The career rise of 'Star Wars' boss Kathleen Kennedy, who was hand-picked by George Lucas to take over the mega-franchise

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  • Kathleen Kennedy has produced some of the most beloved movies ever made, from "E.T." to "Jurassic Park."

  • She's now the head of Lucasfilm, the Disney-owned studio in charge of "Star Wars."

  • Here's how she got her start in film and how she's steered the "Star Wars" franchise.

Kathleen Kennedy, 69, decided she wanted to enter the film industry after seeing Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1977, according to Vanity Fair.

close encounters of the third kind
Columbia Pictures

Source: Vanity Fair

Kennedy got her first movie production job as an assistant to producer John Milius on Spielberg's "1941."

john milius
Milius.Michael Kovac/Getty Images for myCinema

Source: Vanity Fair

She impressed Spielberg so much that he hired her as his own assistant when he directed "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "Star Wars" creator George Lucas was a producer on the movie.

spielberg, kennedy, lucas
Spielberg, Kennedy, and Lucas at the 2022 Producers Guild Awards.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Source: Vanity Fair

Kennedy met Frank Marshall on the set of "Raiders," which he was producing. They later married in 1987, six years after the release of the movie.

kathleen kennedy
Kennedy and Marshall.Getty Images

Source: Vanity Fair

Kennedy, Marshall, and Spielberg founded Amblin Entertainment in 1981. It was behind some of the most beloved movies ever made, including "E.T.," "The Goonies," and "Back to the Future." Today, it's the film production banner of the larger Amblin Partners, which was formed in 2015.

spielberg and kennedy
Spielberg and Kennedy at the UK premiere of "War Horse."Tim Whitby/Getty Images

Source: Amblin "About" page

In 1991, Kennedy and Marshall founded The Kennedy/Marshall production company, which has been behind Spielberg films such as "War Horse" and "Lincoln," M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense," and David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

marshall and kennedy
Marshall and Kennedy at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" in 2019.Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Source: The company's "About Us" page

As a producer, Kennedy has been nominated for eight best-picture Oscars for "E.T.," "The Color Purple," "The Sixth Sense," "Seabiscuit," "Munich," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "War Horse," and "Lincoln."

kathleen kennedy
Kennedy at the Oscars nominees luncheon in 2011.Steve Granitz/WireImage

Source: IMDb

While she has yet to win a competitive Oscar, Kennedy received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 2018 along with Marshall, which is voted on by the Oscars' Board of Governors and honors "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."

kathleen kennedy oscars
Kennedy accepting the award in 2018.Kevin Winter/Getty Images


She's credited as a producer on five of the top 40 highest-grossing movies of all time at the worldwide box office (before adjusting for inflation), including four "Star Wars" movies and "Jurassic Park."

jurassic park
"Jurassic Park"Universal

Source: Box Office Mojo

In June 2012, Kennedy stepped down from Kennedy/Marshall to serve as co-chair of George Lucas' production company Lucasfilm alongside Lucas. He had handpicked her as his successor.

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Kennedy and Lucas.Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for Disney

Source: Deadline

Later that year, in October 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion and Kennedy was named president.

kathleen kennedy and bob iger
Former Disney CEO Bob Iger and Kennedy at the premiere of "Rogue One" in 2016.Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Source: The Walt Disney Company

Under Kennedy (and Disney), the "Star Wars" franchise has spawned five movies, four of which made over $1 billion in global ticket sales, and several TV shows for the Disney+ streaming service.

jj abrams kathleen kennedy
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" director JJ Abrams and Kennedy.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Her tenure hasn't been without its hiccups, though. Behind-the-scenes production issues have reportedly plagued some of the "Star Wars" films.

kathleen kennedy and ron howard
Kennedy and "Solo" director Ron Howard at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images
  • Tony Gilroy was brought in for extensive reshoots on "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." He later said that the production was "in so much terrible, terrible trouble that all you could do was improve their position."

  • Chris Miller and Phil Lord were reportedly fired from "Solo: A Star Wars Story" late into production, and Ron Howard was brought in to finish the movie, and was ultimately credited as the film's director. Lord later said that their "approach was really different from [Lucasfilm's] … The gap was too big."

  • "The Force Awakens" director JJ Abrams was brought in to replace "The Rise of Skywalker's" original director Colin Trevorrow.

Kennedy told Rolling Stone in 2019 that "Star Wars" movies are a "hard nut to crack," when asked about Colin Trevorrow's exit.

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Abrams and Kennedy.Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

"There's no source material," Kennedy said. "We don't have comic books. We don't have 800-page novels. We don't have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be.

Another "Star Wars" theatrical release seems far away, as Disney has gone all in on TV shows for Disney+, like the upcoming "Rogue One" spinoff series, "Andor," which debuts in August.

kathleen kennedy andor

Kennedy confirmed to Vanity Fair in May that some "Star Wars" film projects have been put on the back burner, including a movie produced by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and a new trilogy from "The Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson.

Disney's original plan when it relaunched the franchise was to release a movie per year. But "Star Wars" movies were slowed down after the disappointing box-office results of "Solo" and the launch of Disney+.

Kennedy also implied that future movies would move away from the trilogy format, and said that the franchise is "much more about persistent storytelling."

Kennedy told Vanity Fair in May that the biggest lesson she learned from "Solo's" lackluster box-office performance was to not recast beloved characters.

"Solo: A Star Wars Story."Disney

"There should be moments along the way when you learn things," she said. "Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can't do that."

Up next for Lucasfilm are a fifth Indiana Jones movie slated for theaters for next year and more "Star Wars" series, including "Andor," "Ahsoka," and the third season of "The Mandalorian."

kathleen kennedy, george lucas, harrison ford
Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford, George Lucas, and Kennedy.Junko Kimura/Getty Images

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