Editorial: Why Marvel’s Kevin Feige Should NOT Take Over Lucasfilm From Kathleen Kennedy
Ever since backlash against Disney’s Star Wars has gained more of a foothold over certain portions of the internet, there have been calls for Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy to resign – even though, I might add, she has produced 4 movies that made upwards of $4B globally and were all critical successes, with only one release flopping due to an overinflated budget and questionable marketing. One such candidate to replace her in a scenario that has no chance of realistically happening is Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, who would be expected to abdicate his duties working on half-a-dozen Marvel films at any given time. Here’s why Feige replacing Kennedy would be a remarkably terrible idea for Disney.
Recently, some rumors have popped up suggesting that Kennedy is planning an exit strategy from Lucasfilm… Rumors that were nowhere to be heard about until recently, leading me to believe that they hit largely in a way to capitalize on the wave of Star Wars anti-fandom. Deadline has recently published a piece mentioning that in spite of fan hopes, their sources have told them that there are no plans for Feige to take over, and that Kennedy will stay aboard for a while. (Knowing her résumé, she’ll likely be involved with helping Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones 5, which gives her an abundance of projects to oversee until at least 2020.)
Star Wars Is Not A Franchise That Needs “Saving”
First and foremost: Star Wars has made a killing as it is under Disney. Even with Solo being the first Star Wars movie to lose money for the reinvigorated company, the average gross Disney received for their first four movies was over $1B per movie. It’s not a a franchise that needs to be “saved” and Solo was an experiment that didn’t pay off. The general audiences are clearly okay with the new films whereas there was a greater degree of apprehension around the Prequel Trilogy, and no amount of “fan”-targeting on movie-rating sites is going to change that. If they stick the landing with Episode IX, any post-The Last Jedi anxiety and unrest should be a thing of the past. (And even with TLJ backlash in mind, absolutely nothing will compare to the kind of flak that The Phantom Menace received back in the day. We’re just lucky that social media wasn’t around then.)
Granted, Star Wars merchandise isn’t selling like it once did as far as toys go, and this is a sticking point for the disgruntled part of the fanbase that sees Star Wars as a dying brand (it’s not). Toy sales declining is a fair point, but one that isn’t really looking at the big picture. A major factor in that has to do with the change in distribution: all the major toy chains are gone, with Toys ‘R’ Us going bankrupt signifying the end of an era. (This was a big factor as to why Star Wars: The Last Jedi toy sales dropped so much compared to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.) Furthermore, kids are becoming less and less interested in toys when alternatives like video games and phone apps are becoming more and more prominent. But beyond that, Hasbro’s decision to downgrade the number of points of articulation per figure is something that has become less appealing to older collectors, who are an increasingly becoming a bigger percentage of the people who buy Star Wars toys as kids tune out.
Even if toy sales aren’t what they used to be, there’s still more to the franchise – a lot of content has been produced in a short period of time, and any misfires are few and far between. Kevin Feige might have a better track record with Marvel fans than Kathleen Kennedy has had with Star Wars fans, but there’s the thing: he’s only made Marvel movies. Aside from a few movies where he served as producer Laura Shuler Donner’s uncredited assistant/intern, all Feige has worked on is Marvel. And while his body of work has encompassed a number of sub-genres in and of itself, the demands of a standard superhero movie are different than the demands of a space opera, and while he’s handled a few of those, his approach on those projects are pretty far away from what the approach for a Star Wars film ought to be. Kennedy has a wider range of experience, with movies ranging from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park to Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List. Any given Star Wars movie has different needs than any given Marvel movie, and I’d personally trust the franchise more with someone with a wider range of experience.
There are definitely places where I think Kathleen Kennedy could do better in managing the franchise, but from where I’m seated, the solution to that problem is not to fire her in the most reactionary way possible. Much less firing someone who helped you recoup a $4B investment in under five years. Handling Star Wars is a massive undertaking in and of itself, and to think that just any executive can do it – much less one from another Disney-run studio, who is happy where he is – is folly.
Marvel Needs Kevin Feige, While Star Wars Doesn’t
I would also like to make it clear that I hold absolutely nothing against Kevin Feige. In spite of the note I ended the last paragraph on, I actually do believe that he could handle the stresses of juggling a Star Wars movie or two in some capacity, and I believe him to be one of the most effective movie producers in modern history. He has a clear passion for the source material and has a good understanding of how things should work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that’s exactly why he’s better off staying where he is.
Seriously, look at how well Marvel’s track record was prior to 2008, when he got his first gig with Iron Man. While the first two installments of Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man were each well-regarded or outright loved, bear in mind that to get to that point one had to sift through the likes of Howard the Duck, Elektra, and Ghost Rider. You could even look at some of the more recent non-Marvel Studios Marvel movies that were disappointing follow-ups to significantly better movies (X-Men: Apocalypse in comparison to both X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: First Class before it) or outright unwatchable slogs (Fant4stic) as proof that the company is better off under his guidance.
