Why Disney won't release Star Wars 1313

There once was a dream of a Star Wars game. Visually striking, both in its detailed environments and its fluid motion-captured animations. A perfect blend of adventure cinematics and scripted gameplay moments. Character-driven. Set in a corner of the universe familiar to most fans, yet rarely ever explored. It was Star Wars 1313. It was not to be.

Star Wars 1313 has become something of a cult legend among fans, a game that looked absolutely incredible, and one we never got to play. Very little of the game was ever actually shown, yet the few glimpses that LucasArts released were enough to get both the gaming and Star Wars communities hyped. Clearly, there was a lot of interest in the title — and interest means money.

And yet, Disney — no stranger to money or the acquisition of it — cancelled the game when they purchased the Lucas Empire, and have barely spoken of it since. At this point, it's become clear that Disney will never release Star Wars 1313, no matter how much audiences want it. While that seems insane at first glance, a deeper dive reveals that 1313 was the victim of a broader strategy in which it simply didn't fit. Whatever else you may call it, the world's dominant entertainment company isn't dumb. They know exactly what Star Wars 1313 represents…and why that means they can never release it.

Disney isn't in the gaming business anymore

Disney shocked the entertainment world when they purchased Lucasfilm (and its subsidiaries) in 2012 — and then shocked it again when they shut down Lucas' video game division, LucasArts. Given the $4 billion purchase price, it seemed crazy to axe such a major part of the Lucas business. Besides, wouldn't the acquisition of such a storied and veteran game developer help out with the rest of Disney's gaming business?

But "the rest of Disney's gaming business" was already shrinking. Just weeks before the LucasArts shutdown, Epic Mickey­ developer Junction Point was also given the pink slip. A few years later, the company's hybrid toy-game product Disney Infinity was shuttered. In May 2016, Disney completed the bloodbath by shuttering its own video game division, Disney Interactive. The House of Mickey, it seemed, had no faith in video games.

But how could that be? The games industry is thriving! And Disney owns some of the most franchise-friendly intellectual property ever! Why would they not want in on that? As always, money talks, and in this case, it was talking gibberish. Between 2008 and 2013, Disney Interactive lost a staggering $1.41 billion. Despite the success of gaming as a whole, that success wasn't translating over to the Burbank entertainment behemoth, for whatever reason. Rather than spend more money trying to plug a sinking ship, Mickey Mouse instead grabbed a lifeboat and got off altogether. Disney now licenses all their gaming products.

EA is the sole licensee for Star Wars games

In terms of licensing their Star Wars games, Disney made it simple: Electronic Arts makes them. EA locked Disney into a multi-year deal to exclusively produce games based on the franchise. Exactly how long? Well … "multi-year." That's what the press release said. Nobody actually knows how long that is. This contract was signed in 2013, so who knows? EA could lose the license tomorrow. Or hold onto it for another five years.

But as long as EA is the official maker of Star Wars games, they'll want to make their own games that they own (within the bounds of the license, at least). That means developing new titles with their own internal teams, on their proprietary Frostbite Engine. EA doesn't have much incentive for salvaging a title half-developed by a different team on another engine. 

It's true that EA resurrected the Battlefront franchise, which was formerly a LucasArts property. But they made it their own by giving it to celebrated shooter developer DICE (whose Battlefield series inspired the old Battlefront games in the first place). The franchise reboot was created from scratch.

By contrast, 1313 had already been in development for some while. Rather than try to own somebody else's effort, EA would be better off making their own game in the same tone and style. Something adventurous and exciting, with a cinematic flair. And it just so happens, they did! 

But that didn't work either.

Even EA can't get this kind of game made

With its third-person perspective, cinematic sensibilities, and scripted spectacles, Star Wars 1313 clearly derived influence from one gaming franchise in particular: Naughty Dog's Uncharted. This series redefined the camerawork, animation, and acting standards across the industry. And hey: Uncharted's main inspiration was another Lucas property, Indiana Jones. The Uncharted style and the Star Wars brand seemed made for each other.

