The Walt Disney Company sent the collective movie world on tilt today with the news that Disney will be purchasing LucasFilm Ltd for approximately $4 billion. The sale includes everything under the LucasFilm Ltd umbrella including the LucasFilm film unit, LucasArts video game unit, effects house Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, and most prominent among them–the rights to the entire Star Wars universe. Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the whole deal is that Disney is kicking the tires on Star Wars: Episode 7 and is targeting a 2015 release with potentially more episodes to come.
Needless to say, this is some huge news that is already prompting a lot talk, buzz, and speculation about everything under the collective sun at Disney and especially the future of the Star Wars franchise.
Disney: Buying vs Creating
From a financial and business standpoint the purchase of LucasFilm makes perfect sense for Disney. They get to add another recognizable and family friendly name brand to their already large stable of family friendly name brand characters. The tactic of acquiring other name brands has served Disney well in the past 6 years. After a ten year relationship with Pixar dating back to the first Toy Story, Disney acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion in stocks. Then in 2009 Disney announced that they would be acquiring Marvel Entertainment in a deal for $4.24 billion which would bring Marvel’s character’s into the Disney fold and gave birth to this year’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers. Now, three years later Disney has done it yet again and on similar terms with their acquisition of LucasFilm.
Over the past six years Disney has positioned themselves as THE center for lucrative family entertainment. In this time there definitely has been a shift at Disney from content creation to acquisition and becoming a repository for similar properties. Yes at the end of the day all these decisions are about how these properties will make the company money, but what does this say about the company itself?
Walt Disney was long gone by the time I was born, but I grew up watching the classics like Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella and then experienced the second golden age of Disney animation with great films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Lion King. After that last run though, things definitely take a different turn. As I got older it seemed as though every Disney movie was getting direct to video sequels and you could start to tell that they weren’t coming out with as much quality original content as they had in the past.
I guess you could say that the company is just changing with the times and their acquisitions over the past six years only reflect this change. In fact, if you look at the current trends in Hollywood right now where sequels, adaptions, remakes, and reboots are all the norm . . . acquiring the rights to Star Wars (ie: acquiring familiarity) totally makes sense. My biggest fear is that the next generation of kids/movie fans may not have anything to call their own if this current trend of rehashing and retelling stories from their parents’ past continues. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m down to see another Star Wars movie as much as the next person, but I’ve grown up in a world where the Original Trilogy meant something. I don’t think that could be said of those who grew up in a world where Jar Jar and angsty Anakin could have been their first introduction to the Star Wars universe.
What Comes Next For Disney, Star Wars, and Everything Else?
With today’s news comes a ton of questions, not just about the proposed film, but about how all of Disney’s properties could potentially intermingle with one another and the partnerships and creative projects that could be created.
First and foremost is Episode 7 itself. With a projected target date of 2015 (assume a summer release), production would have to start towards the end of next year (at the latest) in order to make this date. Is there anything currently in development right now? Is there a script or even a screenplay at this point? What would it be about? From a production standpoint who would be involved?
One of the most interesting nuggets from today’s news announcement is that George Lucas will serve as “creative consultant” on Episode 7 which means that he most likely will not be directing and only give creative input into the film. With that said who will screen write the story if there already isn’t one? Who will direct the film? And gulp . . . who will star in it? These are all questions that are currently circulating, answers for which I don’t think we’ll get for at least another year. However, that’s not stopping the movie blogosphere from already suggesting recommendations.
I know many Star Wars fans were disenfranchised when the new trilogy came out and continuously still when Lucas again altered the Original Trilogy when they were released on blu-ray. With today’s news that Lucas will be relegated to a supportive role rather than grand master on upcoming films I think is the reason why there is a lot of renewed interest and hope that Star Wars can be good again. Our first recommendation . . . friend of the blog and local screenwriter Brian Watanabe should be in the writer’s room on Episode 7, 8, or 9. After all, he did give some pretty good ways to remake the the prequels that made for some pretty good drama. With new Star Wars films a certainty, the question now will be: Will they be better than the prequels?
Sort of the next tier I guess is how this latest Star Wars film and the franchise itself will affect Hollywood. Star Wars has influenced so many filmmakers working today that who knows how many will jump at the chance to not just work on this film or any of the future films in the pipeline, or how many will make pitches to Disney for potential projects now that George Lucas is not controlling the reigns. Who knows, maybe Indiana Jones could come back for another tour. Granted, some of this this is all pie in the sky at this point, but when you live in a world where creative access to Star Wars and other Lucas related properties maybe viable, you can’t help but be excited by the possibilities.
Then comes the potential across the Disney landscape and the potential for cross collaboration, crossovers, and synergy between these Disney properties and creative units. Probably the first thing that jumps out with fanboys is that theoretically Pixar Animation could do an animated movie set within the Star Wars universe. With their track record for great storytelling and a focus on characters this could be a great project. However, this is what everyone said three years ago when Disney acquired Marvel . . . a Marvel movie done by Pixar, that’d be great! Three years later though we’re no closer to seeing the beginnings of this than when we were back then. And don’t even get me started on Marvel or Star Wars characters crossing over. I don’t think the universes should mix at all. However, the long talked about Star Wars TV show could get some life breathed into it seeing as how Disney owns ABC as well as a slew of other different TV channels. Only time will tell if any of this comes to fruition.
My (New) Hope . . .
In the grand scheme of things, I think Disney could possibly be the right place for the Star Wars franchise. There are some circumstantial numbers out there to prove it. If there is one thing Disney is smart about these days, they know how to foster success; you only have to take a look at their previous two high profile acquisitions to see that. With both Pixar and Marvel, both of those divisions have retained their internal structure and autonomy from when they were acquired. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? With the internal development process that goes on at Pixar, it could have been a disaster if Disney chose to fully integrate them into the Disney brand. Same goes with Marvel. They seem to have a pretty good formula going as they craft and produce the Avengers line of films. The way Marvel vets stories and personnel seems genius in this post-Avengers world.
And I hope the same goes for LucasFilm and Star Wars. I hope that Disney takes what they’ve learned and gained from their previous acquisitions and applies that same management style to their latest. If they can do that, then I think that galaxy far far away will be just fine.