- "It sits on the shelf."
- ―George Lucas
Star Wars: Underworld is the working title of a proposed live-action television series that would be set during the timespan between the films Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. George Lucas first announced the series at 2005's Celebration III. Over the next few years, a variety of writers were hired, over fifty scripts were written and art designers worked on visualizing Lucas' ideas. However, in 2010, Lucas explained that the series would be put on hold due to budget constraints. The Disney buyout of Lucasfilm in 2012 has cast further doubt on the series' future.
- "It's kind of like Episode IV — it's funny and there's action, but it's [a] lot more talky. It's more of what I would call a soap opera with a bunch of personal dramas in it. It's not really based on action-adventure films from the '30s — it's actually more based on film noir movies from the '40s!"
- ―George Lucas, Total Film magazine, May 2008 issue, p. 138
Star Wars: Underworld is said to be set primarily in the Coruscant underworld, in the time period between Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. It is during this period that the Galactic Empire rises to ultimate power throughout the galaxy. In 2005, George Lucas told Celebration III audiences that the show would not focus on any characters from the films, but that some of them could appear. According to Lucas, "A lot of the issues from the films are connected, but you won't necessarily see a lot of the people that are connected." He later described the show as "bare-bones" and "action-heavy", and explained that it would depict what the inhabitants of the Star Wars galaxy do for entertainment.
Producer Rick McCallum commented on the plot of the series: "[Lucas] envisions somewhere like 100 hours between Episode III and Episode IV with a lot of characters that we haven't met that have been developed in some of the novels and other things. We are really excited about that. Finally, we could have the opportunity to answer everybody's questions once and for all by the time we finish the series."; "It is going to be much darker, grittier. It's much more character-based"; "Think about bounty hunter, that’s all I can tell you." He also called it "Deadwood in space" and "Empire on steroids", and compared it to The Godfather. Lucasfilm's Steve Sansweet also described the series as revealing the "greasy, seamy underbelly of Star Wars".
In an interview in the November 2005 edition of the UK magazine Total Film magazine, McCallum was asked "How can Leia claim to remember her mother when Padmé dies in childbirth in Sith?", to which he replied "I think that could only be answered in the television series". According to Dan Wasson, project leader for the Wii version of the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game, the TV series may contain elements from the overall Star Wars: The Force Unleashed multimedia project. In 2014, Stephen Scaia revealed in his Kickstarter campaign that he had been a writer for the series, and was involved in several story elements, including Lando Calrissian losing the Millennium Falcon to Han Solo, Solo and Chewbacca's first meeting, as well as an action scene with Boba Fett.
Cast and characters
- "It was going to tell the story of a different part of the Star Wars universe that you didn't exactly know, and then it was going to slowly fold back into the characters that you knew and loved."
- ―Stephen Scaia
Since the project was announced, multiple actors from the films have voiced their interest in playing a role: Jeremy Bulloch, Jay Laga'aia, Daniel Logan, Peter Mayhew and Ian McDiarmid. Additionally, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed actor Sam Witwer has expressed an interest in appearing in the series (possibly as Galen Marek, Vader's secret apprentice), and has hinted that he may be involved in the show. On March 9, 2009, actress Rose Byrne, who appeared in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, told MTV that casting for the series was underway, and that some of her friends had auditioned for roles. Star Wars Insider 109 on the other hand, claimed that scripts had yet to be written at that point, and would precede any earnest casting efforts.
The series was expected to feature minor characters from both the films and the Expanded Universe—with possible cameos by some of the main characters. Lucas: "The Emperor and Darth Vader are heard about — people talk about them — but you never see them because it doesn't take place where they actually are. There are stormtroopers and all that, but there are no Jedis." Lucas had originally written a scene for Revenge of the Sith involving the Expanded Universe character Quinlan Vos, but the character received only a mention in the final film. Lucas himself later instructed the writers of the Star Wars: Republic comic book series to not kill off the character. This has led some fans to speculate that Vos may play a role in the series. A. C. Crispin proposed a book series dealing with Leia Organa that was to be set between Episode III and IV, but "Lucasfilm didn't approve the idea of a Leia backstory because they want to keep that era of the SW continuity untouched for the television series they're considering." Karen Traviss was to write a novel involving Boba Fett, but the project was reportedly canceled because of possible conflicts with the TV series.
- "It's a completely different kind of idea, which is risky. But that's the only reason I'm doing it. Some people will inevitably say, 'It's not what I think of as Star Wars.' So who knows, it may work or it may not."
