An exclusive look at the master plan for Obi-Wan Kenobi with Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, Andor with Diego Luna, Ahsoka with Rosario Dawson—and a fleet of new shows.
Costume designers, Suttirat Larlarb, Shawna Trpcic, Michael Wilkinson; makeup and hair, Cool Benson, Ashleigh Childers, Alexei Dmitriew, Amber Hamilton, Crystal Jones, Morgan Marinoff, Davy Newkirk, Julio Parodi, Ana Gabriela Quiñonez, Maria Sandoval, Cristina Waltz. For V.F.: set design, Mary Howard; creative producer, Kathryn MacLeod. Photographed exclusively for V.F. by Annie Leibovitz in Manhattan Beach, California. PHOTOGRAPH BY ANNIE LEIBOVITZ.
Diego Luna couldn’t trust the driver. He didn’t think he could trust anybody. And hadn’t he read something about an epidemic of eavesdroppers hacking phones? “That was just my paranoia,” the actor says now. “Not connected to reality.” Still, he pressed his phone so tightly to his ear that it made his face hot, as a voice from thousands of miles away told him secrets from another galaxy. The car was stuck in traffic on the top tier of a double-decker highway in Mexico City. “I was speaking in code words because I was trying not to say too much in the car,” says Luna. The words he was avoiding most strenuously were star and wars.
Luna had played the dauntless Rebel spy Cassian Andor in the 2016 film Rogue One. Now, on the other end of the phone, was Tony Gilroy, who had punched up the movie’s script for reshoots. Gilroy—whose credits include writing the first four Bourne thrillers and writing and directing Michael Clayton—was developing a series that would explore Andor’s backstory, revealing what drew him into the galactic Rebellion and how he evolved from a self-serving nihilist into a selfless martyr. Luna’s call with Gilroy—the first time he heard the full plan for the Andor story—happened more than three years ago. “One thing I remember, from being part of this since day one, is how little you can share of what happens,” says the actor. “I have kids, man. It’s painful for them—and for me.”
George Lucas himself had attempted, and abandoned, a live-action Star Wars series called Underworld before he sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012. Scripts were written and test footage shot, but the level of quality he was looking for proved to be too expensive for a TV budget. Then, in 2017, Lucasfilm was tasked with trying again, this time making not one series but a whole fleet to bolster its parent company’s streaming ambitions. Disney+ would need the firepower of many Star Wars shows to compete against rival titans like Netflix and Amazon. The Mandalorian, we know now, became a global phenomenon, which only raised expectations. This winter, The Book of Boba Fett delivered a redemption story nearly four decades after the title character’s apparent demise in Return of the Jedi. Now, with 130 million subscribers waiting, Disney has upped its demands to three separate Star Wars shows within a year. For this story, Lucasfilm has lifted the secrecy surrounding its TV universe and how it formed, as universes do, under immense pressure.
First up is Ewan McGregor’s return to his role as a weary Jedi master in exile. Obi-Wan Kenobi debuts May 27, tracking the character 10 years into his time on the desert world of Tatooine, where he serves as a distant guardian to young Luke Skywalker and is hunted by a dark side “Inquisitor” named Reva (played by The Queen’s Gambit’s Moses Ingram). Luna’s spy saga, Andor, hits screens late this summer. Season three of The Mandalorian, reuniting Pedro Pascal’s helmeted gunfighter with his little green ward (you know who), drops in late 2022 or early 2023. Next year, Rosario Dawson will lead the series Ahsoka, playing the live-action version of a fan-favorite Force wielder from animation who was once an apprentice to Anakin Skywalker. Slightly further off is The Acolyte, with a tale set about a century before the era of the Skywalkers.
It’s a bountiful time to be a Star Wars obsessive, to say the least. McGregor—who wrestled with joining the galaxy in the late ’90s and wrestled again with whether to return—says the gig has saturated his life. “My partner, Mary, is doing that Star Wars series with Rosario and she’s about to start,” he says. Lucasfilm hadn’t previously confirmed rumors that Mary Elizabeth Winstead will be in Ahsoka, but…now they don’t have to. “Our little boy has been born into this massive Star Wars family,” says McGregor, whose son with Winstead was born last summer. “He will either embrace it or really go the other way. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll be a Trekkie!”