So when EA took over the gaming license for the galaxy far, far away, they saw the potential for what 1313 represented. And they liked what they saw! So much so that they began their own Uncharted-style project, headed by no less than Uncharted's creator, Amy Hennig. The project was set up at EA's revered Visceral Games studio, which had crafted horror masterpieces with their Dead Space series. A beloved IP, a great studio, a veteran director, and an adventure-cinema vibe: this project had everything that 1313 once did, and more.

And yet, it was a disaster. In late 2017, EA not only cancelled the Star Wars project, but shut down Visceral Games entirely. While the development has technically been relocated to EA's studio in Vancouver, this is a brand-new project starting from scratch. In other words, even Amy Hennig couldn't make an Uncharted-style Star Wars game, at least not at EA. That leaves 1313 itself with basically no chance at all of getting picked up.

By now, whatever work had been done is outdated

A fair bit of work had already been done on Star Wars 1313 when the Disney banhammer came swinging. Besides a treasure trove of great concept art, the E3 demo showed that at least a decent amount of technical work had been completed as well (though as we all know, E3 demos aren't always indicative of the finished product). This isn't a minor detail: a lot of money had been poured into 1313 already.

And yet, all that effort is years-old by now. Unreal Engine 3 powered 1313, which was a great engine in its day. But its day has long since passed. Unreal Engine 4 has been in the wild for several years now, and its raw technical prowess puts its venerable predecessor to shame. Meanwhile, the games industry is constantly adapting and evolving in terms of UI, design, features, and overall expectations. Even if 1313 was absolutely cutting-edge in 2013, by now it would be dulled and rusted.

So once again, a Star Wars game-maker would be better served by starting a new project from scratch. At the moment, this is EA Vancouver; Respawn Entertainment also has a Star Wars game in the works, but we know this isn't 313. The window for salvaging an abandoned product has simply passed.

Disney wanted to get out of prequel territory, pronto

In case you've been living in a cave on Dagobah for the last twenty years, here's a quick lesson: people generally don't like the Star Wars prequels. They were glossy where the originals were raw, digital where the originals were practical, and, honestly, poorly written and badly acted where the originals were iconic in every way. 

Disney was well aware of this when they purchased Lucasfilm, and ever since, they've made it their mission to make people forget the prequels happened. First, they canceled the excellent animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This was a fantastic show, and no one doubted its quality; in fact, Disney immediately put the creators to work on a new series, Star Wars: Rebels. When does Rebels take place? Just before the original films, bringing audiences out of the prequel head-space. Since then, very little Star Wars material gone anywhere near the prequels. Even the new films aggressively draw influence from the original trilogy.

We eventually learned Star Wars 1313 would be Boba Fett's origin story, i.e., his journey from young clone into legendary bounty hunter. But that timeframe would've set the game squarely in prequel territory, where Disney is loath to tread. True, Star Wars: Battlefront II released in 2017 with some prequel settings and characters, but this wasn't a narrative game, and was 'covered' by original and new trilogy material as well. 1313 was stuck in the wrong time, with no way out.

Just because it looked great doesn't mean it was

The hype around Star Wars 1313 was understandable: who wouldn't want a gorgeous Star Wars game with an adventure vibe? But what fans lament now is the game we all wished we had gotten, not the actual game in production. Nobody knows what 1313 really felt like to play. Was it really as good as something like Uncharted, or was it a cheap knock-off meant to cash in on Uncharted's success?

While we'll never know, a look at LucasArts' final years isn't actually encouraging. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed came out in 2008 to middling reviews, and its sequel in 2010 did even worse. In 2009, LucasArts released a game based on the popular Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, called Republic Heroes, but this was panned across the board. And let us never forget the horror that was Kinect Star Wars.

Actually, on second thought, let's definitely forget it.

LucasArts was once one of the premier game developers in the world, but the glory days of Guybrush Threepwood were already long gone by the time 1313 got cancelled. Given the company's latter-day track record, it's entirely plausible that 1313 would have ended up being mediocre, yet another example of a good idea rushed to market with the Star Wars name slapped on top of it. Disney may well have suspected as much, and moved to bury the project rather than ever salvage it.

