Since the Disney acquisition in 2012, Lucasfilm has struggled to retain filmmakers for new the wave of Star Wars content. The dysfunction has led to a common theme of fired directors and writers, a trend that continues with no end in sight.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced there would be a hiatus in feature film output after 2019 following The Rise of Skywalker. The intention was to plan out the next set of movies and return to theaters in December 2022, though COVID-19 pushed each release slate back a year.
Rumors of a secret Old Republic movie taking the now-shelved Rogue Squadron's place were evidently off base, and the franchise's theatrical return is now at least another three years away. Star Wars fans will be held over well by the wide array of Disney+ offerings, though the shows don't come with as much fanfare as new movies.
It's not a problem that presented itself when the hiatus was imposed. The creative overhauls have been a struggle for Lucasfilm from nearly the moment Disney acquired the company, starting with the discarding of George Lucas' sequel trilogy outline.
That was just the beginning. With rare exceptions, every live-action Star Wars project in the new era has been tainted by some kind of developmental controversy. Some turned out fine, others suffered greatly, and even more, never saw the light of day. This history could become a trademark for Lucasfilm or one that's triumphantly turned around.
The Force Awakens
On October 30, 2012, Disney officially acquired Lucasfilm and announced a new slate of Star Wars movies, beginning with Episode VII. A group of creative minds was brought together to piece together the next chapter in Star Wars, including Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt.
J.J. Abrams was brought on to direct, but he quickly found himself overseeing writing duties. Seeking 13 months to develop the story, Arndt was fired, and Abrams teamed up with then-consultant Lawrence Kasdan to pen what became The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm vied for the release to be pushed back a year, but Disney and CEO Bob Iger, seeking an immediate return on investment, settled for December 2015.
Longtime ILM supervisor John Knoll pitched the idea of Rogue One to Kathleen Kennedy as what was then considered an anthology film, based on an episode for the unproduced Star Wars: Underworld series. Gary Whitta was hired to write the script but was later dismissed and replaced by Chris Weitz, whose final drafts differed greatly from Whitta's.
When the film didn't come along as Lucasfilm expected, director Gareth Edwards was fired deep in the post-production process (though he retained his directing credit). Tony Gilroy was called in and assumed command of the editing process, oversaw significant emergency re-shoots, and restructured much of the film's plot, collecting a screenwriting credit for his work.
Phil Lord & Chris Miller
One of the projects initially conceived by George Lucas, Solo was Star Wars' first true box office disaster. Co-written by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan, the picture was initially helmed by directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Displeased with the level of improvisation, comedic approach, and length of time spent on set, the pair were sacked mid-way through production by Kennedy.
Ron Howard picked up the mantle quickly and completed production on time with re-shoots, but the budget for the film was ultimately doubled. The movie was released in May 2018 at the urging of Disney, and for a multitude of factors flopped, largely eliminating the possibility of sequels - though Howard is game to return if fan support is strong enough.
The Rise of Skywalker
Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly
To conclude the Skywalker saga, director Colin Trevorrow was tapped to oversee Episode IX in 2015, writing the script with frequent collaborator Derek Connolly. Jack Thorne was hired for revisions two years later, but the story remained unsatisfactory to Kennedy and Lucasfilm. In September 2017, Trevorrow and his writing team were fired from the project titled Duel of the Fates.
With little time to spare and a bumped release to December 2019, J.J. Abrams was hired to write and direct the final installment. Alongside Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, the director delivered The Rise of Skywalker in just 18 months. The film was slammed by fans and critics for creative choices, with Abrams later lamenting that the sequel trilogy should have been planned.
Boba Fett Anthology Film
In 2014, Simon Kinberg was hired to write an Anthology film centered on Boba Fett. Josh Trank was later brought in to direct, with a release target of 2018. When Lucasfilm caught wind of Trank's disastrous Fantastic Four production, his appearance and reveal of the film at Star Wars Celebration in 2015 was canceled, and he was subsequently shown the door.
Reports of a revived effort on a Boba Fett film came to light in early 2018, this time to be written and directed by Logan filmmaker James Mangold. When the movie was left off of Disney's release slate for the targeted 2020 window, Bob Iger explained that there would be a slow-down on Star Wars films following Solo's poor performance. Mangold maintains a solid relationship with Lucasfilm, however, having served as the director on the forthcoming Indiana Jones 5.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Anthology Trilogy
Before being green-lit for a Disney+ series, a project focused on Obi-Wan Kenobi was being developed as a film. Lucasfilm approached star Ewan McGregor in 2015 about reprising the role of the Jedi Master after the actor expressed interest in doing a spin-off film, and a deal was quickly made to begin development. Stephen Daldry was hired to write and direct by 2017, with Hossein Amini later joining the writing team.