On that day in mid-2019, when Luna was recruited for Andor, the actor remembers looking out the car window at the rooftops of the adjacent buildings, visualizing the tale about resistance-minded spies and near-death escapes. He was especially glad that Gilroy’s proposal included details that resonated personally. Luna describes Andor as a refugee story, with desperate people fleeing the Empire at the full force of its power. “It’s the journey of a migrant,” he says. “That feeling of having to move is behind this story, very profoundly and very strong. That shapes you as a person. It defines you in many ways, and what you are willing to do.”
Gilroy breathes deep and reveals a little more about Andor. “This guy gave his life for the galaxy, right? I mean, he consciously, soberly, without vanity or recognition, sacrificed himself. Who does that?” he asks. “That’s what this first season is about. It’s about him being really revolution-averse, and cynical, and lost, and kind of a mess.” The story begins with the destruction of Andor’s birth world, then follows him into adulthood, when he realizes he can’t run forever. “His adopted home will become the base of our whole first season, and we watch that place become radicalized,” Gilroy says. “Then we see another planet that’s completely taken apart in a colonial kind of way. The Empire is expanding rapidly. They’re wiping out anybody who’s in their way.” By journey’s end, Andor’s path will be to block theirs.
The show also focuses on the enigmatic Rebel leader Mon Mothma, played by Genevieve O’Reilly, who portrayed her as a young senator in Revenge of the Sith, then reprised the role in Rogue One. Mothma (then played by Caroline Blakiston) was the priestess-like figure in 1983’s Return of the Jedi who outlines weaknesses in the new Death Star, gravely intoning, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” In Andor, her story will run parallel to the title character, whom we know will eventually become one of her key agents. “It is a huge, orchestral, Dickensian ensemble cast,” says Gilroy.
Luna remembers the conversation in the car as the moment he was all in. “At the end, [Gilroy] said to me, ‘You want to take this risk with me, man? It’s you and I from beginning to end,’ ” says the actor. “It was like you’d been recruited to join a Rebel force. I was like, ‘Yes! Of course, man! Yes!’ ” Then reality set in: “What did I just say? This will be happening in London? My life is in Mexico. Holy shit, what have I done?”
It’s the theme that binds all the new shows: devotion. “What’s unique about Star Wars is that we’re one story, basically,” says Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “George was always dealing with episodes. Ironically, he was serializing his storytelling. He was influenced by Flash Gordon and cliff-hangers on Saturdays at movie theaters. All of that informed what the DNA of Star Wars is, which is why I think it’s just organic that we made the transition into television.”
The transition was not an obvious pivot for an empire built on movies. When she took over Lucasfilm in 2012, Kennedy’s primary goal was to rejuvenate Star Wars with a new era of films, after a trilogy of prequels that underwhelmed many fans. Few producers were better poised to do that, given her legacy of crowd-pleasers ranging from E.T. to Back to the Future and The Sixth Sense. By the end of 2015, Han, Leia, and Luke were back on the big screen in J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens, which introduced the desert scavenger Rey, the redemption-seeking storm trooper Finn, the X-wing hotshot Poe Dameron, and the brooding Sith wannabe Kylo Ren. Rian Johnson’s sequel, 2017’s The Last Jedi, continued the Skywalker saga, as it came to be known, but veered sharply from Abrams’s vision and seemed to close off some central story lines. Abrams U-turned back when he returned for 2019’s final chapter, The Rise of Skywalker, taking over Episode IX late in development. The movies all earned billions, but the zigzagging narrative was conspicuous.
Ewan McGregor and his partner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, will both be on new Lucasfilm shows: “Our little boy has been BORN INTO THIS MASSIVE STAR WARS FAMILY. He will either embrace it or really go the other way. Maybe he’ll be a Trekkie!”
All this led to “the hiatus,” a fallow spot in the Star Wars film landscape that Kennedy announced in early 2019, months before The Rise of Skywalker even debuted. Lucasfilm needed to regroup and rethink: “We all recognized, every single one of us, that this was a new chapter for the company and that we needed to all work together to create the architecture for where we were going.”
Factor in the stand-alone movies Rogue One and Solo, and the Bay Area production company had been churning out a blockbuster a year, a breakneck pace considering that Lucas himself only released one Star Wars film every three years—with well over a decade between trilogies. Kennedy wanted to dispense with the annual deadline and reconsider everything. The most important lesson they’d learned was this: Star Wars required a greater degree of professional devotion from filmmakers. “Anyone who comes into the Star Wars universe needs to know that it’s a three-, four-, five-year commitment,” she says. “That’s what it takes. You can’t step in for a year and shoot something and then walk away…. It requires that kind of nurturing.”
