Today there was a great disturbance in the Force as George Lucas formally announced the next step in his "retirement" plans. Fans often joke about Lucas being done with Star Wars or making more Star Wars movies because of the different public statements he has given over the years, but while it certainly seems like he means it this time, I don't think this will be an inactive retirement. Whether he steps away completely to work on smaller more personal projects, I don't think we have gotten the last Star Wars story out of George Lucas yet, and I certainly hope that he gets the itch to take a continued creative role in the franchise, even if he steps back from the business side of it further and further.
One of Lucas' lasting influences will be a rather progressive approach to his business. Not only does he reportedly treat employees rather well, treat fans pretty darn good, but he also has hired and promoted a good number of women to lofty positions within his company.
Today it was announced that Producer extraordinaire Kathleen Kennedy will be joining Lucasfilm as Co-Chairwoman of the Board. The full Press Release reads as follows:
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TO BECOME CO-CHAIR OF LUCASFILM LTD.
June 01, 2012
Lucasfilm Ltd. today announced that Kathleen Kennedy will become Co-Chair of Lucasfilm. In an effort to move forward with his retirement plans, George Lucas will work with Kathleen Kennedy to transition into her new role. Lucas will become Co-Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm and continue as CEO. Micheline Chau will remain as President and COO of Lucasfilm, and continue to focus on the day-to-day operations of the business.
"I've spent my life building Lucasfilm and as I shift my focus into other directions I wanted to make sure it was in the hands of someone equipped to carry my vision into the future," said George Lucas. "It was important that my successor not only be someone with great creative passion and proven leadership abilities, but also someone who loves movies. I care deeply about my employees-it is their creativity and hard work that has made this company what it is today. As the company grows and expands I wanted to be sure the employees of Lucasfilm have a strong captain for the ship. I also care deeply about our fans and it was important to have someone who would carry on the passion and care that I've given the films over the years. So for me Kathy was the obvious choice, she is a trusted friend and one of the most respected producers and executives in the industry."
Director Steven Spielberg said, "George's prescience is once again proven by his choice of my long time producing partner, Kathy Kennedy to co-chair Lucasfilm. Kathy has been a member of both of our families going into a fourth decade so it does not feel like she is going to another galaxy far far away. She will get just as much support from me with Lucasfilm as George has given both of us all these years."
"George is a true visionary," said Kathleen Kennedy. "I've seen him build Lucasfilm from a small rebel unit in Northern California to an international fully integrated entertainment company. I'm excited to have the chance to work with such an extraordinary group of talented people. George and I have talked about the enormous opportunities that lie ahead for the company, and as George moves towards retirement I am honored that he trusts me with taking care of the beloved film franchises. I feel fortunate to have George working with me for the next year or two as I take on this role-it is nice to have Yoda by your side."
Seven-time Academy Award nominated Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most successful and esteemed producers and executives in the film industry. As a producer she has an impeccable record with a robust filmography working with such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher and Gary Ross. As a testament to her standing in the film community, she previously held the position of governor and officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees. She is also a former President of the Producers Guild of America.
Kathleen will step down from her role at The Kennedy/Marshall Company, shifting her responsibilities to partner Frank Marshall. The Kennedy/Marshall Company is currently in post production on LINCOLN, directed by long time collaborator Steven Spielberg whom Kennedy also produced for on the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC PARK franchises, and THE BOURNE LEGACY, written and directed by Tony Gilroy and produced by Marshall.
Under the Kennedy/Marshall banner, the pair has produced such Academy Award nominated Best Picture films as WAR HORSE (six nominations), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (thirteen nominations) THE SIXTH SENSE, (six nominations) and SEABISCUIT (seven nominations), as well as blockbusters including the BOURNE series and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Marshall will oversee the company's current slate of projects and continue to expand it via their development deals with DreamWorks and CBS TV Studios.The question becomes, what happens to the Star Wars franchise after George Lucas walks away?
When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1991 the franchise owned by Paramount gave control of the franchise to Executive Producer Rick Berman. Berman was involved until about 2005 and as the years stretch on from Roddenberry's death it seems like some of the momentum or magic with Star Trek was lost.
As a franchise I think Star Wars has some advantages over Star Trek based on what Lucas and his company Lucasfilm have established long before his retirement. The defining of Star Wars Canon and creation of a relatively unified continuity gives the franchise of Star Wars a greater cohesiveness than many other franchises. In recent years we have also seen an increasing attempt to co-operate between the primary EU licensees Random House's Del Rey imprint and Dark Horse Comics. Both the comic lines and novels are overseen at Lucasfilm by Editor Jennifer Heddle. The novels and the comics are the primary expanded universe story mediums. The ability of these two licensees to work in a co-operative fashion and with a unified vision means that the franchise has direction. This isn't a guarantor of success, but it speaks to the fact that Lucasfilm isn't simply letting writers and artists slap the Star Wars brand on anyting they can come up with and use it to cash in.
