Why has there never been a live-action Star Wars TV show?

No live-action
Why has there never been a live-action Star Wars TV show?

How come we've never been treated to a live-action TV series based in the rich Star Wars universe? We've gotten close on a few occasions, but aside from some cartoons, and a best-forgotten Holiday Special, something has always blocked the transition between big and little screens.

The reasons for the lack of a live-action Star Wars TV series can be split into two main camps – the practical and the artistic. Sometimes the problem is whether it could be done, and sometimes it's a question of whether it should be done at all.

Coulda, shoulda…

All the shows we've had to fulfil our Star Wars fantasies on the small screen have come in cartoon form. From Droids and Ewoks in the mid-80s to the Clone Wars and Rebels series of the new millennium, it's all been pen and ink or digitised images.

There are good reasons for that, and most of them are coloured green: it's about the money.

Star Wars

The special effects budget used for the movies would need to be massively stripped back for TV, and yet somehow still deliver a convincing, alien-filled universe – with spaceships and laser-striped dogfighting – that didn't look like a pale shadow of the main event films.

Diluting the brand might sound like so much marketing horse dung, but realistically a TV series in the 80s or 90s would have ended up rocking the same unconvincing effects as Star Trek TNG or, god-forbid, Space Precinct. And for a franchise that has always prided itself on blockbuster effects – hell, Lucas created Industrial Light and Magic because no one could do the effects he wanted – this would have been a terrible step back.


But 2005 saw George Lucas convinced a TV show could work, and he announced plans for a live-action series set in the intervening period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. That show, later dubbed Star Wars: Underworld, was not to be centred around any of the Skywalker clan and instead would focus on the seedy underbelly of the Imperial homeworld, Coruscant, with themes of drug-running, bounty-hunting and prostitution.

George Lucas

It was described as being less like the 1930s action film-inspired movies and more like a 1940s film noir. Lucas and the prequels' producer, Rick McCullam, kept trotting out the "darker, grittier" line despite details about the show remaining vague and unpromising for many years.

Then in 2011 Lucas announced that he'd written 50 scripts, with reports stating that he was hoping for the show to hit some 400 episodes, but that production was in hiatus as it waited on technical developments and reductions in cost. Again, it was the huge cost of creating a live-action show that was holding it back.

With Disney's acquisition happening a year later though the idea of a dark, adult-only Star Wars TV series looks like it doesn't stand a chance in Mickey's world. Indeed McCullam has cited the fantastic Deadwood as an inspiration, another show focused on prostitution and bounty hunting. And those are themes which would surely struggle to fit in the Disney stable.

There were further noises coming out of the ABC network in 2013 which gave us hope, but again silence descended. As it did once more earlier this year when it was rumoured Netflix night have a deal in place to use its millions to produce Star Wars shows with Disney.

Netflix to the rescue?

Those rumours at least seemed to give some thought to the financial and technical limitations of a Star Wars TV production. With J J Abrams using models and sets for the new movies it was suggested the Netflix shows could use that existing property, in between the shooting of the new trilogy and anthology projects, in order to preserve the big-budget look and feel but at a fraction of the cost.


Kathleen Kennedy, CEO of Lucasfilm, has stoked the fire again. In an interview with Slashfilm she was asked if George Lucas' scripts for Underworld had been binned.

"No, interestingly enough, that's an area we've spent a lot of time," she says. "Reading through the material that he developed is something we very much would like to explore."

"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, poring through, discussing, and we may very well develop those things further. We definitely want to."

Whether that development will actually translate into a live-action show is very much up for debate; it's possible the Underworld scripts will be adapted for one of the anthology movies (potentially the Boba Fett/young Han Solo project) or for a kid-friendly story arc on the Rebels cartoon.

No need

So if that covers the "could they?" part of the equation, we now come to the "should they?" bit. What would really be the benefit of a live-action TV show in a world that will see a new Star Wars movie at least every 12 months for the next five years?

The Clone Wars cartoon – after its abortive first season – became a home for some of the best Star Wars stories, and retroactively fixed most of the problems the prequels introduced.

The current Rebels cartoon is keeping things ticking over on the kids' side – a perfect place to trial new merchandise – and the anthology movies are filling in the story gaps for the older audience.

Star Wars

Another supporting TV show would need a huge budget to do the franchise justice and would very much run the risk of oversaturating the market and diluting the movies' impact.

Then there's the fact that 50 scripts of the TV show were penned by Lucas himself. Sure, Battlestar Gallactica's Ronald D Moore allegedly wrote a few himself under non-disclosure agreements, but it seems as though Underworld was Lucas' pet project.

And, if there's one thing the graphic novel adaptation of The Star Wars – based on his original screenplay – and his crimes with the prequels have taught us, it's that Lucas should not be allowed free rein on any story. There's a reason The Clone Wars cartoon had some of the best Star Wars stories, and it's that George Lucas had practically nothing to do with them.

So in the end we maybe ought to be grateful there's been no live-action Star Wars TV show; we might have had a lucky escape.

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