Before The Mandalorian, there was another Star Wars TV show in the works: the fabled Underworld, which was in various stages of development for years before vanishing when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. Now, Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D Moore has discussed what it was like to work on the show, and explained that around 40-48 episodes had been completely written before George Lucas went off to figure out how to make it.
Moore told Collider that a team of writers, including some outside the US, met up at Skywalker Ranch every six to eight weeks with Lucas to break story ideas. Lucas would then offer feedback on the scripts before writers went off for another draft. "It didn’t happen ultimately, we wrote I’d say somewhere in the 40-something, 48 scripts, something like that… the theory was George wanted to write all the scripts and get ‘em all done and then he was gonna go off and figure out how to produce them, because he wanted to do a lot of cutting edge technological stuff with CG and virtual sets and so on. And so he had a whole new thing he wanted to accomplish."
Lucas ultimately ended up selling Lucasfilm "a year or something after" the writing was complete, according to Moore.
Lucas instructed the writers to be ambitious with how they work.
"It was an extraordinary undertaking for someone to do. I don’t know anyone else that would really take that on… At the time, George just said ‘write them as big as you want, and we’ll figure it out later.’ So we really had no [budget] constraints. We were all experienced television and feature writers, so we all kind of new what was theoretically possible on a production budget." The show was heavy on action and big set pieces, way outside of the league of TV at the time.
Sadly, it wasn't to be, but it's not impossible it could resurface down the line as Disney tries to get the most out of the Star Wars universe. Underworld was due to be set between Episodes III and IV.
The Mandalorian does indeed pioneer one thing that Lucas was particularly interested in: virtual sets. The various locations in the show are brought to life in Unreal Engine, rather than via on-location shoots. The series still isn't cheap to make, though: a THR report says The Mandalorian costs $15 million an episode. That would've been astronomical 10 years ago, around the time Underworld was still in the works.
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What happened to Star Wars Underworld?
Test footage for Star Wars Underworld was discovered a few months ago, and gave a flavor of what to expect (what if Star Wars had Blade Runner cars and suicide bombers?).
After Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the idea of revisiting Star Wars Underworld was at least explored. Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy said in 2015 that they still had the scripts, and that "[they’ve] spent a lot of time, reading through the material that he developed is something we very much would like to explore". Nothing much has really been said about it in the meantime.
This was long before Disney Plus, though, which has instead favored shorter eight or ten-episode bursts of Star Wars-themed TV shows rather than longer seasons. US TV itself, too, has moved further away from 22-episode seasons in the meantime.
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