Part of Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise back in 2012 hinged on the condition that it not be bound to the creative decisions of George Lucas, according to a new memoir by Disney CEO Bob Iger. The agreement between Disney and Lucas led directly to the sequel trilogy of Star Wars films - The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and upcoming The Rise of Skywalker - as well as multiple spinoff movies, upcoming television shows, and expanded media. And from the start of this endeavor, Disney was adamant that it retain creative control over the direction of the franchise.
Lucas is known the world over for creating Star Wars, basing the original 1977 film off of his favorite childhood adventure shows. He wrote the screenplay for the subsequent five films in the saga, directed all three of the prequels, and was closely advised on much of the development in the expanded universe of comics, novels, and video games (which have since been rendered non-canonical). Bob Iger, who set his sights on the Star Wars license well before the deal was finally struck, respected George's input and creative vision for the franchise, but he and his team also wanted to make sure they had final say over the product they put out.
As Iger puts it in his book, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, he made it a personal goal to avoid misleading Lucas on the nature of the films his company intended to produce. "I promised that we would be open to his ideas (this was not a hard promise to make; of course we would be open to George Lucas’s ideas), but [...] we would be under no obligation." For his part, Lucas was happy to share his outlines and concepts for the proposed sequel trilogy, and was encouraged when Iger and Disney decided to buy these drafts, as well. This, Iger later notes, may have been a mistake: "...he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them," and once it became clear that the films were moving in a different direction, "he was disappointed that his story was being discarded."
Lucas' displeasure at being shut out of the creative end of his former franchise continued up through the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, which Iger also describes. "Just prior to the global release, Kathy [Kennedy, producer] screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. 'There’s nothing new,' he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies." But Iger defended the product that Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams had created, saying "We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do." This sentiment has, ironically, been echoed by segments of the Star Wars fanbase, some of whom still feel similarly about the direction of Episode 7 and the sequel trilogy as a whole.
According at least to Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm Story Group head Pablo Hidalgo, some pieces of Lucas' outlines were incorporated into the films, albeit altered or re-arranged to suit the narrative. Examples include a female Jedi protagonist (who may have been named "Kira" in Lucas' version), an exiled and later revitalized Luke Skywalker, and a masked and menacing "Jedi-Killer" who, after a great deal of development under Disney, eventually became Kylo Ren. Lucas himself has hinted at some of these ideas, and has also gone on to comment that his sequel trilogy would have done more to explore the "microbiotic world" of the Force, including the controversial midi-chlorians introduced in the prequel trilogy. What these alternate Episodes 7, 8, and 9 might have looked like may be mere speculation forever, but fans can always hope that Disney and Lucas agree to release his full outlines one day.
Source: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019