With The Rise of Skywalker slated to resolve the Skywalker saga in December, Star Wars is entering a new, non-farm-raised era in which Lucasfilm will likely leave George Lucas’s legacy characters behind and we won’t have to remember Roman numerals when we’re referencing films. Star Wars steward Kathleen Kennedy has already awarded new trilogies to The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. On Wednesday, we learned the name of another high-profile figure who’ll help Lucasfilm take its first step into a larger world: Marvel Cinematic Universe architect Kevin Feige, who has served as the president of Marvel Studios since 2007 and helped the MCU surpass Star Wars as the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.
We’re still lacking literally any information about the film Feige is producing; we don’t know whether it will be part of one of the aforementioned trilogies or something separate. Nor we do we know whether Feige’s role in the franchise will be limited to a single film or whether it will eventually expand. What we can say is that with Feige as a new guardian of the galaxy far, far away, the MCU and Star Wars are growing increasingly cozy: Lucasfilm tapped Iron Man director Jon Favreau to make The Mandalorian, the Star Wars franchise’s first live-action series, and now it’s bringing one of Favreau’s frequent collaborators into the fold. Let’s look at the possible benefits and downsides of Disney crossing streams.
Pro: Feige probably understands Star Wars
Someone with a decade-long track record of making well-liked and wildly lucrative movies ranging in quality from competent to impeccable is now bringing his talents to Star Wars. Based on Feige’s history, that probably won’t be a bad thing for fans of the franchise. Feige, who’s cited Lucas as one of his favorite directors and, like Lucas, attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts, isn’t a Star Wars dilettante; he professes a profound expertise. In 2016, he said, “My house is full of Star Wars, so I’m as big a Star Wars fan as there is.” Back then, Feige claimed he was happy not to see how the Star Wars sausage was made, which allowed him to retain his childlike love for the series. He also said, “I have two jobs: Running Marvel … and being a Star Wars nerd.” At the time, only one of those was actual work, but now that old statement is literally true.
Feige got his first production credit—and, indirectly the ensuing 68 and counting—because he was “a walking encyclopedia of Marvel.” His familiarity with the franchise helped him ensure that the MCU movies captured the comics’ best qualities. We can’t say whether Feige has an equally solid sense of what makes Star Wars special, but he’s successfully distilled, bottled, and mass-produced his affection for a franchise before. Perhaps he can do it again on a smaller scale.
Con: Feige’s Star Wars role may not fully leverage his strengths
Aside from his skill at translating Marvel’s on-paper appeal to the screen, Feige’s superpowers are knitting together a shared universe, ensuring a consistent—at times, perhaps, too consistent—tone and quality, and keeping the MCU assembly line running while orchestrating a years-long, multiphase rollout. Feige’s Star Wars work may or may not bring any of those abilities to bear. If he’s working on a one-off, he can’t be a big-picture mastermind. That doesn’t mean the movie he helps make won’t be good, but it does theoretically limit his potential to transform the Star Wars franchise—which may not be a bad thing, depending on how you feel the franchise has performed under Disney to date.
Then again, if drafting Feige was Kennedy’s call, she doesn’t lack confidence. Even though the announcement portrayed Feige as a guest in Kennedy’s house, it’s hard not to imagine that he might secure squatter’s rights should his first foray into Star Wars succeed. In June, Kennedy (whose contract runs through 2021) delegated some Lucasfilm leadership to Michelle Rejwan, Lucasfilm’s new SVP of live action development and production. Rejwan, a veteran producer of J.J. Abrams joints both within and outside of the Star Wars universe, was said to be taking an active role in planning future films as well as Lucasfilm’s TV ventures. “Perhaps Rejwan will become Lucasfilm’s version of Kevin Feige,” Nicholas Rossolillo wrote in response to that news. Now we know that Lucasfilm’s version of Kevin Feige is actually … Kevin Feige. Between Feige and Rejwan, Kennedy is working with multiple collaborators who could become competitors if Star Wars stumbles on her watch, although there’s only so much Star Wars responsibility Feige could conceivably take on without that double duty burning him out or taking a toll on the MCU.
