Thoughts on Kathleen Kennedy After Star Wars Celebration – The Importance of Culture

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” Peter Drucker once said. This last weekend, I was able to attend Star Wars Celebration and I believe that I saw this quote in action. Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, seems to have created a culture that has led to this time in history where it is absolutely awesome being a Star Wars fan.

This thought initially came to mind as I was watching the Lucasfilm Studio Panel at the outset of Star Wars Celebration on Thursday. It was remarkable to me how the various people on stage treated each other with love and respect. Jon Favreau came out and said how none of what is being experienced today in the Star Wars universe would be possible without Kennedy. Above the kind words that were said about colleagues, there were also unspoken things that told the same story.

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – MAY 26: (L-R) Kathleen Kennedy, President, Lucasfilm, Ewan McGregor, and Hayden Christensen attend the studio showcase panel at Star Wars Celebration for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in Anaheim, California on May 26, 2022. The series streams exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

The people on stage looked at each other affectionately. Watching them hug each other and interact with each other, it was clearly evident that these were groups of people who really do enjoy being around each other and working with each other. And it wasn’t just some people, it seemed to be everyone. And it wasn’t just laterally. The actors reciprocated with each other and their directors and producers. The directors and producers reciprocated with each other and also with the actors. Kathleen Kennedy was right in the mix of it all.

As the weekend continued on, I realized that this lovefest wasn’t just something that was compartmentalized to one part of Lucasfilm or to one panel. I kept seeing this pop up elsewhere throughout the weekend. It could be seen during the panel with Imagineers who worked with Lucasfilm on Star Tours. It could also be seen on stage at Star Wars Celebration Live!. This doesn’t even mention the panels about The Mandalorian or the 20th anniversary of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. This then translated to the fans and the energy of the entire Celebration.

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – MAY 26: Kathleen Kennedy, President, Lucasfilm, and Harrison Ford of the upcoming fifth installment of the “Indiana Jones” franchise honor composer John Williams on his 90th birthday at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California on May 26, 2022. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Days later, I’m still thinking about Star Wars Celebration and how one of my big takeaways from it was that the culture at Lucasfilm is something special. As I continue to think about it, I go back to that initial moment where the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast” popped into my mind. It was when John Williams’ 90th birthday was celebrated. There was an interaction that happened that was simply beautiful. I saw Kathleen Kennedy looking up at John Williams on the podium just as an adoring daughter would look up at her father. I saw Harrison Ford showing up and sharing his love to Williams as well. During these few minutes, I also saw James Mangold appear with a look of joy on his face as well.

It was at that moment that I realized that Kathleen Kennedy has done a phenomenal job of creating a culture at Lucasfilm. It is a culture that values people. It is a culture that brings people together for a common purpose of storytelling in the sandboxes that Lucasfilm has. Whether Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or even Willow, there is a shared vision of excellent storytelling that brings incredible talent together and sees them create some incredible content.

In a panel for The Mandalorian, it was said that everyone working on the series comes together to make it great and that there isn’t a hierarchy of who is more important. Everyone is valued and their contributions matter. This is culture.

Strategy is important but without culture, it goes nowhere. Culture brings buy-in and a common purpose. It also can lead to greatness. Looking at what is currently out from Lucasfilm (Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Mandalorian) and what is coming soon (Andor, Ahsoka, more of The Mandalorian, Willow, and Indiana Jones 5), it seems apparent that the culture of Lucasfilm is helping lead this company to greatness.

Culture generally reflects leadership. Culture is hard to cultivate. Culture is hard to maintain. The culture of Lucasfilm really is impressive and credit should be given to Kathleen Kennedy and her team. I did a quick search through Indeed on Lucasfilm. There were comments on pay, opportunities, on how Disney has changed things, but one common thread I anecdotally observed was that the culture is something that is considered a high point of working at Lucasfilm.

In this day and age, it seems to be increasingly easy to attack people that aren’t liked for whatever reason. Kathleen Kennedy seems to unfairly get a major brunt of this. However, as I look at where Lucasfilm has gone under her leadership, I see a company with a culture that is putting out some incredible content that I, and many other fans, absolutely love! I see an era of Star Wars where we regularly have something to look forward to that we know will be awesome. Does anyone else remember the late 80s/early 90s when it was thought that maybe there’d only be three Star Wars movies ever made? I see a company with incredible storytellers of all different types and backgrounds that love what they do and who they do it with.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and the culture that Kathleen Kennedy has built and continues to instill at Lucasfilm is one that I can only hope to emulate here at DAPS MAGIC. So thank you Kathleen Kennedy for making a culture where creativity can thrive. Thank you Kathleen Kennedy for recognizing and embracing the talent that has gotten Star Wars and these other properties to where they are today. This also means sometimes cutting loose very talented people and ideas that don’t fit with the culture, thank you for making those decisions as well.

There is no such thing as a perfect leader, however, a leader who recognizes the importance of culture and embraces it can rise above the others, and their organization will as well. This appears to be what has been happening since Kennedy took over the helm at Lucasfilm in 2012.

I have no first-hand knowledge of what the culture is like at Lucasfilm. I only have only observations that I made throughout the course of the weekend Star Wars Celebration, my own enjoyment of the content that is being put out by Lucasfilm in recent years, and a recognition of the importance of culture in an organization. However, what I see excites me and makes me think that it would be an incredible experience to get to be a part of Kathleen Kennedy’s team at Lucasfilm.

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One Response

  1. Beautifull said (and written). It’s what I hope continues to return to Disneyland as everyone heals from the trauma of the 18-month closure.

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