Lucasfilm under George Lucas was an independent company. It was reported by Rick McCallum that each episode of Star Wars: Underworld would run around $5 million an episode. Each season was reported to be 16 episodes at 45 minutes an episode. That means Star Wars: Underworld was an 80 million dollar investment for Lucasfilm, per season. It wasn’t really something Lucasfilm could wisely do, especially when you consider they made the prequel films for a little more than 100 million a piece. It wasn’t making sense in terms of the bang for the buck. Poor reception of the series could have been devastating to the independent Lucasfilm. It would make more sense to invest that amount of money into a film release in the Star Wars franchise. I always felt the inability to do Star Wars: Underworld might have been a factor that lead Lucas to take Lucasfilm back to making the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy.
Today the distribution models are changing faster than ever. But the investments in original programming are vastly different as well. Lucas and McCallum stated over and over again that cable and television was imploding. They knew a new model was on the horizon, but unfortunately, that future wouldn’t come to fruition fast enough to see McCallum and Lucas put Star Wars: Underworld into production. Both men retired from Lucasfilm before that series would see the light of day.
But lets look at how Netflix has changed everything and what they’re spending compared to what Lucasfilm was going to have to spend to do the live action television series. Lets also not forget that Netflix has a solid deal with Disney to stream Star Wars content. Also worth noting is that the final 13 episode season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars has become a Netflix series.
TV literary agent Peter Micelli was speaking at UCLA Entertainment Symposium back in March of 2013, almost a year ago. There he made some statements that really give us some insight into how much Netflix is spending on original content. But now, almost a year later, we see that for the most part, the model is working and Netflix appears to be reaping the benefits of their investments.
House of Cards started at $4.5 million and [executive producer David] Fincher took it way above that.
Micelli also claimed:
The cheapest show is $3.8 million an episode.
The next series is ‘Hemlock Grove’ and they’re doing that for about $4 million an episode. ‘Orange is the New Black’ is just under $4 million as well. They’re huge budgets shows, they’re doing things in a huge way.
Now, Netflix owns that content. So spending close to 5 million for an episode is a big investment that will probably have big returns in terms of subscriptions and perhaps even syndication one day. So the question at the end of the day is would Netflix be willing to spend $5 million per episode to make Star Wars: Underworld and not own it? Maybe not. But I would have to imagine they would be willing to invest in it for a long term exclusivity deal.
As a fan with deep interest in seeing Star Wars: Underworld see the light of day, it is an exciting notion to think that the money being spent isn’t far off from what was needed to make the show. I suppose there are factors I cannot fathom which might make this not so cut and dry. For instance, Lucas and McCallum would make the series for $5 million shooting on DSLRs and using innovative methods in production to cut costs. Will a Disney owned Lucasfilm still pursue such creative methods to make the show happen at the level of the film saga on television that George Lucas and McCallum demanded? That remains to be seen. We can only guess what the future holds for Star Wars on television.
I could have “fan blinders” on here. But I would have to think a live action Star Wars television series on Netflix would bring in more viewers than a fantastic series like House of Cards that really only caters to adults and only certain kind of adults for that matter. The gritty live action series surely has a broader appeal to adults than House of Cards which would be great for subscribers. If House of Cards has indeed been a wise investment for Netflix, it might be time to dust off the three seasons of Star Wars: Underworld sitting on a dusty shelve at Lucasfilm and get those puppies into production.
Perhaps right now, Lucasfilm is concentrating on making a Star Wars films for the next ten years and their new television show Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: Underworld just isn’t in the cards anytime soon. I can understand that and why. But I hope we do get to see George Lucas’ last true Star Wars epic on screen one day.
I promise, if you make it, I will subscribe.
Edit: I wrote this last night. Now today Variety Reports Disney is spending $200 million dollars on a Marvel series for Netflix.
The Walt Disney Co. will spend $200 million over three years filming four series based on Marvel’s street heroes characters in New York City for Netflix — the biggest TV or film production commitment in the history of New York State, officials said.
If Disney is willing to spend $200 million for Marvel’s series, I think Star Wars: Underworld isn’t out of the question for Disney at this point. My only real question is how much bang they’re getting for their buck, so to speak. Underworld was budgeted at 80 million for 16 episodes. A lot of the questions I asked above are kind of answered. Disney is willing to front the budget.
Now I think if this investment pays off, we might see Star Wars: Underworld spring to life.
You can read the full report here.