Lucasfilm’s February announcement that Game of Thrones masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are getting their own Star Wars trilogy was met with more scrutiny than a Jedi with a pot addiction. Fans flooded Twitter to voice their dissatisfaction that after The Last Jedi director and perennial white dude, Rian Johnson, was also awarded his own trilogy, another two white dudes were hired to oversee a different arm of the Star Wars Cinematic Universe’s breathless expansion.
Well, either the folks at Disney and Lucasfilm aren’t on social media, or they just don’t care—because on Thursday, it was revealed that Jon Favreau will write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series that will be unleashed alongside Disney’s upcoming streaming platform sometime in 2019. So, just in case you’re keeping score, the creators who’ve been charged with ushering in a new era of Star Wars stories are all white, and all male.
Before we state the obvious, we should point out that Favreau is more than qualified for his new role. As the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, he basically helped launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has since flourished as the visionary behind CGI-heavy films like Jungle Book and Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King, which is arguably one of the most hugely anticipated films of the year. Favreau knows what to do with broad legacy titles and seems more than equipped to handle all the moving parts that come along with big-budget properties of this scale.
But by hand-picking Favreau, Disney missed a major opportunity to add some much needed diversity to its stable of Star Wars creators. That the company decided to announce Favreau’s hiring International Women’s day only added insult to injury. Disney might argue that Favreau is a safe, reliable and above all else corporate choice—a proven hired hand with major box-office clout and a shimmering track record at Disney. But in the wake of the roaring successes of both Black Panther and Wonder Woman, the long-held assumption that women and people of color are somehow ill-equipped to handle a project of this scope and stature should have gone the way of the dodo. Audiences are ready to see different versions of these kinds of stories.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has been notoriously protective over the Star Wars brand, and has said that while finding a female director is a “priority” for the studio, she wants to ensure that they’re “set up for success.” Kennedy later clarified that she wants to find a female director with blockbuster experience—a prerequisite that all the young white male directors who get their first blockbusters never really encounter. And how many blockbusters did Patty Jenkins direct before Wonder Woman? That’s right, none. In fact, her only other film was the shoestring indie Monster, and yet Jenkins still managed to direct an action juggernaut with aplomb. Imagine that.
Kennedy seems to have anticipated the backlash that’s ensued, as evidenced by the official statement she made when announcing Favreau’s hiring. “This series will allow Jon the chance to work with a diverse group of writers and directors and give Lucasfilm the opportunity to build a robust talent base,” she said. But actions speak louder than words, and it’s time for Kennedy—who personally hired J.J Abrams, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson (and fired Josh Trank, Colin Trevorrow and Phil Lord and Chris Miller)—to move beyond lip service.
If anyone is in the unique position to give different kinds of people the opportunity to develop the skillset required to helm something like Star Wars, it’s Kennedy. But because she has shareholders to answer to, the buck has been passed to Favreau, who will hopefully align himself with “a diverse group of writers and directors,” as Kennedy suggested. Remember, Favreau was once a lo-fi indie screenwriter long before he took an unexpected career turn and became Spielberg lite. Now it’s his turn to find the next wave of writers and directors who want to play in this kind of a sandbox. Let’s just hope he knows where to look.