- ―George Lucas, Total Film magazine, May 2008 issue, p. 138
Prior to the release of the original Star Wars film in 1977, rumors began circulating that a TV series would be produced based on the film. Although such a project never came to fruition, George Lucas became involved (to varying degrees) in three live-action Star Wars television productions: The Star Wars Holiday Special, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. While the Holiday Special was a critical failure, both Ewok films won Emmy awards and had a positive critical reaction. In each case, the networks saw the productions as backdoor pilots for possible television series, though Lucas wasn't interested. In From 1992 to 1996, Lucas produced the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, during which he developed a love of making television.
In late 2004, rumors again began to circulate of a live-action Star Wars series in development. Lucas officially announced his plans for a live-action Star Wars television series at Celebration III, saying "We probably won't start that until sometime next year." He also spoke of plans for a new animated television series set during the Clone Wars, which he expected to be produced first. Also at the event, Rick McCallum elaborated; "He [George] envisions somewhere like 100 hours between Episode III and Episode IV." However, at 2007's Celebration Europe, McCallum claimed that the plan was to produce "up to 400 episodes". He also revealed that "I've had three conceptual artists working on it now for about seven months." The original plan was for the first season to be entirely written and produced before shopping the series to broadcast networks; After a network was committed, work would commence on the following seasons.
- "We’d go gather at Skywalker Ranch periodically, every couple of months, and break stories and write scripts for this proposed series that George was interested in. And George was in the ring with us every day. And it was a fascinating, amazing experience."
- ―Ronald D. Moore
Lucas and McCallum interviewed over 200 prospective "writers of real significance" from all over the world—including England, the United States, Paris, Prague, Budapest, and Australia. McCallum remarked, "It’s about who’s talented, who's got the strength to challenge George and also, much more importantly, what’s the dynamics of the five or six people. If they can let go of their ego and work toward a specific goal. Sometimes you think 'I'm sick of writing alone.' Everyone has their ebb and flow. We’re trying to get everyone in their peak." Writers from Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, and Lost, as well as those from the Star Wars books and comics, were considered as part of the final interview process in late 2007. In the end, six writers were hired—including Louise Fox, Tony McNamara, Fiona Seres, Matthew Graham, Ronald D. Moore, and Stephen Scaia—and were expected to start work in November 2007. Former Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies was asked to write for the show, but turned it down due to his desire to do his own projects in a different style to both franchises; however, he did claim to be jealous of whoever ended up being hired.
After the writers were hired, story outlines took shape over the next three months. McCallum expected the first writing conference to occur in late 2007, and sessions had began by August 2008. The writers worked closely with the art department (including concept artist Erik Tiemens), which had been working to design sets, environments, vehicles and aliens since 2007. Ronald D. Moore commented on the writing process: "The scripts were written as if money was no object. George was like, 'Don't worry about it.' [Producer Rick McCallum] would groan and put his head in his hands periodically. So for us it was like, 'Okay, f–k it, let's write whatever we want.'" In the end, fifty hours worth of episodes plus a "movie-of-the-week" were written. George Lucas discussed this when he appeared on a May 2011 episode of G4's Attack of the Show to discuss contemporary Star Wars topics. During the interview, he claimed that the scripts "looked like the Star Wars features". In a January 2012 interview with IGN, McCallum revealed the working title to be Star Wars: Underworld, which had originally served as the working title for an early concept for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Although he denied this the next day, he later told Entertainment Weekly that it was indeed the working title.
- "So imagine an hour’s episode with more digital animation and more visual effects and more complicated in terms of set design and costume design than a two-hour movie that takes us three years to make, and we have to do that every week and we only have $5 million to do it. That’s our challenge."
- ―Rick McCallum
McCallum expected that he and Lucas would approach the series in a similar manner as Lucas' The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Like on that earlier series, they hoped to give each episode the look of a feature film, with feature-level production values and visual effects on a television budget. Lucas also talked of using the show as a template for how he would approach "more personal films" that he hoped to create. In 2005, Lucas stated his intentions to shoot the series using consumer-level cameras, which McCallum said would be high-definition cameras. In late 2009, Lucas and McCallum invited filmmaker Phillip Bloom to Skywalker Ranch to advise on using different types of cameras for pick-up photography on Red Tails, and for the live-action series. Lucas expected that, in producing the show, he would "do what would typically cost $20 million, for $1 million." According to IESB, McCallum has said that each episode will have a budget of 2-4 million dollars.