It was later revealed that the film being developed was the first in a trilogy. With the Boba Fett film out as a candidate for 2020 following Trank's dismissal, the Kenobi movie was expected to take its place - until Solo happened. Lucasfilm abandoned any plans for future spin-off films, and Daldry was let go as the odds of seeing an Obi-Wan project dwindled.
Rian Johnson's Untitled Trilogy
Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy were so pleased with the smooth production of The Last Jedi and their working relationship with Rian Johnson that they announced the writer and director would take the reins for his own trilogy. The news broke during a quarterly investor's call with Bob Iger in November 2017, a month before Episode VIII hit theaters.
The backlash the film received has since been well documented, and no forward progress has been made on the trilogy in five years. While Johnson maintains that he "hopes" the project will happen, his focus on the Knives Out franchise has led to limited communication with Kennedy. Between the lack of movement on the trilogy and general fan disinterest in Johnson's return, the movies are unlikely to happen - though the director's project has yet to be officially canceled.
Benioff & Weiss Untitled Film Series
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
A bombshell was dropped in early 2018 when Lucasfilm announced that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be developing a series of films in conjunction with Rian Johnson's trilogy, set in a new era for Star Wars. Their work was scheduled to commence following the completion of Game of Thrones' final season, which the duo reportedly rushed to dive into their films.
The poor reception to the season and the pair's urge to get it out were the beginning of their falling out with Lucasfilm. Following a peculiar mega-deal with streamer Netflix, it was announced that Benioff and Weiss' Star Wars contract had been terminated in October 2019. Reports indicated the project was to be centered on the origins of the Jedi, but the ideas have been shelved.
In November 2018, Bob Iger announced that a Rogue One prequel series following Cassian Andor would be coming to Disney+. The show was pitched as a spy/thriller project, with The Americans writer Stephen Schiff set to serve as showrunner. Script issues arose and Kennedy contacted Tony Gilroy to take a look at the story, who instead developed a manifesto for what he thought the show should be.
Gilroy joined the team for Andor full-time, initially set to write, direct, and work alongside Schiff. In late 2019, Schiff was released from the project entirely, with Gilroy taking over as showrunner and hiring a team of directors. The series was reworked to be comprised of two 12-episode seasons, the first of which has received near-universal appraisal from Star Wars fans.
J.D. Dillard's Untitled Film
J.D. Dillard & Matt Owens
Word broke in early 2020 that Sleight writer and director J.D. Dillard signed a deal with Lucasfilm to develop an untitled Star Wars movie, working alongside Agents of SHIELD writer Matt Owens. The specific nature of the project remains a mystery, though early reports suggested the Sith world Exegol could be a focus. But the film never began pre-production, as Dillard revealed in November that the project and his partnership with Lucasfilm had ended.
One of the original writers for the Kenobi trilogy, Stuart Beattie spent over a year developing the film on which the Obi-Wan Kenobi series was based. The writer left the project after the movie was canceled, but his works lives on in various moments of the Disney+ show - including the incorporation of Darth Vader as the main antagonist.
The first writer hired to help Daldry develop the Kenobi film, Kathleen Kennedy grew unhappy with Hossein Amini's less hopeful story, and pre-production was stopped in early 2020 when Amini was fired. Joby Harold joined the project for re-writes, which involved major changes as he and director Deborah Chow fought to center Obi-Wan's story on Leia and how the relationship would later pay off with Ben Solo. Production finally began in 2021 following COVID delays and new scripts, with the series dropping in time for the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.
During Disney's Investor Day event in December 2020, Kathleen Kennedy announced that Rogue Squadron would be the next theatrical Star Wars release. Aiming for a holiday 2023 arrival, Wonder Woman's Patty Jenkins was revealed to be directing what was described as a pilot story featuring X-wings. Dora writer Matthew Robinson joined the development team to write, though the extent of his work is unknown.
In light of Wonder Woman 1984's poor reception, word broke in late 2021 that Rogue Squadron was in trouble and would be missing its release date, something later confirmed by Kennedy. Taika Waititi's film was tentatively bumped into the 2023 slot while Jenkins worked to refine her movie's script, exiting Cleopatra to do so. What was once a delay now seems to be a worse fate for the film, as Rogue Squadron has been removed from Disney's theatrical calendar, and Jenkins is presumed to have joined the ranks of fired directors.
With Lucasfilm and Disney's troubling tendency to struggle with project development, there are a number of films and shows on the horizon that could lose creative leads. The next Star Wars movie now won't be released until 2025 at the earliest, barring a calendar shake-up with Avatar 3 and leaving plenty of time for a few more fired directors to earn their wings.
