Why Star Wars Fans Are Wrong To Hate Kathleen Kennedy

The Lucasfilm President has signed a new contract, but why is she so disliked?

Star Wars Kathleen Kennedy
Lucasfilm

That was the sound of a million voices crying out in terror, as the news broke that Kathleen Kennedy has signed a three-year extension to stay on as Lucasfilm President until 2021.

Kennedy, then most well-known for her producing work with Steven Spielberg, took charge of Lucasfilm back in 2012 after Disney purchased the company from George Lucas, and has steered the ship ever since. She's overseen its revival as a box-office juggernaut, and yet stands as an incredibly divisive figure who is often the main target of Star Wars fans' ire when things aren't going well.

That's especially the case after the reaction to The Last Jedi and the relative failure to Solo, with Kennedy, even more so than Rian Johnson, being held accountable for what fans perceive as Star Wars going wrong. Kennedy is by no means exempt from criticism, and like anyone in such a high-profile position she has made her fair share of mistakes, but the sheer level of vitriol, anger, and blame directed her way is completely at odds with her overall contribution to Star Wars.

Disney may have paid $4bn to purchase Lucasfilm, but reviving Star Wars was no easy feat. The prequels had left it in a pretty ruinous state amongst critics and fans alike, and you can't underestimate the job Kennedy had in putting the pieces back together and resurrecting the franchise.

It was Kennedy who had the gargantuan task of putting together Episode VII, and she who eventually convinced J.J. Abrams to direct, including asking the core question "Who is Luke Skywalker?" that eventually made up his mind. It was then Kennedy who stepped in when Michael Arndt's script was going to take too long to complete, turning writing duties over to Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, and the movie went on to not only bring Star Wars back to life, but break all kinds of box-office records and be generally well-received, if too similar to A New Hope (a sense of familiarity, however, that was key to its success back in 2015).

Of course, it's outside of The Force Awakens that the problems have really existed, especially with Kennedy and directors. Josh Trank was hired and then fired less than a year later; Gareth Edwards was replaced by Tony Gilroy for Rogue One's reshoots; Phil Lord and Chris Miller were sacked after shooting around 80% of Solo; and Colin Trevorrow was bumped off Star Wars Episode IX. Add in the way The Last Jedi went off in its own direction, and divided the fanbase as a result, and you can see the beginnings of a case against Kennedy.

And yet, in each of those there is an important context. Gareth Edwards was an emerging talent given a big chance, and one that he deserved, but the reshoots under Gilroy's supervision made the film better than it would've been as a result. No one, meanwhile, is arguing against Trank's dismissal, which was a necessary move to get ahead of the likely troubled production and controversy he would've brought post-Fantastic Four (but again, he was an exciting prospect when hired).

The same can be said of Trevorrow: admittedly he wasn't a good choice back when he was first brought in, but on the back of Jurassic World you can see why he got the gig. After The Book of Henry and the growing signs his vision wasn't working, though, Kennedy on Episode IX did again make the call to replace him early enough, but not without giving him a chance, including bringing Jack Thorne in to polish the script.

The worst offender, in terms of Kennedy doing (or not doing) her job as producer, is Solo: while hiring Lord & Miller was a great move at the time, production was allowed to go on for far too long despite the clear problems, resulting in the mess that meant Ron Howard had to reshoot almost the entire thing, the budget doubled, and it became a box-office failure (although Disney's Bob Iger takes some of the blame there too, at least in terms of release date).

It's definitely a mistake but, weighed against the huge, tough decisions Kennedy made that DID pay-off, it should be a forgivable one. Especially when, box-office aside, Solo is a solid - if far from spectacular - entry into Star Wars canon.

And then there's The Last Jedi.

Johnson's Episode VIII, and the discussion around it, has been pored over endlessly since release, and it's a big reason why Kennedy (and Johnson) get a lot of flak from some sections of the Star Wars fandom (because, obviously, this isn't every Star Wars fan we're talking about). And yet, Kennedy, Johnson, and everyone else involved made a huge blockbuster that allowed a visionary director to make something that's singularly his, which itself is a rare, admirable feat. It also went on to make $1.3m at the box-office, which, although not Force Awakens level (it was never going to be, and not much in the future will be), is still reasonably good going, and was greatly received by critics and a lot of audiences, with an A rating from CinemaScore (the same as The Force Awakens).

Kennedy has made a number of bold choices in bringing Star Wars back and keeping it from growing stale, and while they haven't all worked, it's admirable nonetheless. She knows what it takes to make great Star Wars movies, and what it takes to protect them when things aren't going so well. Her work has helped reignite love in the saga from old fans, and inspired it in a whole new generation.

Can Kennedy do more? Certainly. The future slate, although little is known, is promising, but it'd be good to see her making good on past comments about hiring a more diverse range of filmmakers and storytellers, and it'll be good to see Star Wars branching out further from the Original Trilogy timeline. But under her stewardship we've had four movies that are, at worst, decent, and at best the greatest entry in the saga since Empire, a new, streamlined Star Wars canon (on which opinion may be split, but it's a lot easier to manage and build upon than the EU), and a renewed interest in the saga. It's impossible to even imagine Star Wars being here right now without Kennedy, and despite making some errors along the way, there's a lot more to praise her for, and hopefully the next three years are even better.

We need more writers about Star Wars! Get started below...

Create Content and Get Paid


In this post: 
Star Wars
 
Posted On: 
Contributor
Contributor

NCTJ-qualified journalist. Most definitely not a racing driver. Drink too much tea; eat too much peanut butter; watch too much TV. Sadly only the latter paying off so far. A mix of wise-old man in a young man's body with a child-like wonder about him and a great otherworldly sensibility.