Until recently, television wasn't really the place for large-scale projects. But with the successes of online streaming shows such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror, as well as the high-budget epics like Game of Thrones. It was recently revealed what the premise and title of the upcoming Disney streaming exclusive, live-action Star Wars series would be – The Mandalorian. While it's the first real project the service is actively working on, it is not the first shot at a television series in the galaxy far far away. In the time between the Prequel Trilogy and the Disney sale in 2012, Lucasfilm was working on and off on a live-action series that would be the new step for the saga, but over time it proved that some things are just not meant to be.
The earliest inklings of a live-action Star Wars TV show came about around the same time as the original 1977 release, as science fiction movies had been moving to the small screen, notably Logan's Run and Planet of the Apes. George Lucas did have some early conversations with networks, which over the next few months would turn into the Star Wars Holiday Special. After that failure, Lucasfilm stepped away from television for a while, returning in 1984 with the premiere of a movie that was designed to spin off into a full series, titled The Caravan of Courage – focusing not on the iconic space battles or the continued adventures of Luke Skywalker, but the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. While a sequel was produced, neither film was received well enough for Lucasfilm to consider doing their live action Ewok series, instead making it into an animated program. While the Star Wars craze was dying down in the mid-80s, another Lucasfilm project had come along and grabbed the attention of the public, being Indiana Jones. Following the release of The Last Crusade in 1989, Lucas once again looked to television, leading to the highly successful The Young Indiana Jones Adventures, which was, as the title sounds, about a young Indiana Jones growing up and into the archaeologist we are introduced to in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Think of the show as if Solo was a series instead of a single movie – a younger actor playing a role originated by Harrison Ford, and telling the stories of how he met Sallah, etc. Once the show was wrapped in 1996, Lucasfilm went back to their golden child, and the Star Wars prequels were made and released between 1999 and 2005.
As production was ending on Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas was working on plans of continuing the saga without needing to do new movies. Around May of 2005, the plan was set in motion to do a live-action series that would chronicle the nineteen year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, as well as another animated series about the Clone Wars era (the previous version was hand-drawn short form episodes, this idea would lead to the famed The Clone Wars, aired between 2008 and 2014, with a final season premiering on the Disney streaming service). From here, details were kept pretty secretive, though it did come out that Boba Fett, the iconic bounty hunter from the Original Trilogy, would feature in the series, as well as introducing new characters that would bridge the trilogies together. One of these proposed characters was Saw Gerrera, who debuted in The Clone Wars, and later made an appearance in Rogue One. Directors were being met with, writers were coming on board, and early casting was beginning. One such director was the son of Richard Marquand, the late director of Return of the Jedi, and likely Lucas himself would be directing and writing several episodes, or even contacting his friends such as Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg to direct episodes, though the latter two were just rumors at best. Eventually, the title was decided on, though kept secret for years: Star Wars: Underworld, hinting at the premise for the program.
Now for the plot, we only heard basic ideas. At first, it was said that we would rarely, if ever, see characters we knew from the movies, though this would be changed as time went on. What was confirmed was that it would be more about the darker, criminal side of the galaxy, less a story of good and evil and more existing in a morally gray area. Tone wise, it was to be made for an adult audience, pushing the bounds of what was acceptable in Star Wars, going so far as to be offered to HBO. It was also at one point set to be an anthology series that would occasionally feature movie characters, including one episode about Emperor Palpatine, where he was "wronged by a heartless woman" - this would later inspire developer Cory Barlog to write the story of the unrelated (in every sense of the word) video game God of War. The origin of Han Solo was also suggested, and John Knoll had met with Lucas about working on the series finale – the story of how the Rebels stole the Death Star plans, a story that would later be rewritten into becoming Rogue One. The Church of the Force (The Force Awakens),Coruscant level 1313 (the canceled video game Star Wars: 1313), and some ideas used on Star Wars: Rebels all came from the meetings George Lucas had with the writing and art departments while working on Underworld.
So why would a series based on the most successful media franchise of all time never get off the ground? Well, in 2005-2011, television networks didn't really want to put millions of dollars per episode – Underworld was budgeted at almost twenty million per episode, if not more due to actors or effects that would be developed, and even HBO only wanted to put a single million for every episode. Which, in the time before Game of Thrones, would have been expensive for them. The Clone Wars series was a massive hit, but George Lucas was paying the same amount per episode for that show, practically out of pocket. It also didn't help the growing hatred of Lucas within the fan communities, still angry with the prequels and Special Editions, which over time led to Lucas announcing his retirement from filmmaking in 2012. Meanwhile, he was writing scripts for his own Sequel Trilogy, and by 2011, was considering selling Lucasfilm. The company was sold to Disney in 2012, and the newly reorganized company started to work more on the upcoming movies, even canceling the 3D re-releases of the saga, though they were able to get The Phantom Menace re-released earlier that year (come on, why start with that one?) In 2013, ABC Television expressed interest in programs from the Star Wars franchise, as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe – getting the latter out long before The Force Awakens. In 2017, Jon Faverau was brought in to be the showrunner for a live-action series, and well, The Mandalorian premieres in 2019, ending the decades-long attempts to bring the galaxy to the home.
So yeah, maybe we could already have had a live-action series. But I'm kind of glad we didn't get one back then, because it wouldn't have been as well made. Money is everything when it comes to Hollywood, and while there was plenty of money to be made with the brand, there was a concern that networks wouldn't be able to recoup the money. Now, with the advent of paid streaming services and a rebirth of the public love for the franchise, Disney can put one hundred million dollars to a Star Wars show and easily make it back through merchandise and subscription costs. This is a new medium for the series, and if the Netflix co-productions Marvel has done are any indication of how things may turn out, The Mandalorian could turn out to be one of the best stories in the franchise. We still get little bits of what could have been from Underworld, and perhaps we will see a similar show in the future. But for now, I'm excited to see a new story in a relatively undocumented era of the saga.