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Monday, November 5, 2012

Disney Buys Lucasfilm and Star Wars - What Does It All Mean?

Where do I start? How about a long, long time ago in a galaxy... NAH! Too cliché. As a challenge to myself (and a blessing to my readers) I am going to do my best to resist all urges to the typical silly Star Wars puns. Let's just get right down to it. A blockbuster deal went down, one that will change the Hollywood landscape as we know it. On October 30, a day that will go down in film infamy, George Lucas' sold Lucasfilm Ltd and all its assets to behemoth Disney Studios for a whopping $4 billion. The sale includes the premiere special effects house Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound. That is huge news. The announcement only gets bigger.  On top of all that, Disney also purchased the rights to the Star Wars franchise, they now own the universe that Lucas spent his life creating.  Now THAT is a huge deal.

This deal was a shock to both fans and industry insiders. No one could have anticipated this since Lucas' name has been synonymous with the Star Wars franchise for over three decades. Not only did he create the Star Wars universe, Lucas was the Star Wars universe; serving as its god, harboring total control of every decision for the films, the spin-off books, the merchandise, etc. To call him a micro-manager would be an understatement. That is why the final part of the announcement was so jaw dropping incredible – Disney planned to release another brand new Star Wars trilogy, a storyline that would continue the story after Return of the Jedi. After a prequel trilogy which was widely considered a disappointment by both critics and fans it had looked like we had seen the last original Star Wars films on the big screen. To say fans were letdown would be a gross understatement, many reviled them and Lucas' handling of the franchise in general. So why would anybody ever want to make more Star Wars films when it looked like the universe was on the decline? Oh wait, I forgot to mention, the prequel trilogy alone raked in an incredible 2.5 billion dollars worldwide (not adjusted for inflation.)  I repeat, fans spent $2.5 billion on films that they hated.  Imagine if they actually liked them.  Making a Star Wars film is like license to print money, that may have something to do with Disney's idea to make more films.

The plans are to release a new Star Wars film every 2 years starting in 2015. Few details have be announced as to just what the story will be, but it is confirmed it will be a continuation of the original trilogy story, hence the 3 films will be Episode VII, VIII and IX. The big question is, in what way will this be a continuation? The reports and speculation are conflicting.

What we do know:
  • Lucas will not write or direct – he will serve as creative consultant but plans to retire.
  • Lucas provided treatments for the entire trilogy.
  • The next three films will close out the saga.
  • Once this trilogy is complete, Disney will most likely produce additional Star Wars films that are not directly related to the original saga.
  • Disney has already started working with writers.
  • They will be drawing storylines in part from already published materials, most likely Timothy Zahn's “Thrawn Trilogy.”
  • Mark Hamill has been reached out to for some sort of on screen role, to what degree we do not know. It is rumored that numerous members of the original trilogy cast will make appearances if not star – most likely in cameos, but this is mostly speculation.

So who are the winners and who are the losers of this deal.  Here is my assessment of it all.

The Star Wars Franchise - WINNER - Remember when the first prequel was announced? It was one of the greatest announcements ever. Years before it even came out we knew we would see it and ted to love them - they were Star Wars films after all. Lucas would never do us wrong. After years of waiting we finally were able to get our opening day tickets, put our hair up like Princess Leia and sit down to watch them. From the opening scrolling text, where we first read some bullshit about the taxation of trade routes, something felt off.  As we sat there and watched an annoying little boy with a bad haircut and a obnoxious CGI abomination, we tried to like the film.  We walked out of the theater with the same reaction, Lucas used the film to sneak back in time and kill our youth.  Maybe we missed something, maybe we were all too tired that day.  A repeat viewing would improve the situation... and we saw it again. We tried to like it, we really did. But we didn't. Many of us lived in denial and had faith the second film would reignite that true love of the series. It didn't. Then we waited for that reaction from the third. Sure, it was awesome... I guess. After years of inner conflict the truth was something we would allow ourselves to accept. The prequels kind of sucked.

That bring us to today. After the prequel trilogy how much worse could it get? Disney is working with Lucas, they are also going to work with some of the brightest names in the industry to try to not screw these up. Rumors have already started as to who will direct, from Christopher Nolan to JJ Abrams to Joss Whedon. You can rest assured Disney will bring in someone with some skills, someone that will ignite the hopes of those fans turned away by the prequels.

