SAN FRANCISCO — “Star Wars” is perhaps the only pop-culture franchise boasting its own holiday, with “May the 4th” (as in “…be with you”) now among the calendar’s annual events. But overseeing George Lucas’ newly teeming galaxy now requires its own keepers of the faith as well, known as the Lucasfilm Story Group.
While they don’t field many autograph requests, the story group represents a significant addition to the “Star Wars” hierarchy, one that speaks to Disney’s grand plans for the property.
The group was formed a few years ago, following Disney’s $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012.
A Wired profile of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy described the story group as “a ‘Star Wars’ writers’ room and as the guardian of its timeline.” Kennedy noted that ideas are being plotted out for projects through 2022.
The idea for a central authority on all things “Star Wars” became necessary because of Disney’s determination to shift development into hyper-drive — a contrast from Lucas’ stewardship, which had generated six movies, a few TV shows and a whole lot of books, games and merchandising over 35 years.
Disney’s accelerated blueprint for “Star Wars” involves a deeply integrated universe and steady diet of projects built into and around the existing canon. That includes not only marquee movies like the latest trilogy, “A New Hope” prequel “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and the upcoming Han Solo film, but also intricately weaving together different “Star Wars” assets.
For example, the Disney XD network’s animated series “Star Wars Rebels” — which takes place several years before the first movie — brought the “Rogue One” character Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, into its orbit, and has featured cameos by Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi. A Star Wars land, meanwhile, is coming to Disney’s theme parks. (Disclosure: My wife works for a division of Disney.)
The task facing the story group is daunting, given the proliferation of “Star Wars” fare and fans’ passion for the franchise — and their preoccupation with its minutia.
In an interview last December with Starwars.com, Matt Martin, a member of the story group, said Lucasfilm is committed to “shared continuity across ‘Star Wars’ storytelling in all media,” calling “Rogue One” “a coming-out party of sorts” for that strategy.
Disney’s aggressive theatrical schedule will feature three “Star Wars” titles in the next two years: Episode VIII, a.k.a. “The Last Jedi,” due this Christmas; the Han Solo movie next May; and the just-announced May 2019 release date for Episode IX.
May the 4th came about organically among fans and was subsequently embraced by Disney. The festivities will include marathons of the movies on TBS (CNN’s sister network) of “Lego Star Wars” on Disney XD.
“Star Wars'” future, by contrast, is being meticulously planned. And with so many offshoots slated to be launched within that galaxy, maintaining order doesn’t call for Jedi mind tricks as much as what amounts to a very creative group of traffic cops.