It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen to mention the Fox-owned X-Men and Fantastic Four film franchises, by the way; with the upcoming Disney/Fox merger on the horizon, Feige will have his hands full with making additions to his existing plans, and Disney Chairman Alan Horn has just implied that making four (or more) MCU movies per year is now within the realm of possibility. And considering that the latter team has never really been done right in a feature film, while the former team has had many good-to-decent adaptations that still haven’t managed to realize the franchise’s full potential, it’s safe to say that he’ll be needed to actually turn a stagnant franchise around to put it on a level where it can stand against the likes of Spider-Man and to revitalize an existing franchise so it can be bigger and better than it’s ever been.
Long story short: Feige’s efforts are best saved toward working on what he’s already passionate about as opposed to working on a brand he appreciates but doesn’t love on the same level. Star Wars might have gotten him interested in film, but he’s been committed to making Marvel movies for nearly 20 years now, and he shows no sign of losing interest as the plans for another decade of stories are already being prepared – with or without the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises.
Kevin Feige Is More Interested In Cosmic Marvel Stories Than Star Wars
Something worth keeping in mind is that Feige has indicated that Marvel will be focused on more space-based narratives in the near future following Avengers: Infinity War, about half of which is set off of Earth and in the final frontier. We’ve already seen that with the the Thor trilogy and the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but then there’s the upcoming third one, alongside Captain Marvel, and Avengers: Infinity War‘s sequel. Feige has also indicated that they’ll be expanding their horizons with potential movies based on Nova and The Eternals, along with potentially more Thor installments that, like Ragnarok, could explore more of the sci-fi side of the fantasy-themed superhero’s mythology. All of which makes it sound like he’s good doing sci-fi his way, and not the “Galaxy Far, Far Away” way.
While Star Wars is better described as Science-Fantasy than Science-Fiction, Marvel has it both ways – and the “fantasy” aspect of their stories usually end up going in places that Star Wars probably won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, while the “science” aspect takes Marvel’s characters to alternate timelines and parallel universes. Star Wars did experiment with time travel in Rebels and it’s apparent that that’s going to be a one-time thing. Guardians and Ragnarok were good fun and all, but Star Wars doesn’t need to imitate either film – and they shouldn’t.
Marvel’s Franchise Model Is Different From The One For Star Wars
Here’s the difference between Marvel’s model and Lucasfilm’s – one encourages crossovers between characters on film, and the other does not. There’s not going to be a Star Wars answer to Avengers: Infinity War because that’s just not how this franchise works. Star Wars is from the old era of Hollywood in which franchises were less about setting up future spin-offs and crossovers and more on doing one film at a time and having plans for a sequel or two if a movie warrants it.
Marvel trailblazed a new model that very few competitors have been able to successfully emulate – and Lucasfilm deliberately chose not to emulate that model for Star Wars, even with annual releases planned and possibly an increase to that output somewhere down the road. Who knows, maybe we’ll see Alden Ehrenreich’s version of Han Solo run into Jyn Erso before her “Rebellions are built on hope!” days, or similar, era-appropriate scenarios play out. But we’re never going to see a big fat crossover between actors of all three trilogies in one movie fighting in each other’s timelines unless Lucasfilm wants to take a flying leap over the metaphorical shark.
Lucasfilm’s Creative Model Is More Restrictive By Design
The thing about how Marvel Studios movies are made that fundamentally separates them from Star Wars movies is that they’re adaptations, which means that what are done to those characters is up to the people making the movies. This can be for ill (such as butchering the character of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 by making him a washed-up actor playing terrorist on television instead of a magic-wielding criminal mastermind) or for good (such as omitting Ant-Man‘s infamous backstory element of Hank Pym slapping his wife – who was emotionally abusing him at the time – during a drug-induced mental breakdown), but it’s ultimately all creator-driven.
Meanwhile, Star Wars is largely set in stone with the way it’s approached – while you could say that Luke Skywalker became depressed and stopped teaching new Jedi as part of a story for a new movie, you couldn’t have Luke go off on a significant space adventure with the Jedi that’s set before the events of A New Hope. You have to adhere to existing continuity with future Star Wars films, with less lenience about what you can do. Another fun fact: Star-Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy fame was originally an astronaut-turned-explorer in the comics, whereas he’s abducted by Yondu in the movies (a character who, for frame of reference, is completely different on film than he is in the original comics). Luke Skywalker, conversely, always has to be Darth Vader’s son who lived an uneventful life on Tatooine until two droids showed up on his porch. That doesn’t need to change to suit a new story, and it really shouldn’t.
So it makes a lot of sense to me that Lucasfilm are much more protective of their IP than Marvel are. That’s not to say that Marvel’s not concerned with the image of the IPs of the projects they make, because they are; however, they clearly give their creators a lot more leeway to do whatever they want with their stories, regardless of what the source material indicates, based on what they think is the best story to tell. With Lucasfilm, creators have to adhere to what came before because the versions of the characters that they play with are the same ones that first appeared in 1977, just placed under new and unusual situations.