To tell you the truth the problem is not only the prequels, the saga needs a proper conclusion. “Return of the Jedi” had many great moments, but it also had the Ewoks and the fact that all they could come up with for the big bad was ANOTHER Death Star was uninspired at best. I want resolution, not a teddy bears, a dance sequence and rehash.

If these stories truly do continue the story and don't simply try to extend it we could see a revitalization of a franchise that reached its peak about five seconds into “The Phantom Menace” and took a nosedive from there. We want love Star Wars again. If all goes right we will once more. If not, it is unlikely our distaste will grow.

The Fans - WINNERS - As I just said, it can't really get worse. The prequels are a punchline to jokes. The reaction to them goes from detested to tolerated. I do not know anyone that can straight out say they love the prequels, you kind of just accept them. So we will all go through this again. We will get excited about a new Star Wars film, we will see it and hopefully we will love it. And, if not, at least we will get to experience that kid like level of anticipation that is so much fun. They may be great, they may be terrible, at least we will have a chance for redemption. Let' call it a new hope.

The Star Wars Purists - LOSERS (for now) - The purists I speak of are those of us that want to see the original theatrical release of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi released on DVD/Blu-Ray. We do not want the Special Editions that came to theaters in the 90's or any of the countless renditions Lucas has delivered over the years. To them we say, “Nooooooooo.” We want the untouched theatrical versions. The bad news, 20th Century Fox owns the first six "Star Wars" films, at least until 2020 and the original movie, "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," is theirs forever. Unless Disney and 20th Century Fox can work out a deal original, unedited trilogy box set is not coming any time soon. The good news, when it finally does become available, it will probably be a letdown anyway.

Disney - WINNERS - Disney CEO Iger’s announcement of the Lucasfilm acquisition said this, “this transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including ‘Star Wars,’ one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney’s unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses, and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value.” In other words we are going to make a boatload of money. Early estimates are Disney will make about $31 billion off the acquisition. Not bad for a measly $4 billion investment.

The haters already hate Disney, buying Star Wars will not change that. There is a chance though that they could put out a great trilogy and earn some respect from the haters, even if they won't admit to it.

George Lucas - LOSER - I know what you are thinking, the guy made $4 billion on this deal, how can he be a loser? He made a beloved trilogy* of films and nothing can ever change that. But, the prequels are like his version of the asterisk next to the name of Barry Bonds in the record books, the achievement will always be tainted.

This is a no win situation for the guy.   If the new trilogy stinks fans will question selling the franchise rights to Disney, the studio that made the classic “John Carter.” If the films are great or even good fans will say that the reason for their success was the limited involvement of Lucas.

In my mind, Lucas' biggest mistake, besides making the prequels, was not hiring someone to help him write dialogue and co-direct. That cast can definitely act, but even a great actor cannot sell some of the terrible lines they were provided.  It has been revealed that Lucas is donating the money from the deal to charity, that is awesome. He is a good man, just one that needed to know how to ask for help.

*Sorry Lucas, the trilogy is beloved, but the most beloved is 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” which just happened to be directed by Irvin Kershner.

Indiana Jones Franchise - LOSER – If you want to throw some salt in George Lucas' wounds let's bring up “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” or worse yet just mention Shia Labeouf. Certainly Lucas would like to redeem himself for that dud, but the word is that the series is dead as we know it. Disney will now own the rights the franchise and supposedly there are several factors working again a final hurrah: Spielberg is done with the action genre, there is no script or even treatment in the works and Harrison Ford is 70 years old. Disney appears to be focused on Star Wars, if a Harrison Ford sequel to the Indy series would be made it would have to be soon, but nothing appears to be in the works. If you want my opinion (and I know you do) forget “Crystal Skull” and accept the “Last Crusade” as the close of the franchise – it may just be the best in the series.

Jar Jar Binks and the Ewoks - LOSERS - Just because.

Well I did it. I finished this extremely long article with out any Star Wars puns or goofy references. If you see me you can pat me on the back. Until then, enjoy this cool video that goes through all of the first six films. Warning, if you have not seen all of them this video is full of spoilers. Then again, I doubt you would read this far if you hadn't seen them all.

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