In Defense of Kathleen Kennedy

If you listen to youtube, you’ll discover that Kathleen Kennedy is the worst person who ever lived.

Seriously, it’s between her and Hitler, and Hitler is old news.

She’s the woman who ruined Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, and Willow maybe, and possibly all of Disney including, the Marvel universe, Pixar, Bob Iger. She may well have single handedly destroyed Hollywood with WOKENESS and may be on the verge of taking down all of Western Civilization and turning us all into race swapping, transgender, feminist, gay, disabled communists.

Probably not, but the way people have been ranting for years on end, you have to wonder.

Well, let me step up and take a run at this hysteria. I give you: The Defense of Kathleen Kennedy.

The story is that Kennedy was an assistant to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who treacherously flattered her way into power at Disney. George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney and he arranged for Kenney to run things, confident that she’d carry out his vision.

Then she stabbed him in the back, stuck women in everything, made them gay and lame. For no good reason, she raped all your childhoods in her quest to bring Wokeness and Feminism to an innocent world. And totally destroyed … Everything, everywhere, and all at once.

Give me a break,

This whole ‘anti-woke’ stuff is getting tiresome, and it’s been a long time since it’s been useful.

Look, she’s not a monster. She’s not Hitler, she’s not Harvey Weinstein. She’s just a person.
So let’s take another look.

Kathleen Kennedy has actually been around for an incredibly long time. You look at IMDB, and she’s got a lot of credits, and a lot of very good movie credits. Well over a hundred producer credits, going back 40 years – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Schindlers List, Bridges of Madison County, Back to the Future. You name it. Protégé of Lucas and Spielberg.

Good movies – if you’ve seen a movie in the last half century probably it was one of hers.

So what went wrong?

I’m going to commit sacrilege – when she took over Lucasfilm, she inherited a dog.

Yes, I know! Blasphemy! Heretic! ‘Mah childhoods!’ ‘Mah toys!’ ‘Luuuuuuuuuukkkkke! Hannnnnnnnn! Leiaaaaaaaa!’

Got it out of your system? Are you a stars wars fan? I’m going to ruin your day.

Star Wars, the core of star wars, is three films made between 1977 and 1983 – that was the big game changer, that was the giant cultural impact. Forty years ago. That’s it.

Sure, there was star wars after that – there was the Holiday Special. There was those Ewoks movies. There were special editions. There were cartoons. There were toys, and merchandise, oh god, the toys and merchandise!

Twenty years after the first set, Between 1999 and 2005 there was the Prequel Trilogy which did great, but didn’t have the cultural impact. Seriously – anyone out there bought Jar Jar Binks bedsheets? Qui Jonn merchandise? Was there anything new and unique to the prequel trilogy that caught fire?

Did it create Anything to compare with Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie – even C3PO, Yoda, ObiWan, R2D2? It really didn’t have the impact. Same thing with Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. You know who Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are from the first trilogy. Can you name anyone, anyone at all from the prequel trilogy, any actor who wasn’t already known?

Mainly, it’s all been commentary and marketing and merchandising.

Star Wars has been a billion dollar franchise running on momentum since the 80s. It was like a Supernova, and everything since then has just been the debris pushed up by the shock wave of that first explosive trilogy.

That’s just the fact.

It’s the same with Indiana Jones. It’s an 80s trilogy, an 80s franchise. Sure, there’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the 90s… Less said about that, the better.

Now stick with me.

So fast forward. Lucas sells out to Disney and retires, it goes to Kathleen Kennedy – she inherits Lucasfilm – Star Wars and Indy – this great big cultural landmark of a franchise…. And its forty years old.

It’s a dog. It’s a zombie franchise. It’s been on autopilot, just coasting along, going nowhere. It’s been practically twenty years since Lucas last tried rebooting the franchise with a new trilogy and just decided to coast.