One last caveat: In crafting the MCU, Feige has relied on adapting established characters and stories. With his Star Wars work, he won’t have that luxury, especially if Lucasfilm is planning to distance itself from Lucas’s leavings. Feige could plunder the old expanded universe, which thrived for three decades before Disney decanonized it, and he wouldn’t be out of his depth; Jedi are basically superheroes. But those existing stories about Star Wars lack the cultural resonance of the life’s work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which largely lay fallow on the film side until Feige fertilized it.
Pro: Feige could bring order to the galaxy
On the production side, Star Wars could use some stability. In the past four years, Kennedy has fired or forced out three Star Wars directors or directing duos—undisclosed spinoff director Josh Trank, original Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow, and original Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller—and brought in Tony Gilroy to rework Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One. Only Abrams and Johnson have guided their films from beginning to end. And even in their case, the two traded off films within one trilogy, which caused some narrative whiplash for fans as seeds planted by one director weren’t watered by the next. Overall, Disney’s Star Wars output has transcended that turnover—I still ride for Solo, a perceived low point for the franchise in the post-Lucas years and the prelude to a “slowdown” in the Star Wars schedule—but the process has been messy in a pretty public way.
Compared with Kennedy’s, Feige’s tenure atop the MCU has been light on drama. Although Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-Man because, according to Wright, “I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie,” the MCU has been mostly smooth sailing, save for the kerfuffle over James Gunn’s unearthed tweets and Mark Ruffalo’s replacement of Ed Norton as the Incredible Hulk. As Wright implied, Marvel’s plug-and-play harmony may have come at the cost of individual directors’ creative visions, yielding a prefab feeling and a bland look, but that reputation has abated as Marvel has allowed its directors a little more leeway to stray from the house style and branch out into genres that Star Wars still hasn’t explored. Whatever Feige’s Star Wars movie ends up being about, the production itself will probably proceed smoothly. Feige has also increasingly sought a more diverse group of directors, which would be a welcome development at Lucasfilm, where women oversee the story group but the film franchise’s key creators have been almost exclusively white men.
Feige may also soothe fans whose feathers were ruffled by The Last Jedi, which earned critical acclaim and big box office receipts but upset a vocal minority of Star Wars lifers who resented its subversion of the series’ tropes. Like Star Wars, the MCU has had its run-in with misogynistic, racist trolls, but because it hasn’t tampered with narrative traditions in quite the same way, it hasn’t risked losing any originalist fans’ loyalty and love.
Con: Concentrating creative power across franchises could create a culture-spanning sameness
In Benioff and Weiss, Favreau, and now Feige, Lucasfilm seems to be collecting people who’ve produced massively successful series that have unified our fractured consumer culture. While that’s understandable from a business perspective, it also means that a few of America’s most famous franchises are undergoing a Crisis on Infinite Earths–esque consolidation. Disney already owned both Marvel and Lucasfilm, but creatively speaking, the two tentpoles were discrete entities. Now, the lines between the two are blurring, and an enormous amount of cultural capital is being concentrated in some of the same hands. We may need a Sherman Antitrust Act for franchises to ensure that even if the same corporate entity is reaping the rewards from multiple series, the same people aren’t bringing the same sensibilities to all of the most treasured pieces of IP.
In the best-case scenario, Benioff and Weiss and Favreau and Feige will inject elements of their previous work in a way that kickstarts Star Wars without overtly echoing old ideas. But even if Feige’s film doesn’t feature a Marvel veteran as its mystery star, a Peter Quill crossover, or a cantina cameo from Rocket or Groot, there’s still some risk that Star Wars will simply start to resemble those other series visually or thematically. There’s value in variety.
What’s more, handing the reins of Star Wars to such heavy hitters leaves fewer opportunities for new voices to put their own idiosyncratic spins on the saga. Entrusting blockbusters to less seasoned creators hasn’t always paid off, but when it has worked out well—as was the case with, say, Johnson in Star Wars and Gunn, Ryan Coogler, and Taika Waititi in the MCU—it’s sent series in exciting, unprecedented directions. Ideally, Lucasfilm will continue to make room at the Star Wars storytelling table for fresh faces as well as known commodities. It’s a big galaxy, and it’s growing fast.