A new hand will guide the Star Wars saga for the first time in nearly 30 years. Does that give fans of the series a new hope?
George Lucas always had planned to make nine films. The new episode takes place, chronologically, after 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that one possibility being considered is an Avengers-style movie universe with not only Lucas’ planned final trio of films but offshoot movies focusing on individual characters.
Lucas wrote and directed the first Star Wars (A New Hope), which earned more than $307 million after its 1977 release ($1.1 billion, adjusted for inflation) and stayed in theaters for more than a year. The film earned generally positive reviews, made instant stars of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford and with Jaws helped usher in the era of big-budget summer movies.
Its 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was directed by Irvin Kershner, and Lucas is credited with only the story; the screenplay was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. Empire received the highest notes from fans and critics alike and earned $290 million at the box office.
For Jedi, directing duties fell to Richard Marquand, with a screenplay from Kasdan and Lucas, who heavily influenced the production and introduced scenes and characters that fans approached with mixed feelings. That film earned $309 million at the box office.
Lucas continued to exercise greater control over the three Star Wars “prequels” released by 20th Century Fox from 1999-2005. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were written and directed by Lucas, and together they earned more than $1 billion domestically. But the new films drew the ire of fans and critics, who complained about wooden acting, grating characters with overt racial overtones (Jar-Jar Binks) and a heavy focus on special effects.
Tuesday’s news that longtime Hollywood producer Kathleen Kennedy will executive produce three new episodes in the saga could give fans a reason to be excited. Lucas, who is retiring, has written the treatments for the next three films, Disney executives told investors Tuesday. He’ll remain a creative consultant to Disney but won’t produce or direct.
“It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Lucas said in a release. “I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.”
Kennedy, who was named co-chair of Lucasfilm in June, was hired specifically to work on the next three films, a source close to Lucas tells THR. A veteran of blockbuster films, she has worked with Steven Spielberg for years on everything from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to Lucas’ Indiana Jones franchise.
“Now at least it makes a little sense about Kathy — why she would have taken the job,” the source says. “She’ll probably be making seven, eight and nine (the next three Star Wars films) full time for the next few years.”
Lucas, whose Skywalker Ranch is located in Marin County outside San Francisco, has operated outside the Hollywood purview. But Kennedy is more connected to the industry.
Beyond the next episode in the saga, Disney plans to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years for the foreseeable future. The company also sees Star Wars as a TV property on its Disney XD channel, which is aimed at young boys. And plans are in the works to greatly ramp up the saga’s presence at its theme parks.
Below, watch Kennedy and Lucas discuss the future of the series in a video posted Tuesday on YouTube.