The Saga continues: Disney’s trilogy and the Star Wars legacy

By Mika

April 1, 2013 Media 8 Comments

DisneyStarWarsAs we are all aware, in October of 2012 the Walt Disney Company paid $4.05 billion for the acquisition of Lucasfilm, and has announced plans to release Episode 7 of the saga in 2o15 sparked debate about whether or not the Walt Disney Company will be able to produce a film that will live up to the legacy of of the original, and the worldwide pop culture phenomenon that flourished from it.

How Disney Could Destroy Star Wars

The main concern of the acquisition of Star Wars is (unsurprisingly), that the decision was “too corporate” – that Disney’s decision to purchase Lucasfilm and produce a sequel trilogy is rooted in the huge amount of revenue that the Star Wars trilogy could generate for the company, rather than one more concerned about the actual content.The resignation of president and COO Micheline Chau in September 2012 made this even more worrying, considering the fact that Chau is credited with keeping the Lucasfilm and Star Wars brands strong.

Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton's Twitter response to Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise.

Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton’s Twitter response to Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise.

This hardly an unreasonable concern, especially considering the fact that the price tag on Lucasfilm was almost the same as the one Disney paid for Marvel back in 2009, and significantly less than what they paid for Pixar in 2006.  The Star Wars franchise includes not only the six original films, but also a myriad of novels, comics, video games, the animated film and TV series The Clone Wars, and most importantly, the masses of devoted fans of all ages and a vast universe of 17,000 characters to be exploited.

However, it is important to remember that most fans have never heard of the vast majority of the aforementioned 17,000 Star Wars characters. This means that the actual number of characters that may inspire potentially successful spin-offs is relatively small. Creating an unsuccessful spinoff could potentially be devastating for Disney. Although the possibility of people getting tired of Star Wars is extremely small, an unsuccessful Star Wars venture by Disney could prompt a decline in the market for the Star Wars franchise, which has been going strong since 1977.

Toy Story 2, the sequel to Pixar’s 1995 hit, was originally envisioned as a direct-to-video sequel and its production began in a building separated from Pixar. When story reels proved promising, Disney upgraded the film to theatrical release, but Pixar was unsatisfied with the film’s quality, and re-developed the entire plot in one weekend. Although most Pixar features take years to develop, the release date had already been established and could not be moved, resulting in the production schedule for Toy Story 2 having to be compressed into nine months. This led to Pixar and Disney making a gentlemen’s agreement that Disney would not make any sequels without Pixar’s involvement, despite their right to do so.

Unfortunately, Disney hasn’t always been so lucky in preventing potential flops. In 2012, Disney released John Carter, a film based on the first book in the Barsoom series of novels by Edgar Rice Burrough. The film received  received a mixed critical reception, but performed poorly at the domestic box office and is generally considered a box office bomb, which led Disney to attribute the $160 million loss in its Studio Entertainment division in the quarter ending March 2012 “primarily” to the performance of John Carter.

But Disney loves Lucas

The original Star Wars film script was one of six stories Lucas had written in the form of two trilogies. In 1979, creator George Lucas announced that “after the success of Star Wars, I added another trilogy. So now there are nine stories”. Most Star Wars fans were aware of the plan for a sequel trilogy, and the acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise by Disney was hardly surprising. For a long time Disney has maintained a close relationship with Lucasfilm and founder George Lucas, established through the Star Tours ride, which made its debut at Disneyland way back in 1987. At the time, it was the first Disney attraction based on a non-Disney produced film. Lucas has also paid close attention to Disney’s management of Pixar, which he originally founded as the Lucasfilm Computer Division in 1979. He calls Disney’s decision not to meddle with Pixar “brilliant”, and may see the acquisition of Lucasfilm as a way to retain some influence over his fictitious universe.

 “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. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come.” - George Lucas

Bob Iger, Disney’s chairman and CEO (left) and George Lucas, founder of Lucasfilm and creator of Star Wars.

