Lucasfilm announced Thursday that Jon Favreau – director of Iron Man, Elf, and The Jungle Book – will helm a new live-action TV series set in the Star Wars universe. The internet is firmly divided in their reaction to the news. Favreau is a trusted and established filmmaker with enough street cred to have earned a place in the corporate Star Wars machine. But the timing could not have been much worse. Fans have been clamoring for more behind-the-scenes diversity in the Star Wars franchise for a long time, and their calls reached a fever pitch after Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss were given a new Star Wars film series. To blatantly remind them that only white men get Star Wars leadership roles on International Women’s Day feels especially tone deaf. So how long will fans tolerate the Lucasfilm’s diversity aversion?
Disney has owned Lucasfilm for six years now. All three Disney-era Star Wars movies are in the top 10 highest-grossing domestic films of all time. The series is bulletproof; not even the wildly uneven fan reaction to Rian Johnson‘s The Last Jedi stopped it from grossing $1.3 billion. That risky project, which took enormous liberties with beloved characters, felt bold and confidently self-aware. But was The Last Jedi signaling a brave new direction for the franchise, or was it merely facade?
The recent slate of announcements hasn’t exactly instilled concerned fans with confidence. In addition to Benioff and Weiss’s new series, Rian Johnson will also get another trilogy, and British director Stephen Daldry is supposedly directing an Obi-Wan standalone, though that remains unconfirmed. There are rumors that Disney has secretly hired a number of women and people of color to write and direct upcoming Star Wars films, but those remain exactly that–rumors.
Lucasfilm isn’t necessarily at risk of losing major dollars, but it does stand to lose good will, especially as Warner Bros. speeds ahead with another Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman film, and after the massive success of Marvel‘s Black Panther. If Lucasfilm were smart, it’d follow Marvel’s moves. The MCU also risked major fatigue as it entered a new wave of Avengers flicks, but revitalized its storytelling by hiring talented, underutilized creatives like Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi to direct standalones. The results–Black Panther and Thor: Ragnorak–paid off both financially and creatively. Suddenly, the MCU didn’t look so monochrome, and the response has been overwhelming.If Lucasfilm keeps leaning on industry staples to keep their franchise afloat, they run the risk of alienating fans hungry for that sort of creative license. And the white men don’t always work out anyway; both Rogue One and Solo had problems behind-the-scenes, the latter leading to the ousting of the original directors. So why are women and POC considered the liability?
That question falls to Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. Kennedy, one of the most successful Hollywood producers ever (the first film she produced was E.T.), has been a vocal member of the Times Up movement. In December, she kicked off the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, an initiative meant to end workplace sex abuse and provide nurturing opportunities to women in the industry. She’s been boastful about Lucasfilm’s executive team, which is more than 50 percent female. “When you have a balance of men and women, there are all sorts of things that enter into the discussion,” Kennedy told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016.
Why, then, is she not more forthright about her company’s record of hiring white men? It’s an especially odd conundrum when you consider how beautifully inclusive the new films have been on-camera. All three of their released features have female protagonists in Rey and Jyn, and mostly POC in supporting roles. That representation has to extend beyond the screen and into Lucasfilm’s creative departments so that the stories are told with authority.
This is not to dismiss Jon Favreau, who is an excellent director with a solid track record. We can’t wait to see what he does with his TV series, which will debut on Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service sometime in the foreseeable future. But Favreau’s not the only type of person who can handle the job, and it’s time for Disney and Lucasfilm to step up and notice the shifts in their industry, and the fans who deserve new stories, new heroes, and new horizons.
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