Unless you were buried under a pile of candy corn, you know that, on Tuesday, October 30, Disney bought Lucasfilm Ltd; the owners of famed special effects company Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound and movie licenses such as Indiana Jones, Willow, Howard the Duck and Star Wars for a reported price of just over $4 billion. The press release by Disney stated that Episode VII of Star Wars would arrive sometime in 2015 (stab in the dark: Memorial Day Weekend, just like every other Star Wars movie) with Episodes VIII and IX to follow in 2-3 year intervals. Lucas has stated that he will take the proceeds of his sale to fund education promotion endeavors through either current or new foundations.
It tells you how everything happened that people’s first reaction was one of shock and incredulity. When you have to tell people that it’s not a joke, well, it kind of says it all. The idea that Lucas, one of film’s most notorious independent owners would sell the property that made him rich and wealthy seemed crazy. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After the commercial-success but critical-failure that were the Prequels, Star Wars had become primarily a video game and animated TV show property. Some had been impressive – the Bioware-made “Knights of the Old Republic” video games and the “Clone Wars” animated series – while others have been less so – the long-rumored Star Wars live-action TV series that never happened. There’s something to be said about how maybe Lucas had taken his creations as far as he could and it was time to pass them on.
The natural inclination is to fear Disney’s massive hand and how it’ll “Disney-fy” the Classic Trilogy. Will we see Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca in “Kingdoms Hearts 3”? Will there be a new Ewoks television series? Is Princess Leia now a Disney princess, partnering up with Ariel and Jasmine to help Cinderella in some fashion show? Will they go back and redo the entire Prequel Trilogy? The possibilities are endlessly hilarious/horrendous!
Unfortunately for any doomsday predictors, Disney hasn’t proven to be a meddler where it comes to the companies it has bought and the properties that fell within it. The previous big buy? Marvel Comics for $4 billion. Not only isn’t the Marvel Universe not rebooting again (*cough*New52*cough*) but they have also stayed clear of Marvel Pictures and their movies. End result? The Avengers makes a ton of money while every Marvel fanboy laughs at the continued failures of DC’s Justice League movie to get off the ground.
What about the purchase before that? That would be the massive Pixar purchase for something like $7 billion. Now, you could say that, since Pixar was already in bed with Disney, making this deal was obvious. Notice, however, that Disney hasn’t told Pixar to start making cheap straight-to-DVD versions of their movies. They’ve accepted that Pixar will make movies like Brave, Ratatouille and Up and don’t appear to get in their way – even when they’re making Cars 2. In short , it appears that Disney doesn’t get in the way; as long as the profits keep rolling in.
Rumors have already begun to float that the creative team Disney has tapped to bring this next trilogy to life will be “Lost” writer Damon Lindelof and The Incredibles/Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird. If this is true, that’s a smart pair for them to go with. Bird has shown both the eye for action and a capacity to tell stories with heart. Lindelof knows how to create epic stories.
And that’s part of the advantage that now befalls not just Star Wars, but Indiana Jones and the other Lucasfilm properties as well. These franchises can be turned over to all sorts of creators who can play in the sandboxes that George Lucas created. They are wide open to be explored – in movies, TV, video games and other media. And you know that Disney will be exploring every option to their new properties.
But consider turning Star Wars over to Peter Jackson for a trilogy and letting him bring in Guillermo Del Toro and Neill Blomkamp to direct a movie with him. Go ask Joss Whedon to bring all his geek-beloved ideas in to Star Wars. Or try asking Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Jon Favreau or Quentin Tarantino to direct an Indiana Jones movie – turning the archeologist’s movie series into a modern, PG-13 American James Bond (a call back to one of its sources). The possibilities on the big screen become endless.
One possibility that I hope doesn’t come true is direct adaptations of the Star Wars Extended Universe of comic books and novels. Not that I don’t like them but that I think that those stories are already well and truly told. I’d rather we get new stuff, new ideas, new characters and new options. Besides, most of the Extended Universe plays like repeats of the Classic Trilogy – Dark Lords of the Sith, planet-destroying super weapons, a Skywalker saves the day. I want new and different.
For many fans, the untouched Classic Trilogy is all they wanted and all they care to have. I don’t begrudge them this. On the contrary, it’s important to recognize that there will always be fans who have comfortably checked out of Star Wars and care not for any other, newer, different version of Star Wars. For many teenagers, Star Wars is the Prequels or the videogames from Bioware. For many kids, it’s the Clone Wars animated show they catch on Cartoon Network. When a property is that big, there’s an opportunity for people to find and take what they like and leave the rest.
Disney will have the opportunity to cater and build a whole new generation of fans. If they do it right, they will create smart, fun, enjoyable movies too.
As enjoyable as watching Darth Vader dancing to “U Can’t Touch This”.