Announced by George Lucas in 2005, Star Wars: Underworld was going to be a television series exploring previously-unseen parts of the galaxy far, far away.
Thirteen years later, all that’s left are dozens of scripts and reams of concept art apparently sitting somewhere in a Disney vault. So what happened to the predecessor to Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian?
“The greasy, seemy underbelly of ‘Star Wars’”, “’Deadwood’ in space”, stories of bounty hunters and an Emperor Palpatine being screwed over by a female gangster he was in love with…
If that sounds entertaining – N.B. Rogue One began as an idea for an episode – then you’re not the only one, as talk of Lucas’ live action Star Wars show kept fans’ hopes alive for a long time after 2005’s Revenge of the Sith apparently wrapped up the saga for good.
Despite millions spent on development and the hiring of writers as celebrated as Battlestar Galactica reboot creator Ronald D. Moore, it seems it never came to fruition. The idea now lives on in Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, but lets take a look back at what could have been.
With Revenge of the Sith about to be released and no other Star Wars product on any kind of slate, Underworld seems to have initially come about partly to keep the on-screen saga going.
“A lot of the issues from the films are connected, but you won’t necessarily see a lot of the people that are connected,” Lucas explained at the time. Still, while our favourite heroes may not have been directly involved, the creatives clearly realised the world of scoundrels personified by characters like Han Solo and Lando offered a lot more scope for expansion week-in-week-out
By 2007, six writers from around the world were hired, including the aforementioned Moore, current Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall and Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham.
Together, they worked on producing 50 scripts – given the direction to be no-holds-barred and written as if money was no object – apparently concentrating on characters within the Coruscant gangster world.
Producer Rick McCallum called it some of the “most provocative, the most bold and daring material that we’ve ever done.”
Chief amongst it, a genuinely surprising and affecting arc for ultimate villain Emperor Palpatine, according to video game director Cory Balrog.
“I was allowed to go up to the ranch and read the scripts,” he told Venture Beat. “It was the most mind-blowing thing I’d ever experienced. I cared about the Emperor. They made the Emperor a sympathetic figure who was wronged by this f***ing heartless woman. She’s this hardcore gangster and she just totally destroyed him as a person. I almost cried while reading this.”
No actors were hired, but by 2010 after years of inactivity the project seemed to be on hold. While McCallum suggested they were planning to shoot in the Czech Republic on a budget of £3 million per episode, Lucas admitted to Movieweb in 2011, “We are looking for a different technology that we can use, that will make it economically feasible to shoot the show.”
Sadly, it didn’t seem like they did and two years later, the filmmaker had relinquished the rights to his franchise to Disney.
Star Wars 1313
With a trailer that warned of adult content, footage of this bounty hunter-centric video game was unveiled at the E3 convention in June 2012 and immediately delighted fans.
Concept designers of Underworld have since suggested some of their work may have turned up in 1313 (named after a scum-filled area of Coruscant), but by April 2013 development was said to be on hiatus.
Was this where most of the Underworld world-building ended up? Who knows, but check out the game trailer – this needs to happen.
Folded into Rogue One et. al
Visual effects icon John Knoll, who came up with the story for Rogue One, has admitted that he initially pitched his tale of the n’er-do-wells hired to steal the Death Star plans as an episode of the show, having come up with the idea while working on Revenge of the Sith. However, despite a more gritty aesthetic and the fact it did take place (albeit right at the end) between Episode III and A New Hope, it seemingly didn’t fit. Knoll told Collider, “I asked [Rick McCallum] about the show and he told me about the era and what the general subject matter was and I realised, ‘Well this idea has no place in that concept.'”
With the endlessly-mooted plans for a Boba Fett standalone pic, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the other plot suggestions from the Underworld development process find their way into further Star Wars spin-offs. The plot of Solo: A Star Wars story even sounds like it cut from the same cloth.
Some fans also believe fragments showed up in 2008 video game The Force Unleashed.
Will it ever get made?
“Somewhere we hope in a galaxy not too far away there will be a television show that will air on one of our networks,” Ben Sherwood, president of ABC Television who also broadcasts Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD told the Hollywood Reporter in September 2016. “But I wouldn’t get anybody’s hopes up too high. They have a lot of movies to make between now and then.”
Star Wars: Underworld may be no more, but its spirit lives on in Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, which follows the adventure of “a lone gunfighter” in the “outer reaches of the galaxy”.
Rick McCallum’s projected £3m per episode budget for Underworld seems like small change compared to the £76m Disney is shelling out on 10 episodes of Favreau’s show, according to the NY Times.
“Star Wars is a big world, and Disney’s new streaming service affords a wonderful opportunity to tell stories that stretch out over multiple chapters,” Mr. Favreau said in an email to NY Times.
Set after the events of Return of the Jedi, it seems unlikely the new series will explore the Palpatine-as-spurned-lover subplot, but you never know with Star Wars.
The Mandalorian is currently in production.