Disney Unveils Flurry of New ‘Star Wars’ and Marvel Projects Amid Massive Worker Layoffs
Disney announced a ton of new content—including 10 new Marvel and “Star Wars” series—as part of its big Investor Day. But we shouldn’t forget all the workers they’re letting go.
The day before Thanksgiving, Disney revealed that its intended layoffs of theme park employees would be more severe than previously estimated. A new total of 32,000 mostly part-time workers—up from the 28,000 Disney initially planned to cull because of losses sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic—will now be jobless in the first half of 2021. Another 37,000 have been furloughed since Oct. 3.
Anyway, here are a few of the dozens of new IP-generated TV shows and movies Disney unveiled to giddy fans and investors on Thursday.
The corporation which now owns FOX, ESPN, Hulu, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic unleashed a Mad Libs-powered flurry of project announcements extending through at least 2023 at its virtual Investor Day. Chris Evans is now Buzz Lightyear. (Not the toy. A new Pixar movie planned for summer 2022 will be “the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on,” Evans clarified in a Tweet.) There will be a TV show based on Alien (yay!) set on Earth (??) by Legion’s Noah Hawley (…oh). Fifteen new Disney and Pixar TV shows, 15 new Disney and Pixar movies, ten Marvel series, ten Star Wars series, and a random Ice Age spinoff starring Simon Pegg are all inching down the pipeline. Nearly all will premiere on Disney+, which is hiking its monthly subscription fee a dollar up to $7.99 beginning in March 2021.
Also coming up in March 2021: the one-year anniversary of the volunteer food pantry a handful of Disney World employees set up for their furloughed coworkers.
Star Wars’ and Marvel’s upcoming live-action projects proved the most irresistible, many of them pairing diverse and exciting filmmakers with dream projects. A woman will finally helm a feature-length Star War: Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins will become the first with Rogue Squadron, adapted from the ’90s video game and book series centered on the rebellion’s daring X-wing fighters. The film, she explained in a moving short video, is personal to her—her father was an Air Force pilot who died during combat training when she was seven years old. In his name, she aims to make “the greatest fighter pilot movie of all time.”
A real-life redemption story is also unfolding: Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, will reprise his role opposite his old costar Ewan McGregor in the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series. (Equally nice: Deborah Chow, who helmed two standout episodes of The Mandalorian, will direct.) Donald Glover will smooth-talk his way back into Lando Calrissian’s space cape for a Disney+ “event series.” Rogue One star Diego Luna will again bring Cassian Andor to (a short but eventful) life in his own namesake show. And the genius behind Russian Doll, Leslye Headland, will helm The Acolyte, a new series billed as a “mystery-thriller” set amid the last days of the High Republic Era.
Rosario Dawson—who maintains she did not, in fact, assault a transgender employee—will also carry her new role as fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano into a new TV series overseen by Mandalorian boss Dave Filoni. Ahsoka currently stands as the only live-action series headlined by an established female Star Wars character. (Fellow Padmé Amidala diehards, I say we sue.)
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meanwhile, the buzziest announcements included the inevitable Fantastic Four reboot; no word on the X-Men do-over that’s sure to follow at some point. Samuel L. Jackson will play Nick Fury again in his own series, Secret Invasion. There will be a third Ant-Man. Black Panther 2 will not recast King T’Challa in light of Chadwick Boseman’s passing. And, thrillingly, the newly-cast Iman Vellani will appear in Captain Marvel 2 (directed by Nia DaCosta!) as Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, the geeky Muslim teenager and No. 1 Carol Danvers fan who will soon star in her own Disney+ series.
A number of beloved female Marvel Comics characters are coming to the small screen, in fact. They include Riri Williams in Ironheart, a new Disney+ series centered on the teenage engineering genius and heir to Tony Stark. Played by Dominique Thorne, she will be the first Black female character to headline her own live-action MCU project. Orphan Black phenomenon Tatiana Maslany will officially be our live-action Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, in a series I desperately hope draws from Charles Soule’s and Javier Pulido’s stellar 2014 run. Hailee Steinfeld has been confirmed as Kate Bishop in the live-action Hawkeye series. And the next Doctor Strange sequel, In the Multiverse of Madness, will introduce America Chavez, the comics’ first lesbian Latina hero.
A lot of these projects represent overdue strides forward in representation, seemingly signaling a new, more inclusive era in today’s two biggest blockbuster franchises. (That’s if all these projects actually materialize, of course; Star Wars in particular has a track record of announcing buzzy new trilogies and spinoffs that never advance past their press releases.) The word “blockbuster” itself will likely mean something very different, very soon too. “80 percent” of the titles announced today will go straight to streaming on Disney+, said Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
All of this is to say that it’s a complicated time to be a Disney fan. There’s no shame in the joyful anticipation of these storytellers’ and universes’ next ideas. It’s just hard to forget all we’ve learned about who, exactly, profits most from them—and who gets to sleep in a Disney World parking lot, or catch COVID at work, or watch Turner & Hooch get rebooted before they’re granted the luxury of a $15 minimum wage.