Here’s the problem – Mark Hamill – Star Wars was 1977, The Force Wakens was 2015. That’s almost 40 years, Hamill was 65 for it, he’s 72 now. Carrie Fisher was 59 and in poor health for the Force Awakens. Harrison Ford was 73 for the Force Awakens, 81 for the Indy movie. Billy Dee Williams could barely stand up when it was finally his turn.

Now, I’m old and creaky myself. I’m not ageist, but it’s a genuine problem when the key cast of your exciting action adventure franchise is in danger of dying of old age. There’s a problem when you’re trying to continue a story that got left off forty years ago. There’s a problem when you’re trying to rejuvenate a franchise that made its mark forty years ago, and hasn’t even tried in the last twenty years.

Everyone talks about Star Wars as this great cultural phenomenon, and yes, sure thing, it was. WAS. And it was a license to print money. And yes, it WAS and the hope was that there were still bucks in it.

But the truth is, that it was in trouble. It was moribund. The cast was ancient, Star Wars was dead on its feet. Indiana Jones was dead on its feet.

So Kathleen Kennedy got the job. She was inheriting a bag of hammers, a nostalgia cruise over the Niagara.

What’s she going to do?

One option is to recast – you replace Mark, Carrie and Harrison with younger actors to play Luke, Leia and Han. That’s a decent plan. She tried that with Solo. FAIL! But it was an honest try.

How about replacing them with CGI younger versions or de-aging. That’s a decent plan. Tried that on Rogue One and the Mandalorian for little bits. The technology just isn’t up to it yet. FAIL! Again, honest experiment.

Maybe just make a movie around the original cast, like the Star Trek movies, and accept they aged? Geriatric Wars, a New Walker! Come on. This was a very different thing from Star Trek. No one is going to invest two hundred million dollars in that. It was a nonstarter.

But you have to have the original cast in there, you just kind of have to figure out how to phase them out. Kennedy accepted that. She recognized the need to keep some balance while moving on.

So the last option was to Star Trek:TNG the franchise. Create a new cast, a younger cast of heroes and villains go to forward, characters that would evoke the old, but establish a new identity – Hotshot Pilot Poe Damerung, Finn, runaway storm trooper, Rey the latest poor kid making good, and finally Kylo Ren.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these characters. Hell, Poe’s got some Han Solo charm, Finn’s backstory had huge potential, Rey’s another farm kid itching for adventure, and Kylo’s a shift on Vader.

Then have them all go on a huge trilogy, while you give the old ones a decent send off, while building up the new kids.

There’s nothing wrong with that plan. There wasn’t anything wrong with any of her strategies. Her actions and decisions were rational and sensible.

So what went wrong?

Well, it’s not about being “woke.”

Look, I’m going to be honest. I don’t care. I totally, really, seriously don’t care. I know that nowadays there are people who throw screaming temper tantrums at the tiniest suggestion of woke.

But listen, I grew up watching Star Trek, when they were doing episodes about racism with black- white people hating white-black people, and Doctor Who when they where yammering on about environmentalism and genocide. I grew up with Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton and Shaft. So I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter whether a story is ‘woke.’ What matters is whether a story is good or bad. And if a ‘woke’ story is great, then it’s great. And if a story is bad, then nothing else matters.

If you’re freaking out about ‘woke’ you’re looking at the wrong things.

So anyway, back to Kathleen Kennedy. What went wrong. I think two things. I’ll address them in order.

The first thing is that quite often, artists project themselves into their work. It reflects their life, their life experience, their life story. I’ll give you a couple of examples with George Lucas.

When he was making the first Star Wars, a New Hope, Lucas was a hotshot kid. He grew up small town, suburban life, feeling closed in and frustrated, he was all about going faster, he loved hot rods, he wanted to break out of the humdrum life and have adventure. He needed mentors, allies. He had to deal with the studio system, with stuffy officious bureaucratic executives, and you can visualize him sitting in some boardroom, being lectured and just wishing to hell he could choke the life out of some petty studio exec giving him notes.

