Star Wars 9 will end the Sequel Trilogy this December, but Disney's original Star Wars plan has changed a lot over the past few years. Disney purchased Lucasfilm back in October 2012 for $4 billion and immediately started putting in place a new slate of movies, mixing episodic films with anthologies.
Things couldn't have got off to a much better start, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossing over $2bn and being well-received by critics and fans alike, which was followed up by another box-office hit in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Things have been a little more mixed since then, with major division created by Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the box-office failure of Solo, and both that and Star Wars 9 changing directors.
As we prepare for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to not only end the Skywalker Saga, but bring to a close what's effectively been Disney's first phase of Star Wars movies - with a brief rest before the next scheduled film - then it's good to look back at how it all started, and see just how much things have changed and evolved for Disney's Star Wars plans.
The Original Plan
After acquiring Lucasfilm from George Lucas, Disney started putting plans in place for their own Star Wars movies, although Lucas himself had been developing a new trilogy and passed over the story treatments he'd written for a potential Star Wars 7. Disney ultimately decided to go in their own direction, hiring Michael Arndt to write the first draft of what would become Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with J.J. Abrams hired to direct in 2013 and a planned summer 2015 release.
After that, the idea was that Sequel Trilogy installments would be released every two years, interspersed with anthology or spin-off movies that were designed to be more standalone films in the Star Wars universe and expand things beyond the episodes, with at least two of these anthology movies being worked on as part of Disney's original Star Wars plan. 2014 saw Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank hired to direct Star Wars standalone movies, while Rian Johnson was announced as the director of Star Wars 8. One year later, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were confirmed to be directing Solo, and Colin Trevorrow was slated to helm Star Wars 9, giving a full picture of Disney Star Wars, although even that wasn't exactly the way things had been envisaged.
Moving From May To December
Solo is the only one of Disney's four Star Wars movies so far not to pass the $1 billion mark at the box-office, and while there are various factors involved in that - franchise fatigue, the response to The Last Jedi, a belief that it was unnecessary - one of the most commonly cited reasons for Solo's box-office failure is the fact it released in May rather than December. It's the only Disney movie to do this, and Star Wars 9 is reverting things back to the Christmas release window - as will the future planned Star Wars trilogies - but rather than being an anomaly, Solo would've simply been following the trend if things had gone to plan.
May is - or at least, was - the traditional release month for Star Wars, dating back to the very first movie in the franchise, which came out on May 25, 1977, and that's what Disney was going to continue. Star Wars 7 was originally planned for a release in summer 2015, and both other installments in the Sequel Trilogy were scheduled for May releases. Star Wars 8 was supposed to come out on May 26, 2017, and Star Wars 9 should've been released on May 24, 2019, but both were pushed back to December. Lucasfilm actually wanted to push Solo back to December 2018 too, in order to give Ron Howard more time after taking over from Lord & Miller, but Disney rejected changing Solo's release date. December has worked out well, but it's clear the Mouse House really wanted May release dates for Star Wars movies.
The Anthology Movies Swap (& Get Cancelled)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the second film of Disney's Star Wars era, and the first live-action Star Wars movie to exist outside of the Skywaker Saga, although only just. Taking place just before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One proved to be another hit for Disney, with the movie, which documented the Rebels stealing the Death Star plans, grossing over $1bn after being released in December 2016. The curious thing, though, is that it wasn't supposed to be the first of Disney's anthology movies.
It was actually Solo that was going to release straight after Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The movie had been in development prior to Disney purchasing Lucasfilm, with Lucas hiring his old friend and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan to pen a story treatment for a Han Solo origin movie. Disney then confirmed in 2013 that a Han Solo movie was in the works, and it's since been revealed it was supposed to come after The Force Awakens. However, when re-writes were needed on The Force Awakens, Kasdan was drafted in to co-write the story alongside J.J. Abrams, and Solo was put on hold, meaning the release dates of the two anthology movies were switched.
Further complicating matters here is Josh Trank's Star Wars spin-off, which would've centered around Boba Fett. Trank was hired in 2014 but, after the failure of Fantastic Four in 2015, and numerous reports about Trank's on-set behavior, he was fired from the project and development on it stalled completely. There was also an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off movie in the works too, meaning 2020 likely would've seen one of those two movies being released.
How The Story Changed
Switching around the releases of Rogue One and Solo may not seem too significant, at least in the sense that they're both designed to stand apart from the Sequel Trilogy and thus could slot in anywhere in the release slate, but it actually had a great impact on the themes of each story, which hurt Solo in particular. If Solo had stuck to its original release date, then it would've meant getting the Han Solo origin movie straight after Han's death in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That would've made it a far more interesting mirror for Han's journey, showing his beginning so soon after his end, and allowed the film to carry more weight. The dice, which have been given a lot of importance in Disney Star Wars, would make more sense this way too: they'd appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, be explained in Solo, and then we'd get the payoff in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Rogue One was less impacted by the change, because it's a film so clearly intertwined with Star Wars: A New Hope, but its story still would've benefited from the lead-in provided by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. So much of that film is about finding a new sense of hope in the galaxy, and the Resistance refusing to die but instead being reborn. Going from that into one of the greatest missions of the Rebel Alliance, paralleling the spark of rebellion being lit in Star Wars 8, would've again served a much greater thematic purpose and made Rogue One more powerful.
How Disney's Long-Term Star Wars Plans Also Changed
Disney won't exactly be disappointed with how Star Wars has performed so far, but given things haven't gone completely to plan then we can already see how it's affected their long-term thinking for the franchise. Disney had initially planned to release Star Wars movies every year, which they've done so far, but that's coming to an end in Star Wars 9. After that, there's no Star Wars movie until 2022, with the only other future releases scheduled for 2024 and 2026, with Disney deciding that they need some time to reset and to give fans space to actually miss the franchise again.
A lot of that comes from the failure of Solo, which has had a major impact on the long-term plans. If Solo had been a success, then we'd likely be getting another spin-off movie in 2020, with James Mangold's Boba Fett or the Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off movie the most likely options. 2021 then probably would've brought another of those, while there were contracts in place for two more Han Solo movies, and a Lando spin-off might well have happened too. It's not unthinkable that we'd have seen Rogue Two as well, documenting the Bothans stealing the plans for the second Death Star, and perhaps even a Yoda movie. That's as many as seven potential films, which would've been released throughout the 2020s, which are no longer going to happen.
Disney does have two Star Wars trilogies in the works - one from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss; another from Rian Johnson - and the exact release plan for those is unclear. They'd still be happening regardless of Solo's failure or success too, which means Disney would've been gradually expanding its Star Wars output, likely looking at the MCU as a comparable model, rather than shrinking their output. Now the immediate future is more centered around new Disney+ series before the first Benioff and Weiss movie, which marks a big shift from Disney's original Star Wars plan.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019