‘Star Wars’ universe keeps expanding with new projects

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the 9th film in George Lucas’ celebrated saga, was released in 2019 which in movie terms is “Long ago and far away.”

This week Disney, the owner of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe, releases “The Acolyte,” a live-action, 8-episode offshoot, that serves as the start of a new phase, historically and creatively.

For the last five years Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has focused on popular Disney+ series, including “The Mandalorian,” “Ashoka” and “Andor,” bypassing any “Star Wars” theatrical releases.

That soon changes.  Several feature films have been announced, including an upcoming “Star Wars” feature, title not yet revealed, from writer-director James Mangold (“Logan,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”). It promises to be an origin story for the Force, the singular metaphysic thread that binds together the entire franchise.

Mangold’s said his ambition is to make a retro spectacle like the Biblical epics — think “Samson and Delilah,” “Quo Vadis,” “Demetrius and the Gladiators” — that dominated postwar Hollywood through the 1950s.

Kennedy is also focusing on the literal future of the franchise by bringing Daisy Ridley back to reprise her performance as Rey in “The Rise of Skywalker” with a new film where she builds back the Jedi.

As custodian of all things Star Wars, Kennedy wants to emphasize good storytelling and is adamant that they are looking for ways for newcomers to enter the Star Wars universe without having to go and watch the nine key films before they’re able to go on the ride.

“The Acolyte,” first announced in 2020, is set roughly 100 years before the events of “The Phantom Menace.”  Creator-showrunner-executive producer Leslye Headland said in a Zoom interview, “My job is to pay homage and respect to George Lucas because he’s a genius who created a masterpiece.”

As to how she deals with fervent fans, high expectations, “It’s inevitable that you’re going to fall short. But as Yoda says, ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ I had to do this once I got the opportunity.”

Does she see a connection with Harry Potter, “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings” as sons or daughters of “Star Wars”?

“It’s interesting. They’re definitely different types of world building. If I’m being honest what I would say is that the mainstream audience was prepped for those stories and that level of world building because of the universal love for what George created.

“When those became visual media, they were embraced on a level that they were prepped for by having ‘Star Wars,’ the ultimate space opera, unfolding in front of them. So yeah.”

“The Acolyte” streams on Disney+ June 4

Daisy Ridley as Rey in
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy plans to bring Daisy Ridley back to reprise her performance as Rey in “The Rise of Skywalker” in a new film where she builds back the Jedi. (Lucasfilm Ltd./Star Tribune/TNS)

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