Getting something appropriately cosmic prepped for their streaming service’s launch became Disney’s highest priority. It had to feel as big as the films. So, Kennedy turned to a filmmaker.
Jon Favreau had inaugurated the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man a decade before and was steeped in large-scale serialized storytelling. The actor and director had also become so proficient with visual effects that his most recent Disney projects, The Jungle Book and The Lion King, were often mistakenly described as live-action even though both are almost entirely digitally simulated. “I knew that Jon Favreau was always deeply interested in Star Wars. He was the first person I went to,” Kennedy says. “He said, ‘Not only would I have an interest, I have an idea.’ ” Plus, he was willing to meet that new criteria of hers. “What’s unique about Jon is his commitment,” Kennedy says. “He’s had a sole focus pretty much on this for the last several years. That’s been a godsend.”
After meeting at Kennedy’s office in Santa Monica, Favreau started work without even a contract. “I just started writing,” he says. “So by the time I was officially hired, I had already written the first, I think, four episodes.”
But there was a problem. Favreau’s idea was about a Mandalorian, the helmeted tribe of galactic warriors who frequently turn up as mercenaries or bounty hunters. The first, and for a long time the only, Mandalorian in the early Star Wars films was Boba Fett, and Lucasfilm planned to make him the central character in a feature film being developed by director James Mangold. That wasn’t the problem, although Favreau would eventually pick up the Boba Fett story after Mangold moved on to another Lucasfilm property, directing Indiana Jones 5. The problem Kennedy faced was that another esteemed creative executive, Dave Filoni, had also devised a series focused on Mandalorians. Filoni is the colorful cowboy hat–wearing mastermind behind many of Lucasfilm’s animated shows. He joined the company in 2005 as an apprentice to Lucas himself and developed The Clone Wars with him. Filoni wanted to explore some of the ideas they’d never fully realized. “I remember when I did Clone Wars, George came in and said, ‘Well, the Mandalorians are pacifists in this time period.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, well, that’s very different than what everybody thinks they were.’ And he was like, ‘Well, you’ve got to remember that people are never just one thing. Cultures evolve and they change over time.’ ”
Being able to channel the creator makes Filoni indispensable at Lucasfilm. He was a critical part of the company’s new TV ventures, and Kennedy had been nurturing his filmmaking ambitions ever since her arrival. Favreau and Filoni were friendly, but Kennedy feared a turf war might erupt. She devised a fix. “I arranged a playdate,” she says.
After meeting in Los Angeles, Favreau and Filoni exchanged ideas and drawings for a Mandalorian show that could combine their ideas. “They got along instantly, like gangbusters,” Kennedy says. Filoni’s knowledge of Mandalorian history blended with Favreau’s lone-gunslinger concept. Most importantly, the new partners challenged each other. Favreau’s idea for the Child was the biggest sticking point. “It gave us some pause,” Kennedy says. “He and Dave debated that quite ferociously.”
The Child, of course, is the pistachio-hued scene-stealer who would melt the Mandalorian’s icy bounty-hunter heart by becoming the innocent he must protect at all costs. The little one remained under wraps until the debut of the first episode, then instantly became an object of global adoration. His real name is Grogu, but in our world he is forever Baby Yoda. “Honestly, it’s something I never would’ve done because Yoda is Yoda,” Filoni says. Yoda’s home world and backstory were never fully revealed, and Filoni wanted to protect the mystery that Lucas built around the original Jedi master. “I think people now look back and think it was like a slam dunk, but we were very cautious,” Filoni says of the Child. “The amount of measuring, especially in the first season, for how we were framing this kid took a lot of effort.”
There was never an alternate creature suggestion. It’s not like we might have gotten a crustacean-like Baby Ackbar on lunch boxes, dolls, backpacks, and T-shirts. And we may never have gotten a Child at all if Lucasfilm hadn’t solved another, even bigger problem with The Mandalorian: how to create a show that goes to new worlds in every episode without the backbreaking budgetary demands of shipping a crew to the farthest reaches of our own planet. “We were making series that were meant to sit alongside our films with a third of the budget and half the time,” says Carrie Beck, a development and production executive at Lucasfilm who co-executive-produced The Mandalorian. “While it became a huge success, I feel like everybody’s blood, sweat, and tears are on that screen.”
