Who Is Kathleen Kennedy and Why Is She in Charge of Star Wars?

When people think of Star Wars, the name that springs to mind is George Lucas. He is, after all, the director and creator of the franchise. His name is literally in the production company Lucasfilm Ltd. One name that might not come immediately to mind is that of Kathleen Kennedy.



Kennedy is easily one of the most successful producers of all time, having been attached to some of the most iconic movies in current film history. She has also been acting president of Lucasfilm for the past decade. Though she was a natural fit to take the reins back in 2012, her tenure as president of Lucasfilm has been equal parts productive and complicated. Fans have been critical of her handling of their beloved Star Wars property. While some of these criticisms are warranted, others are rooted in something more sinister – sexism.

So, who exactly is Kathleen Kennedy, and how did she get to be in charge of Lucasfilm? Let’s take a look!

Update January 13, 2024: This article has been updated with more details by Amanda Minchin regarding Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.


Kathleen Kennedy Was an Accomplished Producer Long Before Star Wars

Kathleen Kennedy at Comic-Con
Gage Skidmore
Flickr
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
 

Kathleen Kennedy started out as a lowly camera operator for news and sports. Her first major production job was producing a local San Diego talk show, You’re On.

As she puts it,

“… I was acutely aware of women not really being in those roles…”

Before long, she’d moved to Los Angeles, where she became the assistant to John Milius of Apocalypse Now fame. He just so happened to be producing Spielberg’s 1941. This is where she met Steven Spielberg, and he asked her to be his secretary.

According to him, she was much better at pitching ideas and coming up with solutions than writing them down. During this time, Kennedy was credited as an associate and early reader on Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, and an associate producer for Poltergeist. It wasn’t until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, however, that she received her first bonafide producer credit. Not only did Kennedy produce all the Indiana Jones films with Spielberg, but she was also an Executive Producer on scores of future films, including the Back to the Future films, Goonies, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That’s not even including Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.

In 1982, she helped co-found Amblin Pictures with Spielberg and her future husband, Frank Marshall. The two would later form The Kennedy/Marshall Company, which produced films like The 6th Sense, The Bourne Identity, Persepolis, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Beyond the blockbusters, Kennedy has been nominated eight times for Academy Awards with films ranging from E.T., The Color Purple, War Horse, and Lincoln. She has been nominated for eight Academy Awards for Best Picture nominees she produced. Back in 2015, Kathleen Kennedy’s recorded nearly one groundbreaking film per year in her repertoire. With a resume that reads like a who’s who of modern 80s, 90s, and 00s, classics, it was only a matter of time before the heavy hitters came a calling.

Kathleen Kennedy Was Appointed President of Lucasfilm in 2012

Disney Stars with George Lucas
Getty Images

Then 2012 came around. Lucas had been considering retirement, but wanted to secure a successful future for his company. He took Kennedy out for a meal, and popped the question – Would you take over for me?

Said Kennedy later,

“I have to admit, he didn’t have to do a lot of coercing.”

Before this, Kennedy had been among the thousands standing in line to see the ‘new’ Star Wars film back in 1977. She’d worked with Lucas since then, though not in a Star Wars capacity. Now, Kennedy was one of the most respected producers in Hollywood, and she was about to take over the biggest franchise in the world. Lucas, meanwhile, hasn’t been ‘creatively involved’ in Star Wars since.

That was in May. A few months later, on October 30, 2012, the news broke that George Lucas was selling Lucasfilm Ltd. to The Walt Disney Company…. With it came a new trilogy of Star Wars movies. Oh, and Kathleen Kennedy would be the sole new President of Lucasfilm.

Related: This Star Wars Character Saved Grogu, and Here’s Why That Matters

While the news of Disney purchasing Lucasfilm was a surprise, Kennedy running Lucasfilm was not. In May that year, she stepped down from the production company she and her husband Frank Marshall created. The following month, Kennedy was appointed co-chair of Lucasfilm Ltd. alongside George Lucas.

Kennedy was the logical choice for George Lucas to hand over Lucasfilm Ltd. She was an accomplished producer, and one Lucas had worked with in the past on the Indiana Jones film. George Lucas wanted his company and his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchise to be someone he knew and trusted… and Kennedy came highly recommended by both Spielberg and Bob Iger of Disney. Kennedy’s history with Lucas, alongside her working relationship with his friends Steven Spielberg and John Milius, made her the perfect candidate to take over and usher in a new era for the company. For someone who’d had to wait in line to see the first Star Wars film, this was a dream come true.

Kathleen Kennedy’s Handling of the Star Wars Series

Kathleen Kennedy Surrounded By Storm Troopers
Lucasfilm

Since Kennedy has taken over, Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise has expanded like wildfire, producing multiple films and television series like never before. 2015’s The Force Awakens was perhaps one of the most highly anticipated Star Wars films since the prequel series at the turn of the century, and the Disney/Lucasfilm pairing did not disappoint. With a gross of over $2 billion, it was only a matter of time before yet another threequel emerged in the form of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. And that’s not including the offshoots of Solo and Rogue One.

After nearly three decades, Lucasfilm returned to the television space, thanks to their pairing with streaming partner Disney+. What began with 2019’s ongoing The Mandalorian has since spawned four more live-action shows, including The Book of Boba Fest, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and Ashoka. 2024 will see two more shows added to that list if all goes according to plan.