Taika Waititi's Untitled Film
Taika Waititi & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Announced as part of 2020's Star Wars Day festivities, Taika Waititi and Krysty Wilson-Cairns were tapped to pen a new film, with the former serving as director. Waititi's immediate attention was given to Thor: Love and Thunder, which was met with backlash from Marvel fans and critics. The untitled film is now in a state of limbo, as Waititi has been trying to figure out the story for three years, but it might be shelved for good as Damon Lindelof's project aims to be the next release.
Among the many Star Wars Disney+ series announced during the big Investor's Day event, Lando has drawn the least amount of chatter. Intended to serve as a connector to Solo of some kind and developed by Dear White People's Justin Simien, the biggest hold-up for the project appears to be lead actor Donald Glover's busy schedule. Lucasfilm still maintains an interest in completing the show, but Simien wouldn't be at fault if plans fall through due to lack of movement.
Damon Lindelof Untitled Film
Reports of a Star Wars film being written by Watchmen creator Damon Lindelof broke earlier in the year and were recently corroborated. Shortly after Star Wars Celebration in May, Lindelof held secret writer's room meetings for two weeks with key Lucasfilm executives and co-writer Justin Britt-Gibson. The story is said to take place after the events of The Rise of Skywalker, with the potential for characters from the sequel trilogy to appear.
In a surprise move given her Pakistani-exclusive body of work, Lucasfilm hired Ms. Marvel's Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to direct Lindelof's picture. Obaid-Chinoy joins a growing list of Marvel creators to be tapped for a Star Wars project, though her fellow alum don't have great histories of sticking around. Turnover in the director's chair is possible at any time for the still-developing film; if Lindelof goes, Obaid-Chinoy is naturally out the door as well.
Shawn Levy's Untitled Film
Word broke recently that Deadpool 3's Shawn Levy has been tapped to helm an upcoming Star Wars film, which was later confirmed by the director himself. The current plan is for the director to see his Deadpool duties through to completion before moving over to Star Wars. The film is reportedly different than the other projects currently in development, and with no attached writer announced, the movie could be over half a decade away from production.
Kevin Feige's Untitled Film
After years of begging from MCU and Star Wars fans alike, it was revealed that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige would be stepping into the galaxy far, far away in 2019. Feige will serve as producer for the film alongside Kennedy, but with his Marvel duties being all-encompassing, a time frame for production and release hasn't been set.
As part of a larger deal with Disney, Loki scribe Michael Waldron will be penning the script for Feige's film. In May, the writer revealed he was deep in the process of developing the story, one that will be disconnected from the other Star Wars projects. A director for the film hasn't been named yet, though Waldron's strong working relationship with Feige should see their film through to completion.
There aren't many Star Wars movies in the works at the moment and for a good reason. The method of hiring Hollywood's latest greatest and then sacking them after one lackluster output isn't a winning formula. Kathleen Kennedy has discussed the need for commitment from the creative minds she brings in, but that needs to be reciprocated by Lucasfilm.
While some of the fired directors and writers were likely deserving of their fates, it seems that Lucasfilm and Disney can get trigger-happy. Stephen Daldry, for instance, didn't need to lose his job. Obi-Wan Kenobi was fine as a series, not special, but could've been had it gotten the movie treatment. The fallout from Solo's box office bomb changed the whole approach for Star Wars, and it's easy to question if the wrong lessons were learned.
For the time being, the future of Star Wars is television. None of the projects in the MandoVerse are remotely in jeopardy of being canceled, save for Rangers of the New Republic due to reasons beyond the creative. The Mandalorian Season 3 is set for a February 2023 release, and Jon Favreau is already deep in the writing process for Season 4. Dave Filoni just wrapped production on Ahsoka and should be locking picture by the summer, with Jon Watts' Skeleton Crew to follow.
Coming in 2024 should be Leslye Headland's The Acolyte, the first season of which just started filming, and Season 2 of Andor, which will begin rolling cameras right before Thanksgiving. There are sure to be more projects tied to the MandoVerse, including The Mandalorian Season 4 and a potential second season of The Book of Boba Fett.
Lucasfilm is worried about the quality of its next film, as it always should be. Realistically, one of the movies in development has to pan out. But Kevin Feige being fired seems unfathomable, though stepping back due to the MCU workload is always a possibility. The most important thing going forward is that Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy develop a plan and stick to their guns for the silver screen.
Major film announcements from Lucasfilm aren't likely to happen soon. Disney is aware of the turnover rate, and Kennedy reportedly isn't allowed to make any more reveals as a result. But when a script the companies love crosses executives' desks, gets the thumbs up, and a director is on set capturing footage, Star Wars fans will know about it - and they'll be lining up for the opening night.
It's been a long and bumpy road for Lucasfilm in the Disney Star Wars era, but it has he chance to correct course and start a winning streak with a bit of creative magic and confidence.