Ironically, the thing that cleared their path was a wall.
The cluster of bulky beige buildings in Manhattan Beach, a South Bay community near Los Angeles, looks as boring as any warehouse district. They are the khaki pants of architecture. Inside, at least two of these soundstages, however, are portals to other worlds.
After The Mandalorian debuted in late 2019, Lucasfilm’s special effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, began to reveal details of the colossal curved LED wall they call The Volume that can envelop a film crew as effectively as any location shoot, generating an environment that’s convincingly photorealistic, even to a digital camera. There’s no need to ship a crew and props and actors anywhere. Everywhere can be brought to the studio. With three Volumes now in L.A., one in London, and one in Vancouver, film and TV creators are just beginning to discover its capabilities. The glow of dusk or dawn can last the whole workday if necessary. You can freeze the sun. Or, if you’re shooting something set on Tatooine, you can freeze two of them.
Back in 2018, when The Mandalorian was first being planned, the tech was unsteady. Richard Bluff, supervisor of ILM’s environments departments, had spent much of his career building virtual backdrops and knew The Volume (which ILM officially calls StageCraft) could be just what The Mandalorian needed. Without it, the show would either be too costly to produce or too chintzy to impress. The turning point came in the spring of that year, when one of the most famously exacting directors of all time stopped by. “James Cameron came to visit,” Bluff says. “He was next door working on the Avatar sequels in his water tank. Jon had asked for us to display on the monitors the test we’d shot earlier in the day.”
This footage featured a Mandalorian stand-in pacing around the dilapidated ruins of an abandoned building, littered with debris and stained by water damage, with walls peeling like dead skin. The structure really exists and sits on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. But the building’s location had been scanned and imported to the LED screens, and the bounty hunter and his mirror-like armor seemed to have been transported into a decaying room. If anyone on earth could see the seams of the effect, it would be Cameron. “I remember distinctly Jim taking off his glasses and leaning close to look at the quality of the image and how convincing it was,” Bluff says. “I think, for everybody, that afternoon was the eureka moment, because it was working.”
Four years later, The Volume is an essential everyday tool. During a visit in mid-March, it conjures a rocky gray cavern, with cliffs embedded with large tech components. Whatever this place is, it’s been colonized. On the flat ceiling of the studio, you can see the craggy roof of the cave, with a rough opening that lets light pour down from a circle of blue sky.
There’s less clutter than other sets and virtually no dust. There’s no smell of fresh paint, sculpted foam, or freshly cut lumber. The Volume has the sterile, ozone scent of a Best Buy as millions upon millions of tiny light-emitting diodes embedded in the curved surface evoke alien landscapes. Favreau shows off the stage like a man opening the hood of a newly restored classic car. Asked if the technology allows them to make a full season of television in the same amount of time as a Star Wars or Marvel movie, Favreau shakes his head: “No, it’s like half the time.”
One of the first outsiders to see The Volume was Pedro Pascal, when the actor was recruited by Favreau to lend a flinty presence to The Mandalorian’s antihero. “I knew that it was an ace in the hole. I just knew,” Pascal says. “And I haven’t been surprised by any of it. Maybe I’ve been a little surprised by how compelling the Mandalorian can be, because he’s faceless.”
But that had been a selling point for him too. The character, later revealed to be named Din Djarin, is such a hard-line devotee to Mandalorian rules that he scrupulously keeps his helmet on in the presence of others. That means Pascal can sometimes play the role as a voice actor while a stand-in wears the armor, which frees him to accept other projects. “Maybe I’m a little bit of a commitment-phobe,” he says, “because the coolness of it really excites me, and the life span of it really intimidates me.”
Star Wars actors tend to become Star Wars actors for life. In the late ’90s, this led McGregor to agonize over playing the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel movies. “I really questioned it a lot,” he says. “I felt like I was part of this new wave of British cinema, really, and that Star Wars wasn’t me, that’s not what I stood for. I was this sort of urban, grungy, independent film actor.” The late Sir Alec Guinness notoriously looked down on the space saga when he played the wise old man in the original films. McGregor says he did too, especially after his first installment, 1999’s The Phantom Menace, suffered punishing reviews: “It was hard because it was such a huge decision to do them, such a big event. It was quite difficult for all of us to deal with that, also knowing you’ve got a couple more to do.”