Marvel Studios Has Run Into Many Of The Same Problems As Lucasfilm
For all the flak that Lucasfilm has received for hiring and firing directors… Marvel is plenty guilty of that as well. Ever hear of Patty Jenkins and Edgar Wright? With Wonder Woman, the former decisively proved that female-led superhero movies didn’t have to suck in a world where the cinematic atrocities known as Catwoman and Elektra exist. The other is a creative visionary who made Baby Driver, a breakout hit that wasn’t an adaptation, a sequel, a remake, or a reboot in an era where all those things are common in an idea-starved Hollywood. Once upon a time, both of these directors were in line to work on Marvel movies – until they weren’t.
Wright dragged his feet on production of Ant-Man for a handful of reasons and ultimately wasn’t really willing to play ball with Marvel’s shared universe while they were already actively invested in the concept, so he got the boot midway through production and was replaced by Peyton Reed. Before that, Jenkins parted ways from Thor: The Dark World after being selected as a director. And you know what? Both of those movies succeeded. At no point did anyone suggest that Kevin Feige be fired for potentially mishandling two projects ahead of their respective release dates.
Some other fun bits of Marvel mayhem occurred fairly recently as well. One Marvel exec nearly firing Robert Downey Jr. from Captain America: Civil War over a pay dispute that led to Disney making an intervention and making it so that Feige didn’t have to answer to him. Spider-Man was hastily written into that movie as well, following Sony’s decision to reboot the character into the MCU following their own issues with an increasingly-disillusioned Andrew Garfield.
One last thing: Marvel had a flop of their own in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, right when the setting was first taking off. Even still, that didn’t cause the company to suddenly cancel their plans to introduce 3 new movie franchises over the course of the next 5 years. I don’t expect Lucasfilm to be deterred at this point when their returns, so far, have eclipsed where Marvel was at in the same period of time.
Marvel has made what they do look easy. The truth is that there is no such thing as movie with a completely-smooth production, and it’s not like the six movies that were made under George Lucas’s leadership were free of having any of the problems that either the modern version of Lucasfilm or Marvel Studios are running into now.
Do You Really WANT ‘Marvel Humor’ In Star Wars?
This is less a general point and more an observation. I like The Last Jedi quite a bit; even though there are issues that I still have with the movie, the strengths stand out with every repeat viewing. And the humor, for the most part, is not one of the things I had an issue with. But one thing in particular felt out-of-place for me: in the opening scene, Poe ‘takes a call’ for General Hux in a scene that feels like it would belong in a movie set in our world, not Star Wars. I’m not the only one who had reservations about this scene (even though I still think it’s funny), but one thing I noticed is that others who criticized this scene in particular disliked it for having what outlets like to brand as ‘Marvel Humor’ (even though Marvel’s style of comedy came well before they started making movies).
Starting with The Avengers, Marvel’s movies have largely taken a turn for the more comedic (aside from the two Captain America sequels, and both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War to a lesser extent), and based on box office returns, that’s clearly worked for them. If you hire the producer who has largely encouraged his filmmakers to go with a specific type of comedy in his films, then that’s exactly what you’re going to get. So ask yourselves this: do you really want to see Finn challenge Kylo Ren to a dance-off to save the Resistance? Do you want to see a scene where Boba Fett turns out to be an eccentric, drug-addicted actor instead of the fearsome bounty hunter that the other movies set him up as being? Based on the response The Last Jedi got on the humor front, I’m going to guess the answer is ‘no’, but if Kevin Feige took the helm of the franchise, that’s probably part of what you’d get. Be careful what you wish for.
Most Importantly: He Clearly Doesn’t Want To
In closing, I’d like to use a quote from Yahoo!, spoken by Kevin Feige on Kathleen Kennedy’s handling of Solo‘s production issues right when that happened nearly a year ago:
“Kathy’s an unbelievable inspiration over the past few years that I’ve been lucky enough to get to know here. All the movies she’s made became the reason that I wanted to make moves. Being on the inside of any movie you understand. You’ve got to oversee the whole thing and take care of the vision of the overarching film. I would trust Kathy with any of the decisions she has to make, because she’s been making them amazingly for 30-plus years.”
Does that sound like someone who thinks she’s dropped the ball and would be willing to run her out of a job? I don’t think so. Above all else, managing an entire slate of movies is difficult work, and they’re both good at doing that based on box office results with the occasional exception aside. Feige clearly respects Kennedy’s position of power at Lucasfilm, and he’s currently content with making Marvel movies from now until doomsday, and both of their movies are making bank for Disney. If it’s not broken, then it doesn’t need to be fixed.
Grant has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as he can remember, having seen every movie on the big screen. When he’s not hard at work with his college studies, he keeps himself busy by reporting on all kinds of Star Wars news for SWNN and general movie news on the sister site, Movie News Net. He served as a frequent commentator on SWNN’s The Resistance Broadcast.