So he makes Star Wars, about a farm boy who falls into adventure, who has his hotrod skinner, the daily tedium of his closed in life. He gets mentors, makes friends, goes on an adventure, gets the girl, and along the way he stumbles and grows, and comes through in the end. Oh and Darth Vader force chokes the life out of some stuffy officious bureaucrat who is lecturing him in a boardroom – well that’s transparent.

It’s not a stretch to say that Lucas projected himself into Star Wars, or that in many ways, the movie and story reflected where he was or saw himself in life.

Okay, now fast forward twenty years to the next trilogy, The Phantom Menace. Lucas is no longer a hotshot kid. He’s now the man, particularly the businessman, and it’s all about deals, and trade, licensing and merchandising, taxes international rights and all that. Lucas, though, still feels that he’s hip and happening, a creative force, he wears jeans. But he’s surrounded by all these young CPA, these button down business types with suits and ties, straight and narrow. Oh and now, in these boardrooms no one lectures him, they just drone on and on and on and on, till he feels so bored its like he’s trapped in a toxic cloud.

And what do we have in The Phantom Menace? There’s an opening scroll which is all about trade disputes, tax implications, and accounting! Qui Jonn Quinn, the middle aged, but hip, creative and happening Jedi, full of conventional thinking. Also, his young assistant, Obi Wan Kenobi, conservative, button down, if Jedi wore ties, Obi would be wearing one. And this time, the Boardroom scene is not some obnoxious bureaucrat getting force choked, it’s going to a boardroom meeting as a senior player and the whole thing fills up with poison gas.

Again, the movie, the hero is reflecting where Lucas is in his life, how he’s seeing things. That’s his story.

You can do it to – go and deconstruct the rest of the story, in terms of where Lucas is in his life, the people he’s having to deal with in business and personal life, the things that are drawing him, his ambitions, his fixations.

Same guy, just in two different places in his life, telling two different stories depending on where he is.

Now let’s look at Kathleen Kennedy. Where is she in life, when she takes over as the grand pooh-bah of Lucasfilm. Well, by this time, she’s been a producer on 60 or 70 movies, great movies, movies of every kind, worked with all the greats. But she’s always been working on someone else’s farm, she’s been a peon, a sharecropper. She’s unappreciated and unknown, a few people know who she is, and she’s done okay. But really she does all this work, and she’s great at everything, and she’s just a serf… Until finally, she gets her big break, a chance to burst out, become the star, show her stuff. She’s automatically already good at everything, because she already put her time in at the salt mines, and now she’s going to amaze.

Lucas, going into a New Hope was a wild kid, eager to get out into the world, escape the monotony of life, putting a team together, half-assing it all the way. No one knew it was going to work, even Lucas wasn’t sure. But he had enthusiasm, and by a miracle of the force, he pulls it off! Lucas blew up the theatres the way Luke blew up the Death Star, no one expected it, no one predicted it. In contrast, Kennedy was the steady worker, rising up, finally ready to burst out. Kennedy was ASCENDING.

This is Reye. Take a look – we see Reye, she’s alone and unappreciated, she’s not a dirt grubber like Luke, waiting to break away from his family. She’s on her own, independent and self reliant, she’s taking apart and salvaging star destroyer bits, learning the ins and outs of starships. But she’s also a peon, a serf, she’s just scratching out a living on someone else’s plantation, someone else is making the money and the deals off her work, and she’s just getting crumbs with no recognition at all. Then one day, an opportunity comes, and she ASCENDS! She finally gets a chance to break out, become the hero, show her stuff, and by golly, she’s good at EVERYTHING because she put all that work in already in the salt mines, learning everything from discipline and independence, to how to fix a flux converter!

Reye doesn’t get Luke’s journey of personal growth, with all its uncertainty, desperation and missteps, because Kathleen Kennedy’s not in the same place in her life, when she invents Reye, than Lucas was in his life when he invented Luke. Reye is just an analog of Kathleen Kennedy’s life story, and it’s an important and meaningful life story to her… just maybe not so much or so compelling for other people, because Ascension stories aren’t as compelling as Growing stories.

