The Star Wars universe grew even larger on Thursday when Lucasfilm announced that Jon Favreau would write and executive-produce its live-action Star Wars television series. The show, which was announced in November and doesn’t yet have a title or release date, is expected to be unveiled alongside Disney’s streaming service that arrives sometime in 2019.
Like any hire for one of most popular and profitable franchises in entertainment, the decision was met with its fair share of scrutiny—and to be sure, some of it was justified. Favreau joins a still all-white, all-male group of creators working under the Lucasfilm umbrella (Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss); the fact the company proudly announced the hiring of yet another man on International Women’s Day certainly didn’t help.
What’s more, as The Ringer’s Michael Baumann pointed out after Benioff and Weiss were brought in, Lucasfilm is teetering dangerously close to Star Wars oversaturation. Lest we forget, Solo: A Star Wars Story—which itself was plagued by a chaotic production that saw its original directing duo fired—is arriving just six months after The Last Jedi. By 2019, we’ll presumably have Favreau’s TV series and Episode IX, followed by another stand-alone movie in 2020, and the 2020s will likely bring the new trilogy from Johnson and whatever Benioff and Weiss have in store. No Star Wars product since Disney acquired Lucasfilm from George Lucas has been negatively received by the general public—despite what The Last Jedi’s Rotten Tomatoes trolls would like you to believe—but with each new installment, the odds of one being met with tepidity goes way up. Just thinking about the amount of Star Wars productions Disney plans on releasing over the next two years is a tiring proposition.
That’s where someone like Favreau comes in, a multifaceted creative head whose oeuvre isn’t particularly stylish, but broadly appealing. Favreau’s carved out a decent résumé behind the camera, directing the likes of Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens, and 2016’s version of The Jungle Book. None of these movies made critics’ year-end top 10 lists, or showed up at the Oscars anywhere outside of technical categories, but they were hits that proved Favreau could make studios’ money back and then some. One only has to look at the box office performances for his movies to justify their existence.
Star Wars—like Marvel and several other brands under the Disney corporate umbrella—is in the business of trying to appeal to almost everyone. With The Last Jedi, Johnson subverted audience expectations, for the most part, and took the franchise to its darkest corners since The Empire Strikes Back, but he did that within a framework designed to appeal to the masses. Grossing over $1.3 billion at the box office, it was a balance—like most big-budgeted Disney films—that proved to be a success.
Lucasfilm doesn’t want to take anything close to a risk with its first live-action TV series. This will be the preeminent product of Disney’s new streaming service, an incentive for people who might not want to fork over another monthly fee if they’re not getting any worthwhile content. Think of Favreau’s new series like the way Netflix approached House of Cards: The company got a famous, recognizable director (David Fincher) and two bankable movie stars (Robin Wright and a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey) for its first big stab at original programming. Now that five years have passed and Netflix has the budget to produce 700 pieces of original content in 2018 alone, the company can afford to get a little strange through sheer volume. Dark never could have been one of Netflix’s first shows, but now, why not?
For better or worse, Favreau is the creative equivalent of vanilla ice cream. He’s probably not the first person who comes to mind when thinking of Hollywood’s best directors, but he’s admirably reliable; a safe choice to produce the first building blocks of a new small-screen empire. His job is to make a series that is above all things popular, and by all accounts he has the ability to do that. Once he’s done, there’ll be a little more wiggle room for the weirder stuff—though it won’t ever be that weird.