Another important development is the emergence of a strong and successful show-runner in the person of Dave Filoni on The Clone Wars. While Lucas has been directly involved in The Clone Wars series, it seems pretty apparent that he has a great deal of trust and respect of Filoni's abilities. It makes one wonder if Filoni is being groomed as the future creative voice of the franchise.
One person that Lucas' announcement has me wondering about as well is Rick McCallum. McCallum has long been Lucas' go to producer. Producing not only the Prequel films, but also The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Radioland Murders, Red Tails and the on hold Star Wars Live Action Series. What is McCallum's future at Lucasfilm and what is the future of the Live Action Series?
Below are six areas of the Star Wars franchise that could be impacted by Lucas's retirement.
One possibility for the franchise after Lucas retires is a complete and total reboot. New movies set after or before the two trilogies, remakes of the original trilogy, or more individual movies like the Joe Johnston Boba Fett film.
This could also mean a complete re-boot of the Expanded Universe with all the gnashing of teeth, ripping of clothing and wailing that that would entail.
Another possibility is to take a page out of JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and restart the franchise in an "alternative universe," which would set up two separate continuities. This could be good or bad, but mostly confusing.
I am not a fan of the reboot concept in just about any fashion, while the continuity certainly has it's warts, it is the very richness and depth of the Star Wars universe that keeps the franchise so appealing to me as it evolves.
With the exception of blocking off areas of the timeline, characters and story lines, it is rather apparent that Lucas has a rather hands off approach with the Expanded Universe. While this doesn't mean that others in the company like head of Lucasfilm Licensing Howard Roffman or Keeper of the Holocron Leland Chee aren't intimately involved in the EU, it does mean there has been a certain disconnect at the top of the company.
I would imagine that Kathleen Kennedy and others at Lucasfilm may make an even greater effort to integrated the continuity between the TV and any future film projects with the Expanded Universe. This synergy should be beneficial from a marketing standpoint. I think we are seeing the first hints of this with the video game Star Wars 1313 and the Live Action Series, both of which have similar settings and when we learn more about the game I would not be surprised if it is set in the early days of the Empire between Episodes III and IV, just like the TV series.
The Clone Wars?
I have to admit I am rather nervous about The Clone Wars. Supervising Director Dave Filoni has talked about the fact that Season Five is basically in the can. We know they are working on Season Six. We also know how intimately Lucas has been involved in the story breaking and execution of the series. Does this mean season Six will be the final season of The Clone Wars? If Lucas is really stepping away, does this mean the series is pretty much wrapped up in his mind? Or is he confident enough in Filoni to entrust Dave with another few seasons of the show without his direct involvement? These are questions that I am sure have already been answered internally but I would be shocked if we got the answer to any time soon.
The Live Action Series?
Is Lucas's retirement the death knell of the Live Action Series. Producer Rick McCallum has been beating the drum on the twin terrors of production costs and the instability of the cable television business model for over a year now. Does Lucas stepping away mean that he thinks this project is dead? Or does he simply have confidence that the full season plus two movies of the week scripts that they have produced are strong enough to give the series his "voice" even if it continues with minimal involvement from him?
Truth be told I could careless if the Live Action Series is produced as live action or transitioned to animation. I want to see the more mature stories then are possible to tell than on the more broadly targeted Clone Wars series. It's all about the stories, in whatever format they are delivered.
Clearly the idea of more movies set after the original trilogy is near impossible without completely recasting the characters. It is possible and I would love to see animated films, perhaps like the DC and Marvel direct to video films. Lucasfilm could do direct to video adaptations of some of the more important EU events, such as the Thrawn Trilogy or an X-Wing series of films based on that book series.
We could also see films set in different time periods either in the Legacy era or in the Old Republic era where casting is less of an issue.
Lucasfilm is incredibly tolerant and supportive of fans. This blog is but one example of that tolerance. Some franchises and companies exert much tighter control over their IP rights and are much less sympathetic to fan fiction, fan films, websites, artists, etc.
I hope that Lucasfilm as an institution doesn't change it's approach to dealing with the fans in the post-Lucas era.
While Lucas may be reducing his role at the company that bears his name, I still think at some point he will get that itch again, I still think there is some Star Wars tales for him to tell. If this is truly the beginning of the end of Lucas' crafting Star Wars, I think that the structures are in place to continue the franchise. Whether or not the future crafters of the Star Wars galaxy can capture the same magic is another question entirely.