'Star Wars': A look back at Year One of the Disney regime
The still un-subtitled Star Wars sevenquel just received an official release date. If all goes as planned, J.J. Abrams will reboot his second straight Star franchise on Dec. 18, 2015. The key line being “if all goes as planned.” First announced just a little over a year ago, the new Star Wars film sits at the uneasy nexus of corporate ambitions: It’s the first step in a larger plan to revitalize one of the most popular franchise in the last half-century of fictional media, with an earnings potential of several billion dollars at stake.
There’s a lot on the line. The film’s first year of gestation was closely monitored and rife with rumor and hearsay and sudden twists. And the story of the development of the next Star Wars movie is also the story of the new regime gradually rebuilding the Star Wars universe (while destroying certain remnants of the old regime.) Forthwith, a look back at Year One of Episode VII.
After several years of promise that the Star Wars franchise’s future lay in television — a promise that resulted in the much-loved prequel series The Clone Wars, tantalizing rumors about a bleak Deadwood in Space crime drama, and a vomitous trailer for something called Star Wars Detours — George Lucas sells Lucasfilm to Disney. Disney wastes no time getting the ball rolling, resoundly pivoting towards future Star Wars films in its press release. They announce the impending arrival of a sequel trilogy, aiming for a 2015 release for Star Wars: Episode VII. Generations of Star Wars fans willing to forget the prequel trilogy watch with escalating excitement as ambient rumormongering proliferates. Mark Hamill tells EW that George Lucas had been chatting about a sequel trilogy for a long time now. People begin discussing the possibility that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia might return in the new film. But not Han Solo. No way Harrison Ford wants to do another one of these, given his famous distaste for Return of the Jedi…right?
Wrongo! Word filters out that Ford is interested in reprising his role as Han Solo, possibly because he’s made peace with his past and possibly because he really wanted to answer a lot of Star Wars questions on the publicity tours for 42 and Ender’s Game. The rumors can barely keep up with the official press releases: Lucasfilm announces that they’ve already hired a screenwriter for Star Wars: Episode VII, Michael Arndt, who won an Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine and was nominated for Toy Story 3. It sounds so promising! But who’s going to direct this thing? An early frontrunner is Matthew Vaughn, a director with geeky bona fides who recently and semi-mysteriously quit X-Men: Days of Future Past. (Spoiler Alert: The Vaughn rumor died out relatively quickly, and Vaughn is now helming an adaptation of The Secret Service.)
Disney officially completes its acquisition of Lucasfilm, and the Kathleen Kennedy regime unofficially begins cleaning house. Lucasfilm fixture Rick McCallum announces his departure from the company. It’s a quiet landmark moment: McCallum presided over the era that saw Lucasfilm rerelease the original Star Wars trilogy and produced all three Star Wars prequels — moves that made millions of dollars and resulted in the three worst Star Wars movies ever made. Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams simply can’t find enough different ways to say that he’s not directing the new Star Wars movie.
Vulture claims that Zack Snyder is talking to Lucasfilm about filming a Star Wars movie — and it’s not Episode VII. The hotly-contested and totally awesome report says Snyder is working on a standalone spinoff that immediately becomes known as “Seven Samurai in Space.” (Spoiler Alert: Following the success of Man of Steel, Snyder decided to
ruin Batman instead of Star Wars stick with his incipient superhero franchise.)
Meanwhile, Disney subsidiary ABC claims it is taking a close look at the live-action Star Wars TV show, albeit in a manner that suggests passive disinterest. Nobody’s heard from ol’ Deadwood In Space ever since. Lucasfilm begins to pivot away from the prequel-era Star Wars universe, postponing the 3-D releases of Episodes II and III in a manner that suggests aggressive disinterest.
Also, remember when J.J. Abrams said he wouldn’t direct Star Wars? Psych.
The culture is still sorting through the implications of the man behind the Star Trek reboot taking over Star Wars when Disney announces an ambitious spinoff plan. In what amounts to one of the most shameless bits of megabudgeted fan service, the company promises two spinoffs about Han Solo and Boba Fett, the two coolest/most popular characters in the mainstream Star Wars pantheon. The announcement also clarifies the role of Lawrence Kasdan — a beloved figure for his work on Empire Strikes Back, now said to be working on one of the spinoffs. (Simon Kinberg is writing the other one.)
The spinoff announcement complicates the Disney plan for the Star Wars galaxy, implying that their focus will shift between two time frames: The years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and the post-Jedi sequel timeframe. Meanwhile, Mark Hamill tells Entertainment Tonight that Lucasfilm is talking to the original trio about making a return trip to the galaxy far, far away.
Carrie Fisher is kind of saying the same thing, although she might just be joking. Ford, however, is bullish, telling a Chicago TV newscaster that he’s “looking forward to” more Star Wars. Perhaps sensing that he has now opened the door to the possibility of spending the rest of his life answering questions about Star Wars, Ford quickly changes his tune, saying he’d prefer not to discuss Han Solo if it’s all the same to everyone.
