First Pixar, then Marvel, now the maw of the Mouse House has swallowed Lucasfilm. This single-minded consumption was done for one reason alone, and it isn’t to deliver unto the world the remake of “Radioland Murders” that we’ve all been desperately crying out for.
“Star Wars”. For the tidy sum of $4 billion, Disney bought some highly capable arms with ILM & Skywalker Sound, a tight bottom with the “Indiana Jones” franchise, a familiar face with Lucasfilm branding, a cute beauty spot named “Willow,” and even some dirt under the fingernails shaped like “Howard the Duck”. Doesn’t matter though, like a horny teenage boy all they care about are the tits and these ones sound like James Earl Jones.
It has been less than 24 hours since the announcement hit, and even now many unanswered questions are swirling as to how this will all fall out. One thing is for certain though, Disney’s aggressive plans to reform and refine its brand just got a massive boost.
If you’ll recall, the studio has struggled to launch live-action franchises of its own in recent years, resulting in both under performers (“Tron: Legacy”) and outright disasters (“John Carter”).
Now though their slate in coming years will include 1-2 Marvel films per year, 2-3 animated films per year, a “Star Wars” film every other year, profitable existing franchises like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and the odd film based on a property they own (including the upcoming “Maleficent” and “Saving Mr. Banks”). Their mandate to shrink their film slate until its dominated by profitable, fully owned, brand-driven tentpoles looks almost complete.
At the time of the Marvel deal, many scoffed at Disney for paying an exorbitant amount of money. These days though, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think of that as one of the company’s most shrewd business moves. With this comparable deal, it comes as no shock that the acquisition of Lucasfilm has been met with far more enthusiasm from the business world. For the studio there’s also side benefits being able to shift much of their expensive visual effects and post-production work in-house and save themselves a bunch of money in the process.
Yet it all comes back to “Star Wars” and its future. In the hands of Lucas, a big-budget sequel trilogy directed only by him is the best we could’ve expected. In the hands of Disney however, a trilogy is just the start of where this property could go. The most obvious scenario is akin to Marvel with several simultaneous franchises – both big screen and small – exploring different parts and times within the “Star Wars” universe.
While a highly popular brand with kids, at least one generation’s idolatry of this series has been reduced by the prequels. What’s most exciting about all this is that not only does this deal open up Lucas’ sand box for other filmmakers to play in, but Lucas himself is essentially out of the mix. He may still around in an advisory capacity, but the decisions ultimately rest in Kathleen Kennedy’s highly capable hands now. Going forward, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn and Disney CEO Bob Iger will have much more say on the final outcome of what will happen to this franchise than Lucas will.
This means that some of the best writers and directors out there in the world of cinema can have a go and bloggers have already drawn up dream lists that include names like Chris Nolan, Peter Jackson, Matthew Vaughn, Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones, Edgar Wright, and of course Steven Spielberg. It’s all wishful thinking right now.
Others are speculating about what stories we’ll see, but again this is purely speculative. Sorry to those clamouring to see the Yuuzhan Vong War adapted, but film versions of the expanded universe books or games are extremely unlikely anytime in the near future. This sequel trilogy is where all the focus will be initially and Lucas himself has already developed his own extensive story line.
That in itself brings up questions – how far after “Return of the Jedi” will this be set? Will Luke, Han, Leia and the like be back and if so will the roles be recast or will this feature the original actors and fresh faces playing their offspring? Or will it be set centuries down the line and thus give those involved a clean slate?
More immediate questions linger over issues regarding this deal. Despite George Lucas’ 100% ownership of Lucasfilm, there are rights issues with the existing works that could create problems for the studio. From Fox owning the original 1977 “Star Wars” in perpetuity and the other five films until 2020, to Paramount who have partial rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise including any potential fifth one.
The latter is probably why Disney execs specifically pointed out there’s no plans for a fifth “Indiana Jones” film at this time. The solution to both problems will likely be similar to what Disney did for “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” – pay the rival studio a hefty fee to pick up those lingering rights. One shouldn’t expect a fifth “Indiana Jones” announcement (or a Blu-ray re-release of the original ‘Wars’ trilogy) until this happens.
Fox is still planning on distributing the 3D re-releases of Episodes II & III next year. In spite of its hold on the original films, the characters and settings within “Star Wars” canon are owned by Disney now so there’s no creative restrictions on where they can take the franchise. I guess the real question is, where do you want it to go?