That’s really about it.

Now let me be heretical again.

It could have worked. It could have. A good writer, a good storyteller, they can take anything and make a good story out if it. There’s a lot of Princess Ascending stories that can be compelling – Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella. Reye’s story, Kathleen’s life story, is not without interest or compelling angles.

Personally, I think it’s a tough run, it’s got built in handicaps, and it’s not as easily or naturally compelling as a story of growing up or stumbling and learning. But it can be done.

So what went wrong?

Well, here’s the second thing. Go back to Kathleen Kennedy’s IMDB page again, and its hundred and twenty or so movie credits. Notice anything.

All producer credits.

No writing. No directing. Not even a real acting credit. No creative credits at all.

Now, of course, someone is going to say ‘well, being a producer involves a lot of creative input.’ I’m sure she read tons of script, had tons of notes, sat in a lot of story conferences, worked with a lot of directors and editors etc. But she never actually did it. She never wrote a script, or directed a film, or edited a film.

She was basically a producer, and maybe a brilliant producer. But bottom line, she was a producer. And I think that when she ascended, she basically figured she was still going to be a producer. She was just going to keep on doing the thing she was good at, that she was brilliant and expert at, the task of making a movie come together. Except she was going to be in charge now – numero uno.

She’d worked under creatives, Lucas and Spielberg, Eastwood, etc.

Now the creatives be working for her. But she’d do her job, and do it brilliantly, they’d do their jobs – under her, and brilliantly, and everyone would be happy and make lots of money, and she’d get the credit she deserved, the credit she’d been denied all these years. She’d be the woman who saved Star Wars.

And you can see it – she was literally trawling for talent. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Colin Trevorow, James Mangold, Takika Watiti, Patty Jenkins, anyone who was hot, anyone coming out with some brilliant new Independent film, or an academy award winning documentary film maker, she was recruiting and they were announcing new movies and trilogies all over the place. There were so many films announced, so many directors coming and going, it was almost comical.

She was looking for creatives. She knew she wasn’t Lucas or Spielberg, she didn’t have that magic touch. But the news Lucas or Spielberg (or close enough) was out there, and she was going to find them, recruit them, maybe even cultivate them, give them the big chance. She was going to find brilliant people, and then let them be brilliant. What could go wrong?

You know what? It’s not a bad plan. In her situation, with her skill set, I’d have done the same thing.

But here’s the problem. A person can be very very good at their job, brilliant at it. Then they get promoted, the move up a level, and suddenly, they’re beyond their area of competence. It’s called the Peter Principle – everyone moves up the ladder and as long as they’re good, they keep moving up… until they reach a level they suck at, and then they stop moving up. Which is why sometimes organizations get filled with people bad at their job.

So where did Kathleen Kennedy blow it? Not through wokeness. There were probably a lot of bad decisions, and I’m nowhere near privy to the details. But certain things seem to have shown through.

It looks to me like she had notes, but no actual vision or story. She had things she wanted to see – like Reye. But the rest of it, that was delegated, to the story group, to the intellectual property group, to directors, writers, etc. She had some things, but was mostly willing to let creative people b creative, to give them their head.

First mistake – I think that there really needed to be a central vision, some guiding creative mind like Lucas or Spielberg. Lucas was far from perfect, he could be erratic, changeable, impulsive. But there was a vision that unifies the first trilogies. That’s absent from Kathleen Kennedy’s star wars. Instead, there’s a sort of aimless browsing quality.

Her second mistake – arising from the first, was that she gave her creatives way too much latitude. I can see it, you’re dealing with these hotshot creative geniuses, you want them to do genius things, so you just give them their head, you let them go to town.

Nice theory. It even worked! Rogue One turned out great! The Mandalorian, first two seasons was fine.

But here’s the thing – not every creative decision is a good one, not every creative impulse works. Not every creator works well with others. Not everyone is on the same page. George Lucas arguably was at his best when he had other people around him who could stand up to him and second guess him, could ride herd on his bad ideas and push his good ones. When it was all George all the time, it was downhill.