Lucas announced his retirement from producing blockbuster films in January of 2012. In June that same year, it was announced that producer Kathleen Kennedy had been appointed as co-chair of Lucasfilm Ltd, where she would work alongside Lucas for at least one year, before succeeding him as the company’s sole leader. Lucas will has expressed his utmost confidence that Star Wars will be a continued success under Kennedy and the Walt Disney Company.

It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers… I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come.

Disney has shown its readiness to allow Lucasfilm to maintain a considerable degree of control in the production of the next Star Wars film. President Kathleen Kennedy will be serving as executive producer of the film, and George Lucas as creative consultant. Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, will also be serving as a consultant, and cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher would be returning. As part of the Lucasfilm purchase, Disney also received an “extensive story treatment” by Lucas for Episode VII, but at this point in time Neither Lucas nor Disney have revealed any details of the plot. In January 2013 it was announced that Star Trek director J.J. Abrams had signed on to be director of the upcoming film, with Lucas’ full support.

I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.

Beyond the movies, Lucasfilm has a stockpile of intellectual property for future Star Wars installments. The company maintained a database containing elements from nearly every officially sanctioned Star Wars source called the Holocron, which is used to keep track of all of the fictional elements created for the Star Wars universe. Pablo Hidalgo, a founding member of the Star Wars Fan Boy Association, is now a “brand communication manager” at Lucasfilm, and Disney’s official “Holocron Guide”.

Disney’s Time to Shine

Despite the poor performance of John Carter, Disney is a company that is undoubtedly capable of producing extremely successful films, and Star Wars fans may find some comfort by looking at one of Disney’s most recent releases – The Avengers. It was the first Marvel film it distributed and marketed, and following its release in May of 2012, grossed $1.51 billion worldwide, becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time. Eric Geller, the 21-year-old social media director of the fan sites TheForce.net andRebelscum.com acknowledges concerns about the corporate nature of the acquisition, but believes that Disney has respected Marvel’s characters and history since its acquisition of the comics giant, and advocates the potential benefits to both the Walt Disney Company in terms of revenue, as well as the Star Wars franchise’s enormous, and extremely dedicated fan base.

What if Disney said they’ll go whole hog and do a whole Star Wars park somewhere? That wouldn’t be a bad thing to consider. You could parlay that into a hands-on-experience a lot of people would enjoy.

"We needed to have an understanding that if we acquire the company, despite tons of collegial conversations and collaboration, at the end of the day, we have to be the ones who sign off on whatever the plans are" - Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios

“We needed to have an understanding that if we acquire the company, despite tons of collegial conversations and collaboration, at the end of the day, we have to be the ones who sign off on whatever the plans are”
- Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios

In addition to this, Disney has the potential to profit heavily from growth in gaming,  the Disney XD television network, and another firm foothold in boy toys following the purchase of Marvel. It has been confirmed by both Disney and Lucasfilm that Episode VII will be an original story, not directly based on the various novels, graphic novels, or other materials in the Star Wars Expanded Universe that take place during the time period following Return of the Jedi. This opens up endless doors for Disney to introduce or develop new characters that may someday become as iconic as those created by Lucas.

The continued success of the Star Wars franchise can only mean good things for Disney. Although apparently willing to allow Lucas to maintain control over the universe he created, Disney CEO Bob Iger also made it clear that Disney, not Lucasfilm, would have final say in regard future movies.

Although the future of the Star Wars franchise is somewhat uncertain, there is no serious reason for fans to worry. Walt Disney Studios on its own is more than capable of producing a successful film, and marketing it effectively through its various subsidiaries. The Walt Disney Company has also shown a willingness to collaborate, historically with Pixar and Marvel, and now with Lucasfilm still maintaining an important role in Disney’s decision-making process involving the franchise. Creator George Lucas is criticized by some for being an Auteur director, a label he also applies to himself. This should be reassuring to the Star Wars fandom, as it shows that the chances of Lucas relinquishing complete control over the franchise are extremely slim. His statements following the deal exhibit nothing but confidence in Disney’s ability to maintain the Star Wars legacy, while simultaneously increasing the potential to open up new doors for the franchise.

 

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