Indiana Jones and Kathleen Kennedy’s Continued Chaos

Indiana Jones eludes Kathleen Kennedy.

It was supposed to be Kathleen Kennedy’s magnum opus and the completed circle for her life’s body of cinematic work. But chaos has followed the president of Lucasfilm once more, this time to Indiana Jones.

In 1981 Kennedy began her career in blockbuster creations working with Steven Spielberg as his assistant and associate for Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first of the Indiana Jones movies. Kennedy was primarily brought on board due to her thoughts on film-making and assistance with ironing out story issues during production and post-production. With the George Lucas and Spielberg concept generating nearly 20 times its original budget during its theatrical run, a franchise was born and Kennedy’s relationship with the two men was formed.

Kennedy’s portfolio increased over time to legendary status. Although seldom in charge of any particular film, she was credited as a producer or executive producer for an incredible number of incredible blockbuster films, often those films resulting in a new franchise of material to come. It only made sense after the decades of such success that Kennedy would be placed in charge of Lucasfilm decades later when George Lucas stepped down and subsequently sold the business and IPs to the Disney Company.

But the betrayal was deep and the resentment developed was bitter. Whereas Lucas had felt that Kennedy was a colleague who could be trusted to protect his creation, Kennedy saw the opportunity of running Lucasfilm as an opportunity to finally place her stamp on her productions in a way that would say “this was Kathleen’s”. She discarded the scripts and outlines Lucas had left for her, sided with Iger in removing the vast majority of Star Wars cannon, and set forward on a new sequel trilogy which would have little in common with Lucas’ original vision.

While Lucas was deeply disappointed, even to the point of calling Disney the “white slavers” over his creation, his pain over The Force Awakens was nothing compared to how he felt about The Rise of Skywalker. Whereas Force Awakens had been a competent attempt at producing a pastiche of the original trilogy, which he felt was too dependent on nostalgia, The Rise of Skywalker was the end of Lucas’ relationship with Kennedy thus far.

George Lucas had always felt that Star Wars was the tale of a father and his children… specifically Darth Vader as the fallen father in need of redemption, and his children, Luke and Leia, redeeming the father through their virtue. Originally it had simply been a father and son concept, but later Lucas had seen the power in bringing in Leia as a two-part sibling system that would represent the best of both masculinity and femininity. Lucas had delved deep into ancient mythos in order to develop the original and prequel trilogies.

With the sequel trilogy completed, Lucas was deeply resentful that not only had his characters changed in ways he did not support… but also that the entire purpose of Star Wars had been changed. Whereas the original and prequel trilogies had been about two generations – one fallen from grace, the other redeeming their sins – the sequel trilogy had struck the entire mythos from the completed saga. No longer were the movies about Luke, Leia, and Anakin, but now they were about the Emperor. This was something he had never wanted or envisioned.

Though bizarrely convoluted, Palpatine was retroactively changed to be a seemingly innumerable group of clones, defeated once by the rebels, but still able to return in the final film from some icy realm. This nebulous foe additionally sired the ultimate protagonist of the films, who not only defeated the Emperor, but then took the Skywalker name. The young man who overcame evil with hope in Lucas’ original films was turned into an impotent wretch. Not only had Lucas’ cannon been destroyed, not only had his mythos been dramatically altered, but his main characters were stripped of their elegance, killed on screen, and then their name – that George had used for his very ranch – was taken by the offspring of the Emperor.

The slap to the face was twofold for Lucas. Having voiced his serious concerns after The Force Awakens, and again after The Last Jedi, Lucas was actually brought in to help right the ship with JJ Abrams on Rise of Skywalker. Unfortunately, almost everything Lucas suggested was completely discarded by Abrams once he wrote the script. For Lucas – a proud man who has felt betrayed often in his later years – this was too damning for the movies. The pain was so real that the last movie in the Skywalker saga didn’t even have Lucas attend the premiere.

Meanwhile, from a business standpoint, Star Wars was moving in the wrong direction. While Marvel films showed a general trajectory of growth across nearly every sector year to year to year, Star Wars was shrinking. Kathleen Kennedy had not only severed her relationship with George Lucas, but she had severed her perception among many of the fans.

Kennedy, of course, felt this was all very unfair. Lucas had put her in charge, she had overseen Star Wars breaking records for box office revenues, and many of the fans were against her for political or ideological reasons. Yet with Bob Iger essentially ignoring her in his autobiography, the sentiment became that the people inside Disney would not come to her aid.

But there was a film that would remedy it all.

Starting in 2016, the push was on to get a final Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford into theaters. As the Star Wars franchise began to retract in popularity around 2018, Kennedy saw the Indiana Jones film as the way to finish strong with the very franchise that started her career all the way back in 1981. Harrison Ford, too, saw the film as his swan song — a chance to go out on top as the lead in the role he most loved.

But the severe betrayal of George Lucas with Rise of Skywalker soured everything. While Spielberg had come back to direct the final Indiana Jones movie, his friendship with Lucas remained strong. And while it came and went quietly due to the pandemic taking up all the news bandwidth in February, 2020… it turns out that during that month, Kennedy lost yet another director, and this one the worst of her tenure (and there were many). Her original mentor stepped down from Indiana Jones, outside of a symbolic position, and took the script by legendary writer David Koeopp with him. Spielberg, for all intents and purposes, was gone. Indiana Jones, worked on since 2016, would have to be completely restarted.

Quickly a new director was pulled in that would satisfy Harrison Ford. Although reticence existed to get into the new film without both Spielberg and Lucas, Ford loves the Indiana Jones character, and wanted to end it on a high note. And while he may yet get his wish, the change in directors pushed Kennedy to the side once more. Whereas she had asserted her creative ideas with Spielberg during the development of the film previously, the new director – James Mangold (director of Logan) – came in with a clean slate and a need to please Harrison Ford.

Worse for Kennedy, the window for Indiana Jones’ release was forced to move from 2021 to 2022 at the earliest… and out of her opportunity to take credit for the movie. Rumors that Jon Favreau is being groomed to take over after Kennedy’s contract expires are plentiful; and with Favreau and other Lucasfilm employees still having a relationship with George Lucas (specifically Dave Filoni), Kennedy is truly left out on an island.

She has lost her most important relationships (Lucas, Spielberg, Iger), she has lost the fans, she has lost her most important franchise (Star Wars), and now she has lost Indiana Jones. The movie will almost assuredly come out after her tenure, if it ever comes out at all. Rather than the type of movie she had wanted, insiders suggest this will now be a gritty send-off for Indy in line with Temple of Doom, bereft of her influence. And worst of all, when it does come out, she is unlikely to receive praise for whatever success it sees.

Indiana Jones 5 is the final disappointment for Kathleen Kennedy. Just like Star Wars, it too has slipped from her grasp, another surefire win that eluded her to the very end.

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