With no real vision of her own, just notes, without second guessing and riding herd, Kennedy’s ‘hands off, let geniuses be genius’ approach results in everyone started riding in different directions. JJ Abrams lays out a set of plot elements for a trilogy.

Rian Johnson comes along and destroys every single one of them. And he comes up with an orgy of bad ideas – like a low speed chase, turning Finn into a Steppin Fetchitt character, a nihilistic side quest going nowhere. He creates an Asian character, and gives her nothing to do.

Then there’s pretentious, stupid, indulgent notions like green-screening out in the desert on location, because hey, let’s have natural desert light in your CGI landscape.

The trilogy becomes a shambles. Each movie becomes more shambholic and incoherent than the last. Colin Trevorow quits. JJ Abrams comes back. But now we’ve got a mess on our hands.

As the movies start to go off the rails, Kennedy rethinks her mistake. Clearly, she’s allowed too much freedom. She over-reacts, shifting towards micro-management, suddenly riding herd hard on productions that have gone out of control. The ship is sinking. Suddenly, everything is rewrites, and reshoots, and more rewrites and reshoots, there are delays, the cost goes up, there are test screenings, re-edits. The cost goes through the roof. The resulting products are botched messes.

Rogue one starts the journey off okay, and then with Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker, each movie falls off a cliff, onto a deeper cliff, plummeting towards a deeper abyss.

The poster child, of course, is Solo: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a hotshot brilliant young directing duo making waves are hired on, they’re given freedom to work their magic. Then it goes to pieces, the star Alden Ehrenreich allegedly needs to be sent for acting lessons during filming. The script is delegated finished by a nepo-baby. Lord and Miller are out of their depth, but left hands off, burning up massive amounts of shooting days and footage, because it turns out their Indy-movie style isn’t working on this project. Then comes the micro-management, they’re fired, Ron Howard is brought in 70% of the film is reshot. The result is… stunningly mediocre! Bland, derivative, cliched. Solo, A Star Wars Story is basically a poster child for dumpster fires everywhere.

And of course, once the ship starts turning around, it turns all the way around. The age of Laissez Faire and ‘letting genius be genius’ is over – everything is micro-managed now, the Book of Boba Fett gets the heavy hand, the Mandalorian season three goes dumpster fire. That assembly line of genius talent that was being recruited – well suddenly Lucas film is running scared. Rian Johnson’s trilogy? Forget that, not after The Last Jedi! Patty Jenkins? Not after Wonder Woman 84. Takika? Forget it after Thor: Love and Thunder.

The sign of a bad manager, go hard on one bad approach, and when that blows up, panic and over-react go hard the opposite direction on another bad approach.

Star Wars has become a series of trash fires as far as the eye can see. Quick! What else have we got!

Indiana Jones? First the notes! Quick – let’s get Harrison Ford into another one before he dies! Oh no! He’s old! Bring someone to help him get around! Some up and coming genius – genii – James Mangold and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, both of whom are perfectly nice people. But now it’s desperate, no taking chances. So test screenings, and rewrites and reshoots and more test screenings and rewrites and reshoots. The budget is going through the roof. The film is massaged into a shapeless desk.

What else does Lucasfilm have, what other IP? It’s pretty thin! Willow! Okay, sure, Game of Thrones is huge, there’s the Witcher, the Apple’s Lord of the Rings. Why not! Just throw everything out there. Oh that didn’t turn out so well!

I almost feel sympathy for Kathleen Kennedy. I think she’s probably a really nice person. I think her basic strategies were sound, and the mistakes were at least partly idealism and blinders. Then as things started to go wrong, she just kept digging herself in deeper, compounding each mistake with opposite but even worse mistakes until it’s all just a mess. Now she gets blamed for the floundering of an IP that was already dead in the water when she got it. And yeah, she deserves it, but there’s a lot of blame to go around.

There’s a lot of complaints about the trilogy being ‘woke.’ But come on.

