The Walt Disney Company's quarterly earnings call Thursday revealed Disney is developing a new trilogy of Star Wars films with The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson as well as the franchise's first live-action television series to air exclusively on Disney's own streaming service, launching in 2019.
Disney currently runs the animated Star Wars Rebels — now in its fourth and final season — on Disney XD, also home to animated micro-series Star Wars: Forces of Destiny. Despite Star Wars standing among Disney's highest-earning franchises — Star Wars: The Force Awakens earned more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office, and Rogue One more than a billion — there's a noticeable lack of a galaxy far, far away on the small screen.
With Disney's foray into streaming, that's going to change. Disney's recent attempt to purchase 21st Century Fox came, in part, as a means to acquire more titles to increase the size of their library offerings with shows like Futurama, so it was to be expected that Disney would bring exclusive new Marvel and Star Wars offerings to their streaming service to further entice potential subscribers. (Disney is also mining hit franchises like Monsters, Inc. and High School Musical to bring even more fresh content to the stand-alone streaming service.)
Disney launching their own "Netflix" gives Lucasfilm even more opportunity to explore corners of the Star Wars galaxy that the films can't — or won't. Rian Johnson's forthcoming "blank slate" trilogy will move away from the Skywalker saga, and Disney has complete freedom to launch as many live-action Star Wars series as they want, unburdened by any kind of episodic ties or constraints.
That doesn't mean any Star Wars TV show has to be TV-MA — although the opportunity is there, and a more mature or darker take on Star Wars is more likely to hit a streaming service than a movie theater — but streaming isn't bound by the same rules as a $200 million dollar blockbuster, which has to play things relatively "safe."
Before his 2012, $4 billion dollar Lucasfilm sale to Disney, Star Wars creator George Lucas had been working on a live-action television show under the working title Star Wars: Underworld. The series reportedly had up to 100 scripts already written, and was described as "much darker, grittier" and as a noir take on Star Wars. Then-producer Rick McCallum said Underworld was akin to "Deadwood in space" and "Empire [Strikes Back] on steroids." The series would have been set in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant and take place between Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.
In 2015, Lucasfilm president and producer Kathleen Kennedy said Lucasfilm still has the Underworld scripts, calling them "something we very much would like to explore." Disney-owned ABC seemed the obvious choice for Underworld to end up, but then-ABC president Paul Lee told TVLine in January 2016 that Lucasfilm is "focused on their movies," with a Lucasfilm representative confirming by saying Lucasfilm's "current focus for TV is on animation."
Things have obviously changed for Lucasfilm, who are now confirmed to be developing a long-awaited live-action Star Wars television series. No details have yet to be revealed for the proposed series, but we should expect word to trickle out soon enough: it's likely this Star Wars show — whatever form it takes — will be a day-one title, and with Disney aiming to launch their streaming service in 2019, Lucasfilm might get development underway sooner than we think. With Kennedy stating Lucasfilm was interested in the old Underworld scripts, Disney already has a Star Wars show that might be practically ready-to-go. Some re-working and polishing could resurrect Underworld and bring it to audiences after more than a decade of development hell.
Another darker take on the franchise, Star Wars 1313, was in the works as a video game that was cancelled following the Disney acquisition. Like Underworld, 1313 is shelved — but not dead.
"Our attitude is, we don’t want to throw any of that stuff away," Kennedy said. "It’s gold. And it’s something we’re spending a lot of time looking at, pouring through, discussing, and we may very well develop those things further. We definitely want to."
Star Wars 1313 may never make it to consoles as a video game, but the concept art teased an adventure that was gritty and mature — and with Kennedy calling the concept art "unbelievable," it wouldn't be unreasonable to think 1313 could find new life as a television series, live-action or otherwise.
BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is among the most beloved games to come out of the franchise, with many fans praising its original characters, storyline, writing and epic role-play style battles. Knights of the Old Republic is identifiably Star Wars, but it takes place far removed from the Skywalker era: the events occur during the time of the ancient Galactic Republic, four thousand years before the rise of the Galactic Empire.
"Darth Malak, last surviving apprentice of the Dark Lord Revan, has unleashed an invcincible Sith armada upon an unsuspecting galaxy,” reads the game’s opening crawl. “Crushing all resistance, Malak’s war of conquest has left the Jedi Order scattered and vulnerable as countless Knights fall in battle, and many more swear allegiance to the new Sith Master.”
An invincible Sith armada, a Sith’s attempt at galactic domination and the Jedi in their prime would make for a great movie series — but it would make for an even better serial television show. A Knights of the Old Republic television show could even rival Game of Thrones — especially with Disney supplying the budget — so the possibility should at least be on the table, even if it's a pipe dream.
Another adaptation that could make its way to Disney's streaming service is the tale of Starkiller, aka Galen Marek, the apprentice of Darth Vader. Starkiller first appeared as the playable protagonist of the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game, which took place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Like Rogue One, a television series centered around Malek would be an opportunity for Disney to return to the Original Trilogy era of Star Wars — the most beloved era of the franchise — and would be a way to utilize Darth Vader without actually resurrecting the character.
Disney's streaming service is a means for Disney to become "a viable player in the direct-to-consumer space, a space that we all know is a very compelling space to be in," as stated by Iger, and an original and exclusive Star Wars series — or several — would be a way for Disney to assert itself in that space. No matter what form the just-announced live-action Star Wars TV show will take, it should be expected to be the first of many — and the possibilities are as expansive and as endless as the universe.
Disney and Lucasfilm will next release Star Wars: The Last Jedi, episode eight of the Star Wars saga, to theaters on December 15.