On a darker note, Disney announces that it’s taking Lucasfilm Animation in a new direction, and said direction is basically every direction besides wherever Lucasfilm Animation used to be. The Clone Wars is officially canceled, albeit with the promise of more story arcs in some form. Detours is postponed indefinitely and quickly forgotten by everyone.
The purge continues with the closure of LucasArts, Lucasfilm’s videogame subsidiary. LucasArts was a beloved name in nerdland, fondly-remembered for a series of graphic adventure games from ’80s and early ’90s. With the arrival of the prequels, LucasArts shifted into exclusively making ever-more-disappointing Star Wars games. The news is especially sad, since LucasArts had been working on Star Wars 1313, an ambitious and purportedly more grown-up game set in a milieu that one might almost say resembles Deadwood except in space. Taken together, the conclusion of Clone Wars and the cancelation of 1313 feel like a grander statement by the Disney regime: No more prequel-era content, and no more talk about a more mature Star Wars.
This is also the precise moment when Disney’s already sky-high ambitions for the Star Wars reboot go nuclear: The new plan is to release a new Star Wars film every year, alternating between numeral’d chapters of the sequel trilogy and spinoffs.
While Disney officially celebrates Star Wars Day on May 4, J.J. Abrams embarks on the promotional tour for his other science fiction franchise. He spends most of the month dodging questions about Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in Star Trek Into Darkness while also dodging questions about Star Wars, though he scores an easy win with the fanboy contingent when he declares that John Williams will probably do the music. The pivot continues on the small screen with the announcement that Clone Wars producer Dave Filoni is working with Kinberg on a new animated TV series Rebels, which will premiere in Fall 2014 on the Disney channel.
After winning a Daytime Emmy for Clone Wars, a genial Lucas casually mentions that he hasn’t spoken to Abrams about the new trilogy, a revelation that nobody really knows how to take. (Great, the guy who made the prequels isn’t involved in the sequels! Or, conversely: The guy who invented the whole Star Wars universe hasn’t gotten a courtesy phone call.) Bleeding Cool unearths a list of character breakdowns from an Episode VII casting call, leading to inane and unlikely theories from certain fanboys and the general consensus that people in the next Star Wars movie will be “fit.” And the future of Star Wars videogames comes into focus when Electronic Arts announces Star Wars: Battlefront.
Hooray, John Williams is definitely coming back! This plan can’t fail!
Hooray, Episode VII will be shot on film! Nothing can possibly go wrong!
If there’s a dark cloud in this silver sky, it comes from an investor conference on September 12, when a Disney executive refers to the spinoffs as “origin films.” Considering that the prequels basically constituted a Darth Vader origin — and considering that basically every major blockbuster film seems to be an origin story now — this news is less than encouraging.
But enough of those dark clouds! Now rumors are really beginning in earnest. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Benedict Cumberbatch both claim they haven’t been offered any role in Star Wars — in fact, they’ve never even heard of it, truly, what a silly concept to fight a war among the stars! Leave it to Michael B. Jordan to become the first person involved in this circus to say something that actually sounds like unadorned truth. After cheerfully explaining that he auditioned for a role in Star Wars along with a role in every other movie in development, the Fruitvale Station star says, “Everybody’s going in on [Star Wars]. They’re trying to figure out what they want.”
[Record Scratch.] Lucasfilm announces that Abrams and Kasdan will now handle writing duties on Episode VII. The carefully-worded press release presents the change-up in bold terms — “Master Filmmaking Team Announced for Star Wars: Episode VII” — with just one reference to the previous screenwriter, Michael Arndt. (“Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point,” said Kathleen Kennedy.) Coming after nearly a year of smooth-as-silk publicity — and arriving in the midst of a rough period for Abrams’ post-Into Darkness reputation — the news cause some to wonder if the film is in trouble. (This Twitter conversation between various online journalists — totally unsourced and totally fascinating — pretty much sums up the general reaction.)
Per Deadline, Abrams addresses the departure of Arndt in a conference call about Almost Human, continuing what has become an industry trend: Answering questions about Star Wars while nominally pitching a project that isn’t Star Wars. “It became clear that given the time frame and given the process and the way the thing was going that working with Larry in this way was going to get us where we need to be and when we needed to be,” he explains, satisfying no one. Meanwhile, the casting rumors shift towards Chiwetel Ejiofor. And Disney officially moves Episode VII from a planned May 2015 release to December. That moves it away from a summer of big names like Avengers, Batman vs. Superman, and Jurassic World, although there’s always the outside possibility that Peter Jackson will squeeze one last Hobbit sequel out of Lord of the Rings Appendix J. The film still has no name, no cast, and maybe no script. Two more years of this, guys.