Just look at the travesty they made of John Boyega and his character Finn. A black storm trooper, rising up out of slavery, wanting only to escape, and eventually finding his way to conviction and resistance. There’s insane amounts of potential in that – we should have all been walking out of theatres shouting “I am Finn!!!” on some movie. But then he starts off the second movie wrapped in plastic, staggering naked down a hallway, pissing all over the floor. Ouch! Through the whole movie after that, he is a comic relief character, absolutely everything he tries to do fails. Third movie? Everything distinctive or unique about him is stripped away, it turns out there’s a whole society of black runaway former storm troopers, all of whom are cooler than he is. He doesn’t even get to finish a line.

Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico? It’s astonishing how utterly badly the actress and her character are treated in Johnson’s film with bad haircut, bad costume, terrible dialogue, stunningly inconsistent characterization. And in the final film, she’s barely there? Does she even have lines?

How are you too woke, when the only significant Asian and African characters are gutted so badly?

Where is any of this going? Why is everything wasted, and endless stupidities indulged. Laura Dern is a brilliant actress – and she’s stuck posing as a department store mannequin with six lines. And for what? A paen to the virtues of bureaucracy and bad management? Carrie Fisher dies, and it doesn’t occur to them to maybe retool their ending to rework the living ast members?

I don’t see woke. I see mediocrity and incompetence, and a succession of bad decisions. I see people starting out not wanting to take too many chances and play it safe and then sinking relentlessly into their own errors, so trapped in micro-management that they lose all sense of a picture. I don’t see scripts, I see walls full of post it notes with scenes and images and ideas endlessly rearranged.

Look, here’s the truth. Star Wars was a zombie franchise, Indiana Jones was a zombie franchise, both of them were forty years past their time and coasting on momentum. You can’t blame Kennedy for any of that, and I’m sorry about your childhoods, but grow up.

Kathleen Kennedy is not the Antichrist. Woke is not the problem. Kathleen Kennedy is just someone who rose up through the ranks, who was very good at her job. Then she rose to the top, inherited a turd, and because she’d finally risen beyond her competence, she started off with a sound plan, made mistakes, kept on compounding those mistakes and eventually made a mess of it all. It happens.

Maybe someone else might have or could have done something different, could have salvaged things. But it wasn’t George Lucas – he parked for twenty years doing nothing, sold out and got out of Dodge. He was never the brilliant genius he posed as, he was a very talented guy surrounded by very talented people who caught lightning in a bottle for three movies, and then spent decades riding off it. George Lucas himself wasn’t really GEORGE LUCAS, he wasn’t as big as his hype. Maybe no one is.

So give the woman a goddammed break. She came, she saw, she failed. It happens.

Oh and as for all you anti-woke crusaders, listen up: “Go woke, go broke.” Yes, thank you. We heard it. We heard it millions of times. We’ve heard you screech like howler monkeys with a rectal disorder every time there’s a line of dialogue or a cross eyed look anywhere on screen or off. Give it a goddammed break! Take a rest!

You literally have 5 minutes of argument in you, you’ve been going at it for 5 years, you’re way past the point of no return. You have nothing left to say, nothing worth hearing, and no one cares about your feelings. Your childish antics are getting in the way of grown ups having real discussions.

Movies and television are not bad because they’re woke. They’re bad because they’re bad. Because they hired writers with no life experience, and shallow narcissistic twits for actors. They’re bad because corporations treat intellectual property like Lego pieces. They’re bad because franchises are exhausted and have nothing to offer – how many times can you make the same movie about a time travelling killer robot zipping into the past to ice the saviour of humanity? They’re bad because Zacc Snyder and JJ Abrams failed storytelling 101. They’re bad because things get micro-managed into oblivion. Sometimes they’re bad because one bad decision leads to another.

Stop it with this idiotic litmus test, away with your culture war. Get a grip. If all you ever do is walk around with a giant stick up your butt, you’ll never be able to enjoy anything. And frankly, that would be sad.