McGregor was relieved to put the franchise behind him. But in 2017, he was invited to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a marathon screening of every Star Wars film. “They asked me if I would want to introduce one, and I’ve never done anything like that, but suddenly, it just struck me that I really did want to,” McGregor recalls. Why had his feelings changed? “I don’t know,” he says, scratching a scruffy cheek. “I really do think it has to do with growing up.” He enjoyed seeing people in sleeping bags, pulling an all-nighter with his movies. Kids who’d grown up with the prequels weren’t as cynical as the critics. A few reviewers had even begun to reappraise them. People loved him as Obi-Wan, which made McGregor realize that he did too.
After the screening, McGregor started to get asked The Question nearly every time he gave an interview: Would he ever consider playing Obi-Wan Kenobi again? McGregor always answered in the affirmative, which is good politics but not a contractual obligation. The only time the question really mattered was when McGregor was asked by Lucasfilm’s then head of story Kiri Hart about four years ago. “She just said, ‘We just wanted to know if it’s true. You’ve said you’d do it again. We want to know if you mean it,’ ” McGregor recalls. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I do mean it. I would be happy to do it again.’ ”
Lucasfilm intended to make Obi-Wan Kenobi as a movie, to be directed by Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry. McGregor would be a producer this time, giving him more say over the story. “I just said, ‘I think that it should be a story about a broken man, a man who’s lost his faith,’ ” he says. “He always has a funny line to say or always seems to be calm and is a good warrior or soldier or whatever, but to see that man come apart, and see what gets him back together again—that’s where we started.”
When the Obi-Wan film later evolved into an Obi-Wan TV series as part of Lucasfilm’s new yearning for Disney+ content, Daldry departed and Deborah Chow, a director from The Mandalorian, came aboard with the goal to keep the series cinematic in scope. There remained one missing component. McGregor’s prequel costar, Hayden Christensen, had been Anakin Skywalker to his Obi-Wan, brothers-in-arms until their brutal battle on a lava flow in Revenge of the Sith. Still, in the early iterations of the Obi-Wan–in–exile story, Vader wasn’t included.
Late last year, Rosario Dawson seemed to accidentally confirm a rumor with an Instagram post: “I looked in my email, and Star Wars was like, ‘YOU MIGHT WANT TO TAKE THAT DOWN.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t be trusted.’
It’s an ongoing conundrum at Lucasfilm: How much should they showcase legacy characters and how much should they keep them in reserve? Would introducing Vader to a story about Obi-Wan’s exile detract from their fateful meeting on the Death Star in 1977’s Star Wars, when Vader strikes down his old friend? Or could a previously unknown encounter actually enhance that moment? “We have these what-if conversations 24/7,” says Michelle Rejwan, an executive producer of Obi-Wan and one of the company’s lead development chiefs. “It’s fun to, in your head, peruse the Star Wars toy store. ‘Oh, we could have this character, or feature that ship.’ But at the end of the day, we really need to keep it pure about why.”
In the fall of 2019, Chow sat in Christensen’s living room, asking him to return as the most fearsome tyrant in the galaxy. Logs crackled in the fireplace. A cup of herb, lemon, and ginger tea steamed in Chow’s cup. Vader, she told Christensen, would add a new dimension that could ultimately reframe the way fans look at their classic duel in the original movie.
At the time of the meeting, it had been 14 years since Revenge of the Sith, and the actor assumed his galactic glory days were done. He was happy to be wrong. “This is a character that has come to define my life in so many ways,” he says. “I was originally hired to play a very specific portion of this person’s life. Most of my work was with Anakin. And now I get to come back and explore the character of Darth Vader.”
Technically, you don’t need Christensen for Vader—all you need is the mask, a hulking figure in the suit, and, if you’re lucky, James Earl Jones’s imperious voice. But you do need Christensen to show the audience the hotheaded but compassionate man who was lost when Anakin Skywalker became Vader. “A lot of my conversations with Deborah were about wanting to convey this feeling of strength, but also coupled with imprisonment,” Christensen says. “There is this power and vulnerability, and I think that’s an interesting space to explore.”
When Chow became the showrunner, she championed a rematch between Vader and Kenobi as the Lucasfilm brain trust mulled whether to go that route. Meanwhile, soundstages had been booked in England and then canceled as the story underwent more internal scrutiny, sparking fears from fans that the show itself might go away too. In March 2020, shortly before lockdown began, the decision was finalized: Vader would return.
