.
However, with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker set to hit theaters Dec. 20, it is understandable that Disney would like to keep as much about the future of the franchise under wraps as possible. Skywalker, otherwise known as Episode IX, is meant to be the final installment of the series that was first launched by George Lucas in 1977. It is also meant to win back fans after the last sequel trilogy entry, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, divided audiences, even though reviews were largely positive and the film grossed $1.3 billion worldwide.
Under Feige’s leadership, Marvel has had an extraordinary run of hits, including four of the top 10 movies ever released. This summer, Avengers: Endgame grossed $2.9 billion and surpassed Avatar to become the top grosser of all time, not adjusted for inflation. Feige has a packed slate of Marvel movies and TV in the works, and he is expected to take a big role in developing the Marvel heroes, like the X-Men, that Disney got in the Fox acquisition.
Kennedy has been president of Lucasfilm since 2012. She is one of the very few women in top executive jobs at Disney, but she was picked for the job by Lucas before he sold his company for $4 billion that year. In September 2018, she renewed her contract for three years.
So far, the four Star Wars films produced for Disney have grossed almost $4.5 billion. But while Feige has presided over a mostly seamless rollout of one Marvel hit after another, reinvigorating the Star Wars franchise has not been a smooth process. Gareth Edwards was effectively sidelined as the helmer of the troubled 2016 film Rogue One, with Tony Gilroy shooting the third act. The film went on to become a hit, generating strong reviews and $1.1 billion worldwide.
In June 2017, Kennedy fired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller during the production of the prequel film Solo amid concerns about their improvisational style. Ron Howard stepped in to finish the film, which grossed $392.9 million and became the first Star Wars pic to lose money. In September 2017, Jurassic World filmmaker Colin Trevorrow was dropped as director of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and replaced by J.J. Abrams, who successfully relaunched the franchise in 2015 with The Force Awakens. Disney chairman Bob Iger conceded in a recent New York Times interview that the studio had made mistakes. “I just think that we might’ve put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast,” he said.
One potential trouble sign for Lucasfilm and Disney is the allegedly disappointing attendance at new Star Wars attractions in Anaheim and Orlando. During a recent earnings call, Iger said interest in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was still high, and “long term … we have no concerns whatsoever about them.” (On Wednesday, Disney unveiled a new leadership structure for the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort parks in Anaheim and Orlando.)
Disney has been criticized for its lack of women in top roles at the company, so any move to displace Kennedy may create perception problems. In his Times interview, Iger acknowledged that women and people of color were not well-represented but said, “I’ll change that before I leave.”
While Disney and Lucasfilm have scaled back development of Star Wars movies in part due to the poor performance of Solo, it is still working on future movies. Both Last Jedi helmer Rian Johnson and Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are working on feature projects set in the Star Wars universe. And with Disney ramping up its streaming service Disney+, Lucasfilm will be an important piece of the puzzle. Jon Favreau’s live-action Star Wars space Western, The Mandalorian, is set to premiere Nov. 12, and a Rogue One prequel series is in the works, as is an Ewan McGregor-led Obi-Wan Kenobi series.