Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, knows how to build a cinematic universe. Just this year alone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had three films cross the billion-dollar threshold at the box office. Meanwhile, last year's attempt to expand Star Wars saw Solo under-perform at the box office and was met with a tepid reception by both fans and critics.
With all that in mind, it makes perfect sense why Star Wars would want to bring Feige on board to develop a new Star Wars film alongside Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy. But with it comes the final nail in the coffin for an era of Star Wars where the most important figure in the franchise was the original creator, George Lucas.
Return of the Jedi
The modern trilogy of Star Wars films, which consists of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and the upcoming Rise of the Skywalker, is heavily indebted to the original three films in the franchise. The new films have brought back classic characters like Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and more for one last hurrah. The new series has gone out of its way to emulate many of the biggest moments from the earlier movies. The Force Awakens, in particular, has even been criticized for at times feeling more like a retread of the original Star Wars than feeling like a genuinely new adventure.
The Last Jedi made changes to some of the standard Star Wars narratives, but the film (just like the other Star Wars movies from the current era) have at least one foot in the past. The thematic arc of Last Jedi is about letting go of the past while still celebrating it, with the final stand of Luke Skywalker completing his arc while setting up the future removed from him. Both Rogue One and Solo were about exploring the origins of elements from earlier movies and expanding them.
The willingness of Rogue One to embrace a different tone more akin to a war film than a Star Wars movie might have been why it was successful in a way Solo wasn't, but both films still felt tied to the specific world (and ideas) created by Lucas at their very core. Even Rise of the Skywalker, the upcoming conclusion of the current trilogy, will apparently try to tie together all the remaining aspects of the series for a finale for the Skywalker Saga.
Following the upcoming Rise of the Skywalker, the future of the Star Wars universe will drastically change. The narrative will no longer center around the Skywalker family and their impact on the galaxy.
Instead, the franchise will splinter into a number of different directions: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson is set to helm a new series of films that takes place in a completely different part of the galaxy, while Game of Thrones masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will reportedly take the franchise back to the days of the Old Republic for their take. Meanwhile, Disney+ shows like The Mandalorian will dig deeper into parts of the live-action Star Wars universe than ever before.
All of these projects will push the franchise away from the established settings and characters, allowing for a new burst of creativity to come to the franchise. The news that Feige will be likewise joining the franchise pushes that idea even further. Although it's unknown what his Star Wars film will be this early in development, it's unlikely to be another adventure within the established universe. Some within the Star Wars community will see this as Disney's attempt to remove Kathleen Kennedy from power at Lucasfilm, but it's been reported that she's heavily involved in the new film (as well as the future of Star Wars in general.)
Instead, it could allow Feige to become the connective tissue for the franchise in much the same way he became it for Marvel, helping tie everything together while working with Kennedy's vision for the future of the franchise. But this means it will inevitably somewhat push away from the stories that feel more indelibly connected to George Lucas.
The Force Awakens
In its original inception, Star Wars may be Lucas riffing on the sci-fi serials he grew up with, but it's still very much a world he created. As the franchise moves further and further away from his original stories, it will likely lose a bit of that touch. It's difficult not to think of recent revelations that Lucas was displeased when Disney decided to take Star Wars in a new direction, further away from his original ideas. Even if the new trilogy was an extended follow-up/love letter to the first three films, they still deviated heavily from the story that Lucas initially wanted to tell. It was no longer strictly George Lucas' story, but rather the overall mythology of Star Wars that moved forward.
When Lucas agreed to sell his plots for the movies to Disney, it came with the caveat from Disney that they weren't obligated to stick with his plans for the future of the series. According to Disney CEO Bob Iger's memoir The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Lucas was "disappointed" with the new direction as a result. Elements from his ideas were still absorbed into the eventual direction of the films, but the new movies were very different from what Lucas had initially intended to be the conclusion of the series.
That's part of the trade-off for the survival of Star Wars. If Lucas had told his intended final films, it would have likely been the ending of Star Wars. But by keeping the franchise alive and in new hands, new stories can (and will) grow from his original work. This is probably something Disney is keen to exploit for profit, but a new and successful Star Wars film works out for everyone.
However, it also does mean that the spark behind the franchise won't be present. Actor Simon Pegg has spoken before about how the new films lack the inherent imagination of the Lucas stories, and that may be an element the new films will have to confront and adapt to.
Future filmmakers won't be working from the blue-print of Lucas anymore, not even to the extent the new trilogy has. The new films and shows by Johnson, Benioff & Weiss and Feige will inevitably create something new for the universe, and given their collective past experience it's likely to be an exciting development for a franchise that at times feels too enamored with the past. But it also means admitting that the franchise is moving past the man who created it and that, as a result, it will continue to change.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Matt Smith, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. The film arrives on Dec. 20.