Kevin Feige doesn’t sleep. That’s the only explanation for how the Marvel Studios president and head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has added yet another new project to his giant slate, as several outlets have confirmed that Feige is developing a new “Star Wars” film for Lucasfilm. That signals yet again that change is coming to the venerable franchise as it closes out its long-running Skywalker Saga this December with the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
The move brings together two major figures in the current blockbuster landscape, as Feige will work with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy on the new project. A statement from Walt Disney Studios co-chairman and chief creative officer Alan Horn struck a celebratory note: “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.”
This synergy should come as no surprise. Feige has held his current job since 2007; Disney acquired Marvel in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012, kicking off the recent run of new “Star Wars” films and series. While Feige is most closely associated with his Marvel properties, the executive is reportedly a huge “Star Wars” fan and has been eager to get into the Lucasfilm mix for some time. Shared ownership makes that ask somewhat easy, but Feige is still the first Marvel brass to make the jump into the “Star Wars” universe, limited run or not.
So what might this news tell us about the future of “Star Wars,” Marvel, and Disney as a whole?
What does this mean for Kevin Feige?
Feige is best known for two things: producing hits and making it look easy. All told, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made over $8.5 billion in domestic dollars alone, with four MCU films holding spots in the all-time box office top 10. This summer, “Avengers: Endgame” alone made nearly $2.8 billion in global receipts, becoming the top-grossing film of all-time in the process. Feige is the guiding force behind each of those films, credited with bringing unification to a wide-ranging franchise packed with characters and storylines, and rallying a variety of stars and filmmakers to make them.
Tellingly, there’s no reported time period for this new “Star Wars” endeavor. Since buying Lucasfilm seven years ago, Disney has aggressively put out new “Star Wars” movies, and even Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted to The New York Times that the studio’s ambitious rollout plan might have been too much. “I just think that we might’ve put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast,” Iger said about the response to “Star Wars” under Disney. “I think the storytelling capabilities of the company are endless because of the talent we have at the company, and the talent we have at the company is better than it’s ever been, in part because of the influx of people from Fox.”
Here’s what that probably all means: His production isn’t imminent, and both his busy schedule and the studio’s desire to pull back slightly on new releases are likely to give him plenty of time to work on whatever ideas he’s cooking up. Don’t expect Feige to churn out a new “Star Wars” movie next year.
What does this mean for Kathleen Kennedy?
The longtime producer and eight-time Oscar nominee has been president of Lucasfilm since 2012, coming on board just before George Lucas sold the company later that year. She’s one of the few female executives at Disney right now, and since taking up her post, she’s essentially served as the face of Lucasfilm. Last year, she upped her contract for three more years. She’s not going anywhere.
While “Star Wars” has proven culturally divisive (mostly due to all the fans who didn’t like Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” and have spent two years harping on it), Kennedy’s financial track record is strong: All told, the four “Star Wars” films produced for Disney by Kennedy and Lucasfilm have grossed almost $4.5 billion. Critically speaking, all four new films have earned strong reviews (each of them is ranked “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, a feat even the prequels couldn’t pull off).
There have been some missteps along the way, however. In 2016, Kennedy drew ire after a Variety interview when she told the trade that although finding a female director for one of their features was a priority, the studio “want[s] to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success. … They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.”
And yet Lucasfilm has yet to officially tap a female director for one of its films, but upcoming series like “The Mandalorian” boast women behind the camera, and the company continues to elevate women. Earlier this year, producer Michelle Rejwan was named SVP of Live Action Development and Production for Lucasfilm. Still, Kennedy’s leadership excels where it should: Her projects make money.
What does this mean for “Star Wars”?
While Feige is currently on deck to make one new film for the franchise, and initial reports suggest he already some big ideas. But Feige’s influence could perhaps be most profoundly felt on a much larger scale, should Lucasfilm harness his track record with assembling a successful franchise. Marvel hasn’t been immune to behind-the-camera shakeups (remember the upheaval that was Edgar Wright leaving “Ant-Man”?), but Lucasfilm has faced far greater challenges.
“Rogue One” memorably tapped veteran director Tony Gilroy to retrofit an unsatisfying third act from original director Gareth Edwards, while the “Star Wars” team axed Colin Trevorrow from “Rise of Skywalker” before he even shot a frame of the third film in the Skywalker Saga. And then there’s the “Solo” disaster, which saw original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired in the middle of production, necessitating the immediate hiring of Ron Howard. That resulted in the lowest-earning of the new films (and seemed to kill off hopes for many other prequel titles in the process).
The franchise has a number of films lined up for the coming years, but there’s definitely been a pulling back when it comes to new projects. For now, “Game of Thrones” showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are on deck to make a new series of films to follow “Rise of Skywalker,” and “Last Jedi” filmmaker Rian Johnson is still reportedly working on his own new trilogy of films for the franchise. Meanwhile, Lucasfilm seems to be leaning a bit more on its Disney+ series offerings, including “The Mandalorian” (out in November), along with a “Rogue One” prequel and a much-anticipated series returning Ewan McGregor to his role of young Obi-Wan Kenobi.
If there’s anyone who knows how to craft a seamless production experience and a unified creative front for so many stories told by so many creators over so many platforms, it’s Feige. And that’s the one thing “Star Wars” needs above all.
What does this mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Feige’s current MCU slate is packed — it includes the next phase of Marvel films (“Black Widow,” “Eternals,” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and a number of other in-the-works productions) and the soon-to-be-released run of Marvel TV series on Disney+ (like “WandaVision,” “Loki,” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”). Feige will also be tasked with bringing other heroes into the Disney fold after the recent Fox acquisition, including the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (which he has called his favorite superhero series). For now, it appears that his involvement with the MCU remains unchanged (and it’s unlikely Iger would approve the addition of a new film if there was any threat to Disney’s primary cash cow).
What does this mean for Disney?
In a word: synergy. As Iger noted to the Times earlier this month while speaking about the future of “Star Wars” and the studio, “the talent we have at the company is better than it’s ever been, in part because of the influx of people from Fox.” Integrating Marvel and Lucasfilm into the Disney fold was an easier proposition than pulling in a whole other studio, but by attempting to cross-pollinate between those existing teams, Iger will have a better understanding of just how well these properties can play together.
If Marvel and Lucasfilm can share talent well, what does that mean for the rest of the studio? Feige is already expected to integrate Fox-owned superheroes with the rest of the Marvel fray, and if he can present a smooth front to working with Lucasfilm brass, it could pave the way for all kinds of new creative mergers. He’s not Disney’s only hope, but he could be the studio’s best shot at mapping out the future.