Principal photography was planned to take place all around the world, with a likely base in Sydney, Australia. McCallum originally expected production to begin in either 2008 or 2009. However, as of March 2009 preliminary casting was still underway; A Lucasfilm representative claimed at the time that official casting would begin once the scripts were complete and that the series would not go into production until 2010. McCallum expected the first season to consist of thirteen-to-sixteen episodes, shot over a one-to-two-year time period. In a June 2011 interview, McCallum said that the show would most likely be filmed in the Czech Republic, a location used multiple times by LucasFilm for various productions. Reportedly, Jim Marquand, son of Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand, was hired as one of the directors. McCallum expected that each episode of the series would have its own original score, and hoped that John Williams would return as composer.
At a 2010 screening of The Empire Strikes Back in Chicago, Illinois, Lucas announced that the series was "on hold" due to budget concerns. Lucas and McCallum later elaborated that the scripts were prohibitively expensive for television, and that the show was put on hold in order to wait on technology to develop to the point that costs could be kept relatively low. Lucas had long planned to build an expansion to his Lucas Valley property called Grady Ranch, which would have been "a digital media production facility for movies and television." However, in early 2012, Marin County rejected the project due to concerns over traffic and noise. On October 30, 2012, The Walt Disney Company announced an agreement to acquire Lucasfilm. The deal included the rights to the Star Wars franchise for which Lucas will act as creative consultant to a sequel trilogy, which is set to debut in 2015. In a conference call following the press release, Disney stated its interest in the potential of a Star Wars television series, but did not go into details. Soon after, it was announced that Rick McCallum had retired from Lucasfilm.
In January 2013, ABC president Paul Lee told Entertainment Weekly that the live-action Star Wars series was being reevaluated for production. This was confirmed by Bob Iger that March. That August, Lee again visited the topic of a Star Wars live-action series; "We've started conversations. I'd love to go there. I'm a particular fan of Lucasfilm. It's an amazing world." In December 2015, Kathleen Kennedy told Slashfilm that Lucasfilm had been looking at the material for both Underworld and the video game Star Wars: 1313, and that those projects may still be developed.
Release and legacy
- "You’ve got network TV, which is really where we should be because it has the dollars to pay for this and an audience, but you’re burdened by the fact you only get 42 minutes for an hour because of commercials. And then you’ve got cable, which has the most provocative and daring programming, but has audiences of 1 or 2 million people. They also have a very limited amount of money they can spend without wanting some sort of say or control over the material, which is absolutely repugnant to us in terms of the way we work."
- ―Rick McCallum, to denofgeek.com
In a 2006 interview, Steve Sansweet said that he expected the series to be released "toward the end of the decade". He gave the time period until release to be "about 3 years." A teaser image for the series was shown at Toy Fair 2007, advertising the next three years of Star Wars: the 30th anniversary of the saga and the release of The Force Unleashed in 2007 (which was pushed back to 2008), the new Clone Wars TV series in 2008, and the live-action series in 2009. Rick McCallum expected the series to be released simultaneously worldwide and to be broadcast on cable. Both Disney and News Corp were rumored to have shown interest in acquiring broadcast rights for the show, with the former offering ABC and ABC Family and the latter offering FOX and FX. Additionally, Lucas voiced his interest in distributing the series via the internet—specifically StarWars.com.
At 2005's Celebration III, Lucas told audiences that if the live-action series (along with the new Clone Wars animated series) was successful, more series could follow. At 2007's Celebration Europe, McCallum explained that "One of the ideas is that we’ll have multiple series going on in about two or three years' time." McCallum said he hoped that after the series' second or third year, a character could have his/her own spin-off series, and by the fourth or fifth year, the production staff could have at least five separate series running. Lucas described the series as "one show that will split into four shows, focusing on different characters."
Comments from Lucasfilm employees (such as Sue Rostoni and Jim Ward) had hinted that tie-ins such as spin-off books and video games were planned. The video game Star Wars: 1313 was originally conceived as a direct tie-in to Underworld; After Underworld was postponed in 2010 due to budget constraints, 1313 was altered to be its own distinct project. However, at George Lucas' request, the final game was to have still taken inspiration from elements of Underworld. The Clone Wars introduced Level 1313, as well as the character Saw Gerrera, who was also conceived for Underworld. Star Wars Rebels was also influenced by ideas developed by Lucas for Underworld. The Church of the Force—a background element related to Lor San Tekka from Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens—was created by Lucas for Underworld.
Kratos's character arc from the upcoming God of War game was inspired by the unproduced Underworld scripts. Former LucasArts developer Cory Barlog revealed he read scripts for episodes featuring Palpatine, where "They made the Emperor a sympathetic figure who was wronged by this [...] heartless woman. She's this hardcore gangster, and she just totally destroyed him as a person. I almost cried while reading this. This is the Emperor, the lightning out of the fingers Emperor. That's something magical."
Notes and references
- Star Wars live-action TV series on Wikipedia