Disney gave up the trademark

If you really want to know Disney's thinking, follow the money. The Mouse House uses a strong roster of IPs to produce diamonds from a variety of media, merchandise, and licensing, not to mention a theme park ride or two. Their franchises are their golden gooses. So if Disney isn't protecting one, then they have no intention of ever releasing it into the wild.

In December of 2013, Disney allowed the Star Wars 1313 trademark to lapse. There's absolutely no way that Mickey and his lawyers would've allowed this to happen unless they'd abandoned the project entirely. While there are ways for Disney to reactivate this trademark in the future, the fact that it's remained defunct for all these years shows the level of the company's apathy. If there was any hope that Disney might want to return to the project in the future, then they would've kept the trademark alive.

Plans can change, and maybe one day Disney will reactivate the mark. But right now, Disney doesn't even foresee that possibility, let alone have any distinct plans to do so.

Pieces of Star Wars 1313 have gone into other projects

Star Wars 1313 isn't the only amazing franchise idea that never made it to daylight. Once upon a time, George Lucas spent a good chunk of time and money fleshing out a live-action television series called Star Wars: Underground. A number of top-tier writers from across different media all converged on this project, and a good many scripts were produced. For reasons unknown, but likely to do with prohibitive costs, the series was never made.

But that doesn't mean the work went nowhere. In an interview with SlashFilm, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy stated that the company has "spent a lot of time reading through the material," which implies that the best bits of the show can serve as inspiration towards future, new projects. In the same breath, she mentions 1313. The game is another cancelled work from which they hope to draw inspiration.

As of this writing, Disney is hard at work on a live-action series, but by all indications, this will be a brand new idea and not Underground. Even still, Underground will live on as the kernel for other, new ideas, possibly even within the new show. Star Wars 1313 ought to be looked at the same way: a seed from which new projects will grow, even though, like Underground, it will simply never exist itself.

Star Wars 1313 might no longer fit into the new canon

Star Wars spent thirty years creating books, comics, video games, and any other media it could get its hands on. That meant decades' worth of inconsistencies, retcons, and varying levels of "official" and "unofficial" mythology. So when Disney purchased the franchise, they made a bold decision: to jettison the entire Expanded Universe and start from scratch. Only the films and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series survived the purge.

This was not done callously. Lucasfilm's new Story Group wanted to move forward with a unified canon in which all Star Wars media conformed to the same mythology. To no one's surprise, this has meant a whole host of new books, new comics, and new video games, often recasting old favorites into the new system.

Star Wars 1313 was already well into development when the old Expanded Universe was shown the airlock. Though it took place within the chronology of the films (it was intended as a look at Boba Fett's early bounty hunting years), it probably made references to characters and events that are no longer an official part of Star Wars. A rescue operation here wouldn't be impossible, but a lot of work would have to be ditched and replaced to bring the story into line with the new, approved canon.

Star Wars 1313 represents an earlier era, and not just in terms of story

By this point, Star Wars 1313's very status as a cult legend makes it unattractive to Disney. Even today, the unreleased game is a relatively well-known product, which makes for a lot of expectations. Disney can handle expectations just fine (see: The Force Awakens). But 1313 is now saddled with the baggage of nostalgia and memory, of a time before a mouse ruled over Darth Vader, of an era when a Lucas ran Lucasfilm.

Disney has led Star Wars to enormous commercial success through a variety of media, but already, questions are brewing. Some critics worry about the Marvel-ization of the series, and a vocal contingent of fans aren't happy with the direction the films are taking. There's even a petition to bring George Lucas back to the fold. And that's not even getting into the many director firings.

If, by some miracle, 1313 were resurrected, completed, released, and then actually liked, this could actually blow up in Disney's face. It would 'prove' — to those who wanted it to — that Star Wars was better before Disney, that Lucas was the true force behind the Force. Why would Disney take the PR risk? They could just as easily make other games, or cherry-pick 1313's ideas and put them into other projects. Which is exactly what they're doing.

Which is why you'll never see Star Wars 1313.