Luckily, Lucasfilm did not have near so far to reach when it came to contributing to Disney’s animated space. Star Wars: The Clone Wars had already been up and rolling four years earlier. They added the ever-popular Star Wars Rebels alongside favorites like The Bad Batch. They also leaned into the Lego space, coming out with five mashups of the pairing. To be fair, with how long it takes an animated project to get off the ground, some of these may have been in the zeitgeist prior to Kennedy’s arrival.

Most of the Star Wars movies produced by her have generated over $1 billion at the worldwide box office in revenue. And that’s not including the six and growing TV series or the expansion into the Disney Parks. To recap, that’s at least eleven projects in eleven years, not including the canceled ones, thereby vastly outproducing her successor. All in all, right on schedule, as promised. This should come as no surprise based on Kennedy’s background.

Why Kathleen Kennedy Has Become Controversial (Is It Warranted?)

Din Djarin and Boba Fett in the Star Wars series The Mandalorian
Disney+

Kathleen Kennedy has been seen as a controversial figure among many, for both real reasons and some completely made up. While Kennedy’s Star Wars films have generated plenty of profits and positive reviews, the production side has not been as smooth. Lucasfilm has gained a reputation for hiring filmmakers and wrestling creative control of the projects away from them, as seen with both Rogue One and Solo.

The studio also would secure big talent to develop projects that never went anywhere. This started to create a perception that there were serious problems behind the scenes in terms of leadership. Unlike fellow Disney subsidiary Marvel Studios, which rarely fails to follow through on a project, Star Wars has had many false starts.

One of the more valid criticisms that have been brought up in recent years is the over-exposure of the franchise. While Star Wars has always been a heavily commercialized franchise, with action figures and merchandise being a big part of the franchise, the addition of the Disney+ series at such a quick rate might have hurt the value of Star Wars as a brand. There used to be a special level of anticipation behind each film, as there was a three-year wait. But now Star Wars is constantly around in some shape or form.

Related: Star Wars: 5 Ways Disney Changed the Franchise Forever

Some criticism is made in bad faith, though, as there has boomed a mini-industry online of YouTube channels spreading false rumors about Kennedy in an attempt to grow their own audience and fan the flames of a cultural war. They accuse Kennedy of making Star Wars “woke” because the recent films made efforts to have a more diverse cast to better reflect the audience.

Kathleen Kennedy’s crime is supposedly infusing politics into Star Wars. The truth is, however, that’s been going on for decades, dating back to the times of George Lucas. Despite impressive box office returns and Disney+ streaming stat, there is a near-constant rumbling that Star Wars is dead and that Kathleen Kennedy is responsible. This essentially met its peak when on South Park, in a recent special titled “Joining the Panderverse, Kathleen Kenndy was turned into the central villain of the story to an obvious cartoonish effect. Yet just as time has shown that Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s hyperplastic critiques of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have aged poorly, so will this one.

At any given moment on the internet, hyperbolic videos about Kathleen Kennedy are made online, with people calling for her to be fired. They constantly downplay her credentials and contributions to major franchises they love. Kathleen Kennedy is villainized in a way no other studio head is, not even David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, who scrapped finished films for tax purposes. One has to wonder why Kathleen Kennedy gets more hatred than him.

Kathleen Kennedy’s Future at Lucasfilm

Indiana jones holds the dial of destiny in indiana jones and the dial of destiny
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Kathleen Kennedy has been president of Lucasfilm for over a decade now, and based on the recent announcements at Star Wars Celebration, she appears to be sticking around for a bit. There are constant rumors that Kathleen Kennedy is getting fired, only to be proven wrong time and time again.

In the meantime, four new Star Wars films have been announced that will take Star Wars into new exciting periods, like the far past, the future of the Jedi Order, and an Avengers-style team-up event film that will unite the various Disney+ series. The first one up will be The Mandalorian & Grogu, which will see the two characters make the leap from Disney+ to the big screen. This is certainly the most business-savvy move as the two characters are so popular and have become the face of Star Wars, so it is a great way to bring the franchise back to cinemas.

Lucasfilm has also begun experimenting with non-Star Wars projects. They were originally set to produce The Children of Blood and Bone, but the rights fell through and have since gone to Paramount Pictures. They did create a sequel series to the hit film Willow, which aired on Disney+ in 2022. The series was not renewed for a second season and was removed from the platform. In 2023, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny concluded Harrison Ford’s run in the Indiana Jones franchise. That film was a box office disappointment and another major flop in a year for Disney, so that certainly is not a good mark for Kathleen Kennedy at the moment.

In the meantime, Kennedy has stated her willingness to ‘eventize’ future release dates, much like the Star Wars 1977’s of the past and the Barbenheimer’s of the future. While this would soften the release schedule, it would also allow the company to get more back to the basics with their existing IP. Needless to say, this would be a welcome reprieve, one that might just stave off movie fatigue long enough to reignite the old flame.

While Star Wars is still the priority (with a sequel involving Rey on the horizon), it seems Kennedy is looking at how Lucasfilm can be more than just Star Wars films and possibly develop other projects, which is fair. That being said, it will be an uphill battle to associate Lucasfilm with anything other than just Star Wars.

Lucasfilm is far from the first to be courted by Disney. Check out how the BBC handled things!

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