Part of Chow’s successful perspective on “why” Vader and Kenobi should face each other again may surprise even the most ardent Star Wars fans, especially those who think of the two as harboring an epic contempt for one another. “For me, across the prequels, through the original trilogy, there’s a love-story dynamic with these two that goes through the whole thing,” Chow says. “I felt like it was quite hard to not [include] the person who left Kenobi in such anguish in the series.” What intrigued her was the idea that despite what Vader had become, Kenobi might still care deeply about him. “I don’t know how you could not,” she says. “I don’t think he ever will not care about him. What’s special about that relationship is that they loved each other.”
While Luna is the kind of actor who huddles in the backseat of a car, hiding his Star Wars call from a probably oblivious driver, Rosario Dawson is the type who FaceTimes her friend’s eight-year-old while in costume as alien Force-seeker Ahsoka, her full blue-and-white head tails framing burnt-umber makeup and white warrior markings. “I called my friend Polina because her son Cosmo is a huge fan of Star Wars, knows every ship, every robot,” says Dawson. “He sees me and throws the phone across the room. Just freaked out. I’ve gotten ice cream with this kid. We’ve hung out. But it was too much that this character he loves was starting to talk to him and said his name. She calls me back the next day and goes, ‘Cosmo just walked into the room and told me: He’s ready now.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s very sweet, but I am no longer in costume. His moment is missed.’ ” She shrugs. “That will be a life lesson for him moving forward.”
Dawson has the same enthusiasm for Star Wars as Cosmo. Her casting as Ahsoka Tano, who previously was voiced by Ashley Eckstein and existed only in animation, was the result of a fan suggestion that Lucasfilm took seriously. Someone tweeted Dawson a piece of art depicting her as the heroine, and she responded: “Ummm… Yes, please?” That made its way to Filoni, who had been working with Favreau to include Ahsoka in both The Mandalorian and later The Book of Boba Fett. His ultimate goal was to give Ahsoka her own TV series.
In October 2021, after Dawson had shot guest spots, she read a trade report about Christensen possibly joining her stand-alone show. Anakin Skywalker had been the character’s mentor, and Vader’s memory would understandably still haunt her. Dawson took a screenshot of the headline and opened Instagram, using the characters’ nicknames for each other from The Clone Wars as a caption. “I just posted, ‘Skyguy…They know!!! See you soon, Snips.’ ” Only later did she realize that the report was just an unconfirmed rumor. Fans took her post as hard confirmation, and the powers that be at Lucasfilm were distressed. “I looked in my email, and Star Wars was like, ‘You might want to take that down,’ ” Dawson remembers. “I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t be trusted.’ ”
Ahsoka will appear on Disney+ in 2023, though Lucasfilm, eager to reclaim secrecy, still won’t confirm if Dawson had inadvertently leaked the truth about Anakin or if it really was a false report. As with every Star Wars title, emotions and nostalgia are wrapped up in this series. Filoni, who’s overseeing the show, helped create the title character with Lucas, and watched her become a touchstone to young girls who were drawn to “Snips” as the first lead female in the Jedi order. The quest Ahsoka has hinted at in her guest appearances on The Mandalorian and Boba Fett, hunting an Imperial grand admiral named Thrawn who vanished into deep space at the conclusion of the animated Rebels series, is likely to be explored further, although plot details are still being tightly held. “Ahsoka is a continuous story,” Filoni offers. “It is definitely driving toward a goal, in my mind, as opposed to being little singular adventures. That’s what I want the character to be doing, and I think that’s what fans want now. They have such a relationship with her. I’ve only recently started to understand that all those kids that watched Clone Wars are now a lot older—they’re very excited about all the things they grew up with, as they should be.”
To keep minting fans, Lucasfilm must give new generations their own collection of characters to love and hate, and not every classic character can be brought back endlessly anyway. Kennedy is well aware of all this now. In The Mandalorianand The Book of Boba Fett, Mark Hamill, 70, delivered performances as 30-something Luke Skywalker, but younger actors played Luke’s body while advanced deepfake technology replaced the face. Bringing Luke to life is now a team sport. But that tech has its limitations. So does recasting.
