A live-action Star Wars TV series is on the way – will it see Disney reviving George Lucas’ unused Star Wars: Underworld concept? The idea for Underworld dates all the way back to 2005, just after Revenge of the Sith was released. In the years after the prequels ended, Lucas and his team kicked around a number of projects, but the one that intrigued fans most was a proposed live-action television series. It was going to be something we’d never seen from the Star Wars universe before; gritty, seedy, raw, the series was to take place in the shadowy underworld of Coruscant in the early Empire days. No good Jedi and powerful Sith, just crime lords and those living on the fringes of society.
This stalled, however, and then, when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, they officially killed Underworld. The plug was pulled for a number of reasons, not the least of which was because the raw, dark tone of the series clashed with Disney’s family-friendly brand. But the saga is now set to come to the small screen in live-action again; along with the announcement that a brand-new Star Wars movie trilogy is in development from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, it’s been announced Lucasfilm is also developing the first live-action Star Wars series, set to air on Disney’s proprietary streaming platform that will launch in the second half of 2019. Could this as-yet-untitled Star Wars TV project be the long-awaited Underworld series? It’s not as far-fetched as one might think.
Back in 2015, Lucasfilm and Disney both expressed interest in reviving the series, and it seemed like the project might have been resurrected. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed there was a definite interest in updating George Lucas’ pre-Disney projects and seeing what they could do, though she cautioned nothing was set in stone:
“So our attitude is, we don’t want to throw any of that stuff away. It’s gold. And it’s something we’re spending a lot of time looking at, pouring through, discussing, and we may very well develop those things further. We definitely want to.”
Disney Star Wars Is Already Using Underworld Ideas
Last year’s Rogue One is a prime example of how Lucasfilm plans to incorporate those older ideas, and why this mystery TV series might very well be the long-awaited Underworld. The Death Star plans heist wasn’t a new idea at all, but another concept that had been slowly percolating since well before Disney purchased Lucasfilm. Originally the brainchild of longtime Star Wars visual effects supervisor John Knoll, the first seeds of the story took root in his head as far back as 2003. He’d gotten wind of the fact that Lucasfilm was developing a number of stories for a planned live-action television series and thought his idea might work as an hour-long episode within the series. In speaking to series producer and developer Rick McCallum, however, Knoll realized his story wouldn’t quite work within the setting and context of the Star Wars series, so he dropped it. A few years later, Kathleen Kennedy announced plans to do a number of standalone, anthology Star Wars films and Knoll’s story eventually became Rogue One.
A number of the pre-Disney ideas appear to be making their way into the Star Wars universe in the anthology films now, and Star Wars: Underworld appears to be the common thread that runs through it all. True to its word, Lucasfilm has been smart about not completely killing good ideas, but revamping them to work within the context of the modern universe; a young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian were set to appear in the show, and next year we’ll get them the big screen instead with Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Likewise, a particular beat in Rogue One feels like it may have been lifted from those old Underworld scripts. Cassian Andor’s introductory scene made it clear from the start he was a new kind of Star Wars character. If Han Solo was a lovable rogue, then Cassian was a downright scoundrel, willing to do the dirty work necessary to gather intel for the Rebel Alliance. When we first meet him, he’s deep undercover to gather information from one of his underground informants, who he kills when stormtroopers discover them to avoid his mission being uncovered. It was brutal. It was dark. It was exactly what you might have expected from something that wanted to realistically depict the gray morality of espionage and war.
There Are Dozens of George Lucas Stories Ripe For Reuse
So, what about those aforementioned Star Wars: Underworld scripts? Yeah, there were scripts. Many of them, in fact. At the time, Lucasfilm assembled a team of writers, including Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ronald D. Moore, to pen a number of stories for the show. Between them, the writers finished about 50 scripts, but Lucasfilm was hamstrung by what it would have actually cost to produce for television, largely because of entirely digital characters that George insisted on having major screen time, a concept that would have been insanely cost-prohibitive even a few years ago.
But that was then and this is now. Digital technology has taken leaps and bounds forward, and Lucas is no longer in control. For a taste of how everything we’ve discussed could work, look no further than the success of Star Trek: Discovery. When it was first announced the show would be on CBS’ streaming app, audiences were skeptical that the effects would be up to snuff. Yet the series is visually stunning, utilizing a mix of digital FX and prosthetics and makeup. If CBS can achieve such a high production value, then Disney certainly can.
Of course, this isn’t to say the new show is just a repurposing of Lucas’ old ideas – Disney-era Lucasfilm already rejected his story treatments for the sequel trilogy – but, considering they seem loathe to let old ideas die on the vine, the prospect of an already-developed world and story with dozens of finished scripts feels like something they’d find a way to utilize, especially now that audiences have proven receptive to darker television fare. If we get a Star Wars TV show that explores the timeline of the original trilogy that mixes movie canon with largely unexplored characters and stories, you know where it came from.