Disney / Dabe Alan

Disney owns Star Wars? Turn down the snark, and let’s celebrate!

Disney owns Star Wars? Turn down the snark, and let’s celebrate!

Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion yesterday and, while Bob Iger repeated that they were mostly interested in Star Wars in the acquisition, Disney purchased a whole mess of great stuff to go along with the galaxy far far away. They now own Industrial Light and Magic, not to mention Skywalker Sound. They own the Indiana Jones franchise. They own the gaming divisions.

Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that Disney was conservative in its valuation of the Lucasfilm’s worth, and it’s clear they underpaid for the property. This is the sort of deal that wouldn’t have worked in any other circumstance, but George Lucas is the sole shareholder in Lucasfilm. That means he had no board to make happy, and no one’s wallet he had to plump during the deal. He found a company that offered a reasonable sum, and sold the entire thing, washing his hands of the business of Star Wars and everything that goes along with it.

This is the best possible thing that could happen for Star Wars fans.

Why this is great news

Lucas seemed to have become disillusioned by the movie business, and especially Star Wars. The prequel films were uneven, to be kind, and they lacked much of the magic that made us fall in love with this world and the characters that inhabit it. Keep in mind George Lucas was responsible for the wonderful original trilogy, which remain a powerful series of films. He’s not untalented, but as the worth of Star Wars grew, so grew his ability to control everything about their production.

Disney has a treatment for Episode 7, which is scheduled to be released in 2015, and the film is in pre-production. It was also stated that Lucas intended to retire after the conclusion of this deal, so it’s unlikely that he’ll write, produce, or direct any of the films. They’re in Disney’s hands now, and remember that this is the company that put Joss Whedon at the helm of The Avengers. That film may be one of the best superhero movies ever made, and it also made buckets of money for everyone involved. Many people cried foul when Disney bought Marvel, but I’d argue that acquisition strengthened both brands.

I’ve often thought that when George Lucas passed, and I’m not wishing any harm on the man, it would be interesting to see what other people could do with the world he had created. It’s something of a gift for the man to hand over his world, bow out of the picture gracefully, and see where Disney can take the films. We know that they plan to make a Star Wars film every two years, and that’s a fine schedule; the world of Star Wars has more than enough characters and worlds to maintain that pace without repeating itself.

These films could be terrible, but the fun part of this game is that we’re not putting up any money until we decide to see them. We have nothing to lose by Disney making more Star Wars films, and it’s not like they can get any worse. We can actually hope, for the first time in a long time, that Star Wars may become a vital, compelling experience in film once again.

The Empire Strikes Back was the best Star Wars film, and that was the movie that had the least amount of influence from Lucas. The first version of the script was written by Leigh Brackett, before Lawrence Kasdan re-wrote the project, based on Lucas’ broad vision. Irvin Kershner directed, and the famous “I know” line was an ad-lib by Harrison Ford. It’s a dark, brooding film that remains powerful today. When Lucas lets other people play in his sandbox, wonderful things can happen.

We can all point to wonderful pieces of Star Wars fiction. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn was a fun read. The Knights of the Old Republic games were amazing. The Clone Wars television show is very good. Star Wars has been treated well in books, comics, video games, television… everywhere but the films made by Lucas himself. He’s going to serve as a “consultant” on basic development, according to Bob Iger, but that will be the extent of his work on the franchise. It seems largely ornamental, and that’s the best for everyone.

The interesting bit is that George Lucas will still benefit from the power of Star Wars, as half of the deal was Disney stock. Lucas now owns around 2.2 percent of Disney. For comparison’s sake, Steve Jobs owned around 7.7 percent of Disney at the time of his death. Lucas is now one of the largest individual Disney shareholders, although it has been stated that he won’t have an active role in the company.

The downside here is the video game business. “We’re likely to focus more on social and mobile than console,” Disney executives told investors. They’re interested in licensing the propert, but they likely won’t be publishing console games. Disney now owns well-loved but decidedly niche properties like Grim Fandango. It’s unlikely that they’ll be willing to sell that IP, and it’s even less likely that they’re going to do anything with it. I stated on Twitter that this was the worst case scenario for those properties, but Tim Schafer himself corrected me.

“Worst case scenario for me is that somebody else does something with them instead of me,” he said. “I’d rather nothing happened!” Indeed.

This is an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan

“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” Lucas said in a statement. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.”

The possibilities are limitless. Lucas used to claim that it was impossible to re-release the original films, but I’ve written in the past about why that claim is horse shit. Disney now has the technology and access to the original prints needed to releast a pristine Blu-ray version of the original films, which has been something of a holy grail for Star Wars fans. Top-shelf talent could be brought in to write, direct, and star in Star Wars films moving forward. Attractions can be expanded or created in Disney theme parks.

This is all good news, and if the result is sub-par content, fans lose nothing. What we have now is hope, and that’s a wonderful thing for Disney to have brought to the Star Wars name.