The 2018 movie Solo explored Han Solo’s younger years, with Alden Ehrenreich taking on the role of the smuggler originated by Harrison Ford. The film has its admirers, but it made less at the box office than any other live-action Star Wars movie. Solo’s swagger may be too singular for another actor to replicate. “There should be moments along the way when you learn things,” says Kennedy. “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”
To endure, Star Wars will need new actors, new characters, and a new era, vaulting away from the timeline as we know it. Another upcoming series, The Acolyte, reportedly starring Amandla Stenberg, aims to do that. The show is in the casting phase, but the writing is largely complete, says showrunner Leslye Headland, cocreator of the time-looping Netflix show Russian Doll. She has been planning for it for two years, mostly from the confines of her home. Her dog and cat, who peek in curiously from the background of Zoom conversations, are certainly steeped in the concept of the galaxy’s High Republic era, she says, but casual Star Wars fans who haven’t been following the recent novels and comics might still be unaware.
The Acolyte, Headland says, takes place roughly 100 years before The Phantom Menace: “A lot of those characters haven’t even been born yet. We’re taking a look at the political and personal and spiritual things that came up in a time period that we don’t know much about. My question when watching The Phantom Menace was always like, ‘Well, how did things get to this point?’ How did we get to a point where a Sith lord can infiltrate the Senate and none of the Jedi pick up on it? Like, what went wrong? What are the scenarios that led us to this moment?”
Headland describes The Acolyte as a mystery thriller set in a prosperous and seemingly peaceful era, when the galaxy is still sleek and glistening. “We actually use the term the Renaissance, or the Age of Enlightenment,” she says. Jedis were not always ascetic monklike figures living selflessly and bravely. “The Jedi uniforms are gold and white, and it’s almost like they would never get dirty. They would never be out and about,” Headland says. “The idea is that they could have these types of uniforms because that’s how little they’re getting into skirmishes.”
Another new series on the horizon doesn’t even have a title, just a code name: Grammar Rodeo, a reference to an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and his schoolmates steal a car and run away for a week, using a phony educational event as an alibi. The show takes place during the post–Return of the Jedi reconstruction that follows the fall of the Empire, the same as The Mandalorian, but its plot remains a secret. It’s created and executive-produced by director Jon Watts and writer Chris Ford, who made Spider-Man: Homecoming for Marvel. A casting notice has called for four children, around 11 to 12 years old. Inside Lucasfilm, the show is being described as a galactic version of classic Amblin coming-of-age adventure films of the ’80s.
That leaves the question of what’s happening with the Star Wars movies.
“We have a road map,” Kennedy says, although Lucasfilm’s big-screen return is unlikely to follow the same relentless cadence as before. A movie from Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi and 1917 screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns will likely arrive first, with Rogue Squadron from Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins further off. Is it true that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige will produce a Star Wars film? “I would love to see what movie he might come up with,” Kennedy says. “But right now, no, there isn’t anything specifically.” And the trilogy from The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson that was announced five years ago? Back-burnered. “Rian has been unbelievably busy with Knives Out and the deal that he made at Netflix for multiple movies.”
The emphasis on television is already influencing the upcoming film slate. “I hesitate to use the word trilogies anymore because Star Wars is much more about persistent storytelling,” Kennedy says. Now she just needs to recruit feature filmmakers.
On March 19, Kennedy and Lucas received the Milestone Award from the Producers Guild of America, and something happened to her while watching the video montage. The clips of the pair over the decades included a shirtless Lucas in a squirt-gun battle with Steven Spielberg, and Kennedy and Lucas joking around in a production-disrupting downpour. “What I was so taken with is how much fun we were having,” she says. “It amounted to this moment of realization: I do think a little bit of fun has gone out of making these gigantic movies. The business, the stakes, everything that’s been infused in the last 10 years or so. There’s a kind of spontaneity and good time that we have to be careful to preserve. I keep holding on to: It better be fun.”
After more than 50 years, with Lucasfilm navigating a new path, that’s as good a lodestar to follow as any.
Costume designers, Suttirat Larlarb, Shawna Trpcic, Michael Wilkinson; makeup and hair, Cool Benson, Ashleigh Childers, Alexei Dmitriew, Amber Hamilton, Crystal Jones, Morgan Marinoff, Davy Newkirk, Julio Parodi, Ana Gabriela Quiñonez, Maria Sandoval, Cristina Waltz. For V.F.: set design, Mary Howard; creative producer, Kathryn MacLeod. Photographed exclusively for V.F. by Annie Leibovitz in Manhattan Beach, California.