Veteran Hollywood producer Kathleen Kennedy has been named co-chair of Lucasfilm Ltd., positioning her to succeed George Lucas atop the legendary San Francisco studio behind the"Star Wars" movies.
The move is part of a leadership transition plan as founder George Lucas, who launched the company in 1971, prepares to retire.
Lucas, 68, intends to remain chief executive and serve as co-chairman for at least one year, working alongside Kennedy as she assumes her new role.
"I've spent my life building Lucasfilm, and as I shift my focus into other directions I wanted to make sure it was in the hands of someone equipped to carry my vision into the future," Lucas said in a statement. "It was important that my successor not only be someone with great creative passion and proven leadership abilities, but also someone who loves movies."
Kennedy, 58, is a seven-time Academy Award nominee best known for her long partnership with Lucas' close friend and frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg.
"Kathy has been a member of both of our families going into a fourth decade so it does not feel like she is going to another galaxy far, far away," Spielberg said in a statement. "She will get just as much support from me with Lucasfilm as George has given both of us all these years."
In an interview, the producer said she had no hesitation about taking the job: "I thought it was an incredible opportunity for George to ask me to step into what has become such an incredible legacy that he has created over the years."
Kennedy produced the "Indiana Jones," "Jurassic Park" and "Bourne" series, as well as Spielberg's recent films "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin" and the upcoming biopic "Lincoln."
One of the biggest challenges in her new role will be to figure out how to run a company that, like Walt Disney Co. and Apple Inc., is so closely identified with its founder.
Although he has turned over daily operations to Chief Operating Officer Micheline Chau in recent years, Lucas has personally run the privately held company without assistance from experienced Hollywood hands.
Kennedy said it was too early to say what changes she might bring to Lucasfilm or what types of movies the studio would make.
"George and I have not had time to sit down and focus on the specifics," she said. "I'm certainly fortunate that he's not going anywhere."
Lucasfilm does not have any new live-action feature films in production. The studio is working on a 3-D conversion of five "Star Wars" films, the "Star Wars Detours" TV series and an untitled animated movie.
Lucasfilm's primary creative assets have been the hugely profitable "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" film and TV properties. In a rare effort to move beyond those franchises, the studio in February released the Lucas-directed "Red Tails," about a crew of African American pilots during World War II. The film had a soft landing, taking in less than $50 million at the domestic box office, but has been a top-selling DVD title.
Along with film and television production, Kennedy will oversee Lucasfilm's visual effects firm Industrial Light & Magic; audio post-production company Skywalker Sound; video games publisher LucasArts; and an animation unit, which is producing "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," a computer-generated half-hour television series on the Cartoon Network.
Also on Friday, the struggling LucasArts, which has not released a self-produced game in nearly two years, unveiled plans for a new title, "Star Wars 1313," set in the science-fiction universe's criminal underworld. It will be shown at the E3 industry conference next week but does not yet have a release date.
Kennedy, who plans to commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco, will step down from her role at Kennedy/Marshall Co., shifting responsibilities to her partner and husband, Frank Marshall.
"George and I have talked about the opportunities that lie ahead for the company, and as George moves toward retirement I am honored that he trusts me with taking care of the beloved film franchises," Kennedy said in a statement. "I feel fortunate to have George working by my side for the next year or two as I take on this role — it is nice to have Yoda by your side."