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What Kevin Feige accomplished with Marvel that he could replicate for Star Wars

The MCU was always about character, not ‘cinematic universes’

Kevin Feige at SDCC 2019 Marvel Hall H panel Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

This December, Star Wars - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker puts a bow on Rey and Kylo’s story — but it won’t be the end of Star Wars.

Lucasfilm has worked steadily under the eye of the Disney Empire to blow out the series into a multi-armed franchise, but so far, the plans have hit consistent turbulence. The Force Awakens was cobbled together from strands of story ideas, The Last Jedi built on J.J. Abrams’ work with polarizing choices, and while spinoff movies like Rogue One and Solo fulfilled promises, they didn’t feel like momentous occasions. And, as of yet, ambitious plans to explore unknown regions of the galaxy have thus far been relegated to Disney Plus, in the form of Clone Wars season 7, The Mandalorian and the upcoming Obi-Wan series.

Despite 30 years of expanded universe content keeping the lights on, Lucasfilm purged the broader setting’s most notable ideas in favor of streamlining and starting fresh. Yet as the Skywalker saga comes to a close, the company struggles to take Star Wars to its natural position as a continuous mega-franchise. So what’s the next move?

Enter: Kevin Feige, mastermind producer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who may have at least one answer Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is looking for.

Late on Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Feige, coming off the gargantuan success of Avengers: Endgame, was in the early stages of developing a Star Wars movie for Lucasfilm. There were no details on characters or plot, but one of THR’s sources said that Feige has “told a major actor that there’s a specific role he would like that person to play if and when he makes the movie.” Walt Disney Studios co-chairman Alan Horn said Kennedy’s role would not be impacted by the inclusion of the Marvel stalwart.

“We are excited about the projects Kathy and the Lucasfilm team are working on, not only in terms of Star Wars but also Indiana Jones and reaching into other parts of the company including Children of Blood and Bone with Emma Watts and Fox. With the close of the Skywalker Saga, Kathy is pursuing a new era in Star Wars storytelling, and knowing what a die-hard fan Kevin is, it made sense for these two extraordinary producers to work on a Star Wars film together.”

A shot of Rey wielding onto Luke’s lightsaber as enemies approach. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Feige has his hands full: He’s set to produce a slate of Marvel movies through 2022, along with a number of Disney Plus series scattered between the tentpoles and beyond. (Disney cited Feige’s busy schedule as one reason the producer had to bow out of the deal with Sony that kept Spider-Man in the MCU.) Though making his own Star Wars movie is likely a dream come true — Empire Strikes Back is his go-to reference for every sequel and the Marvel movies are littered with Star Wars references — Feige will squeeze a trip to the Outer Rim in with the demands of the perpetual Marvel business, which now includes what to do with Fox properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four.

The news was music to the ears of Marvel fans, and more so to those wondering when Star Wars could reach its expansive potential. The post-Force Awakens Star Wars movies have been a shaggier bunch then Feige’s interwoven Infinity Saga. Behind-the-scenes drama plagued Rogue One and Solo as producers tried to wash away the bad taste of the prequels and redefine the soul of the series. Rian Johnson’s stylistic and character departures in The Last Jedi only exacerbated what many saw as inconsistency in the story Abrams set out to tell — mention Luke Skywalker’s fate or Rey’s parents to a Star Wars fan and you’ll hear a prepared verdict. Could Feige bring the structure, the serialization, the strategy, of Marvel to the Star Wars universe?

It’s hard to imagine. Starting with the suffocating space of the Prequels (the clones from the Clone Wars were all ... Boba Fett’s dad??), Abrams’ clever-but-frustrating adoration for “what if Death Star, but bigger,” and the spinoff mandate from Lucasfilm that resulted in a young Han Solo movie, Star Wars has a masochistic streak of sticking to the sandbox that Lucas built in 1977. Even the auxiliary Star Wars: Rebels stumbled whenever its fresh set of characters looped back to Darth Maul (yet again) and Ahsoka (yet again). Connecting more dots only makes the series feel smaller and smaller.

The cinematic universe came comparably easier to Feige’s MCU movies — source material provided the road map. The producer’s greatest triumph in the last decade was trusting comics creators; with Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, Feige bucked the 2000s trend of plugging superhero characters into generic action movies by lifting the costumes, the villains, and the character anxieties. As MCU directors suggest, Feige only had to be a few steps ahead of the actual movies to know he could build to Avengers and beyond. The plan wasn’t so grand, there was just a belief that if 80 years of comics could do it, the movies could do it.

marvel phase 4 timeline
Kevin Feige on the 2019 SDCC Hall H stage with his new MCU recruits
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Star Wars doesn’t have the same luxury, but it can learn from Feige’s conquest of global audiences. What makes Marvel Marvel isn’t the connectivity, but a fundamental understanding of what makes the individual pieces of the universe work on their own, and the act of balancing those elements when everything has to collide. The MCU started with the grounded Iron Man and stretched to the cosmic comedy of Thor: Ragnarok, the magic of Doctor Strange, and Endgame, which cracked open time itself. By devoting a minute or two to explaining the Infinity Stones in a new context, each individual world became entrenched in the miasma of Marvel. The characters were pure in their spinoffs and standalones, then dialed back in the team ups. There are no limits to what a Marvel movie can be, because the characters and world-building never crystallized the definition of a Marvel movie.

There are not eons of established canon characters to pluck from — especially after Disney’s EU purge — but Star Wars does possess the building blocks that are perfect for Feige. The Force, the smugglers, the creatures, the classist tension, the hard sci-fi morsels of the Prequels, the random characters filling every cantina that’s survived Snoke’s rule. Or go beyond: There are endless “what if?” possibilities that haven’t been established because of a focus on the First Order/Resistance dynamic of the Skywalker Saga. The last seven years has been about maintaining the status quo of Star Wars. Feige can break that out of a love for what he experienced the first time he saw Lucas’ movies.

Rise of Skywalker is poised to put Kylo’s Vader fanboy behavior, the Emperor’s ghost, and the series’ 40-year legacy to rest. And it should! The future of Star Wars must be made whole cloth, must venture into the unknown, must break the genre mold of Star Wars, and must carry forth in a vacuum (of, uh, space). The Mandalorian could be the answer to all of this (it could also exist to answer fan cries for a Boba Fett movie, and be a symptom of what’s not working). Whatever the case, the established Star Wars universe doesn’t need Feige to come fix it. The world of Star Wars that we knew is over, or should be.

In the next few years, we’ll get brand new Star Wars movies from Rian Johnson, Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and, at least in the macro, Kevin Feige (who may want to find a female voice for this series, as he’s finally done after 10 years of dreaming up the MCU). Where will they take the world? The best direction may be somewhere that isn’t structured, streamlined, and Marvel-esque. Star Wars, strangely enough, is Feige’s chance to create something brand new.