With the success of The Mandalorian, a new season of The Clone Wars coming to Disney+ in a few weeks, and news of a live-action Obi-Wan show hitting the same platform somewhere down the horizon, it can be hard to remember a time before Star Wars television seemed like a natural extension of the franchise. But in 2005, shortly after Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith hit theaters, the only small screen presence for the series was the old Holiday Special, a few forgotten children’s cartoons from the ‘80s, and the great, but concluded Clone Wars mini-series that would eventually inspire the 3D show we have now. That is, until news started circulating about a new live-action, adult-oriented show named Star Wars: Underworld.
Set in the lower layers of Coruscant between Episodes III and IV, George Lucas announced Star Wars: Underworld at Star Wars Celebration III in 2005. Described as “Deadwood in space,” the series was set to rotate around a new cast of characters, with the exception of the returning Boba Fett, and focus on the conflicts between the galaxy far far away’s criminal elements and ascendant Imperial control. News about the show’s release has circulated on a regular basis since, teasing fans with its possibilities, even after Disney bought the franchise. Personally, I even remember my local Indiana newspaper covering the series as far back as when I attended high school.
Unfortunately, this teasing never came to fruition, although Life on Mars creator and Underworld writing team member Matthew Graham told Den of Geek in 2016 that the show’s writers actually produced 50 scripts for the series. And apparently, just to add to the tease, these scripts also appropriately cinematic. For example, other writing team member Ronald D. Moore, of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica fame, told Inverse in 2017 that “[Lucas’] mandate on the scripts were: ‘Think big. Don’t have any worries. We’ll make it. Budget is no object.”
In 2010, George Lucas told IGN that the show’s budget had reached as high as $50 million per episode, bringing it to a “movie-of-the-week” format. Sounding unrealistic, though impressive, test footage for the show has now hit YouTube, giving viewers an idea of just what this lavishly produced series would have looked like.
Calling to mind elements of Blade Runner’s city mixed with the prop design of the Star Wars prequels and the busy backgrounds of the Special Editions, the clip focuses on a cloaked woman sneaking what looks to be Star Destroyer plans out from under the noses of patrolling stormtroopers. It’s actually been available in higher quality on Vimeo for 9 years now, though the YouTube reupload seems to have triggered renewed interest.
The test footage is certainly visually impressive, keeping up with modern contemporaries like Star Trek: Picard even a decade later, though it’s likely that this commitment to fidelity is what ultimately kept the show from coming to air. In the same IGN interview mentioned above, George Lucas spoke of the show’s projected $50 million-an-episode by saying “Obviously we can’t afford to do that, [but] I’m not going to compromise on the quality of it. So, we just have to keep working on the technology.”
Though we don’t know the official reason for the show being shelved, it’s likely that Lucas was never able to achieve that balance between budget and quality he wanted. Still, I do respect his willingness to trust his writers with such a theatrical format.
So, what do you think? Do you wish we got Star Wars: Underworld, or are you happy with The Mandalorian? And do you think we might eventually see elements of Underworld work their way into modern Star Wars? After all, according to God of War’s Cory Balrog, who got to read the completed scripts at one point, a central Underworld plotline would have apparently focused on Palpatine and his close, but toxic relationship with an as-yet-unknown gangster woman.
Could she be Rey’s Grandma?