Disney Lucasfilm Ltd.

Tue 11/13/2012

A lot of people have been asking me what I think of Disney's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. I have been thinking about it a lot, and reading a lot of different reactions to the news. I think I'm finally ready to throw in my two cents.

Initially I was pretty surprised. When Lucas decided to make the prequels starting in 1999, I remember reading an interview where he said he would follow the same pattern as the original trilogy, meaning he would write and direct the first movie, and then open up writing and directing duties for Episodes II and III. However, as the prequel trilogy developed, Lucas decided to write and direct all three movies (with a little outside help on the screenplays). I interpreted this as a tightening of his control over Star Wars, and thought that Episode III would be the last Star Wars movie we would ever see. I imagined Lucas locking in some sort of legal agreement with the rest of Lucasfilm Ltd. so that there could never be any other movies. I assumed it would literally take 100 years until Star Wars went into the public domain for there to be new movies.

So the news that Disney planned to make Star Wars: Episode VII, VIII and IX was at first, very shocking to me. Lucas has said he will serve as a consultant for the films, and the scripts will be based on his original story treatments for VII - IX that he made back in the '80s, but he is "handing Star Wars off to a new generation of filmmakers" in all other respects (writing/designing/directing/editing/etc). Honestly, I think this is a good thing.

When Episodes I - III came out, people expected the films to change the world (and/or their lives) in the same way Episodes IV - VI had. This was unrealistic, and I think one of the reasons that I was able to genuinely enjoy the prequels is that I did not put too much pressure on them. I have said many times that I would watch a Star Wars movie even if it was just C3-PO reading from a phonebook "Antilles, Raymus... Antilles, Wedge..." I love Star Wars so much, it is a thrill for me to get any glimpse into that world. There's no doubt that Episode IV -VI are better films, but I still had a blast learning the back stories of all the characters and getting to see the Jedi in their prime, and their eventual fall. I think we must now consider Episode I - VI to be the Star Wars "canon" because they were all created under the watchful eye of George Lucas. I'll still watch and enjoy everything that comes out from now on, but it will never be quite the same.

It's not necessarily going to be easy... My knee-jerk reaction to the announcement that Michael Arndt is going to write Episode VII was "WHO THE HELL IS MICHAEL ARNDT, AND WHERE DOES HE GET OFF THINKING THAT HE'S GOOD ENOUGH TO TOUCH STAR WARS??!?!" But after some deep breathing, I thought, "Who the hell was Lawrence Kasdan when he wrote Empire Strikes Back?" He wasn't the greatest writer of all time. He had written a few good movies, the same as Arndt, and Empire and Jedi turned out great. I think this is going to be a process of letting go. They are just movies, they are supposed to be entertaining and fun. And I have no doubt that these sequels will be just that.

There are two sides to Disney, and in this deal I think we are seeing the better half. If the acquisition of Pixar is any indication, Disney will be hands off and let the talented people at LucasFilm, Skywalker Sound and ILM continue to do their excellent work (except perhaps the animated feature department at ILM, who won the Academy Award for Rango - it seems like Disney will not want a third animation department to contend with). They are going to throw a lot of money at these new sequels, and I'm sure the production values, special effects and everything will be top-notch. I thoroughly enjoyed the new Muppets movie that Disney released last year, and in that case they took a much beloved series and hired young, talented creators who were respectful of the source material and they turned it into something new and great.

The dark side of Disney, as I see it, is their lack of respect for classics that should be left alone (ie "Bambi 2" ad infinitum). It would be horrible and insulting if they decided to RELAUNCH Star Wars, the same way they have with so many of the Marvel properties. But honestly, I think there is less of a risk of that happening with Star Wars. There's not much there with The Hulk... there are only a few characters, only one origin story. But Star Wars is a whole universe! In the official press release, Disney states that there are over 17,000 characters in the Star Wars universe, and 20,000 years of continuity to work with. For me, it's exciting to think that there could be high-quality movies, TV shows, etc. exploring some of that universe. After all, Star Wars was originally based on old movie serials, so in some ways it seems appropriate that there will be a lot more installments.

I saw Skyfall last weekend, and was surprised to see the "50 Years" announcement at the end of the film. Bond movies are pretty formulaic, but I usually have a great time watching them, and I never go in expecting to have my life changed. Star Wars is already going on 35, and there is definitely enough creative material there to get through at least another 15 years!

Right now the main questions I have are about continuity. When will Episode VII take place? Will it take into account the Heir to the Empire continuity that Timothy Zahn established? Or just ignore it and start afresh? I'm hoping that they are smart enough to get far enough into the future so that they don't have to recast Luke, Leia, Han (which would be a disaster, in my opinion). A jump forwards to focus on the next generation of Jedi seems to make the most sense to me. Plus, you might be able to have a fun cameo by one or more of the original cast. It's also fun to think about the other movies that LucasFilm owns, that could now be expanded (Indiana Jones, Willow, Howard the Duck...)

The other side of this that I'm really interested in is what George Lucas has planned next. I've seen some reactions saying that he has "sold out" with this deal, which is hilarious to me. Lucas was always a shrewd business man, and he turned one movie into a multimedia empire by selling toys, cereal, clothes, books and anything else he could slap a Star Wars logo on. For me, the craziest line in the press release is "Lucasfilm is 100% owned by Lucasfilm Chairman and Founder, George Lucas." I later saw him referred to as "the world's richest artist." I'm sure he will do some interesting things with his four billion dollars. And I hope he'll finally get around to the "small documentary films" that he has talked about making for so many years, now that Star Wars will not be taking up so much of his time and energy.

For those of you who are wondering, there was a hot minute, when I first heard the news, where I thought "I could still work on Star Wars!" But like Lucas, I now want to focus on my own creative projects. It's time to stop taking Star Wars so seriously, and just enjoy it as entertainment.

1 comment on this entry

I think it would be cool to see a Longstreth Star Wars comic. They let Jeffrey Brown do one, so why not?

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