Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Um, so there's going go be a new Star Wars movie...

I'm sure you've read the news by now (Forbes).  If you haven't, Disney just spent $4 billion to acquire Lucasfilm and plans on releasing the first of three new Star Wars films in 2015 (press release after this essay).  George Lucas himself had been slowly lessening his role in the company he founded and Kathleen Kennedy will be the president and operate under Disney head Alan Horn. So first of all, Disney just paid another $4 billion to acquire another gigantic company and bring it under the Disney umbrella.  Second of all, we're getting Star Wars Episode 7 in 2.5 years (I'm  presuming it will open Thursday May 21st, 2015).  George Lucas will not be directly involved in these new films behind a consulting role.  And no, Paramount still holds the rights to the Indiana Jones series.  So what are my thoughts on this?  I almost didn't comment, because I'm wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to say.  Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this...

I'm sure prequel-haters will cheer that news, but I'm not sure how comfortable I am seeing a Star Wars movie without George Lucas.  On one hand, it's *his* universe, for better or worse, and he's been its guiding light from the beginning.  On the other hand, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the ongoing animated series currently in its fifth season on Cartoon Network, is without a doubt one of the best incarnations of Star Wars in any medium.   From a business point of view, it of course continues Disney's quest to build a fanbase with boys.  That was the point of the Marvel buy and that's arguably a big reason for this purchase.  Unlike the Marvel purchase three years ago, Disney has all of the Star Wars characters right off the bat, so we'll immediately see T-shirts with Darth Vader and Donald Duck standing together, even if they aren't looking at each other.  This makes Disney even more of a giant, now owning the rights to Marvel, Star Wars, and obviously the Disney universe.  If they can somehow wrestle away DC Comics from Warner Bros, it's game over (not gonna happen, but I digress).  As for a new Star Wars film, I can't muster too much excitement.  Obviously it will be interesting to see a film in this universe with whatever 'name' director Disney can pull in.  Seriously, who *wouldn't* want to direct a Star Wars film?.

On one hand, it's a classic example of not letting a franchise that has run its course just die with dignity.  On the other hand, it's astonishing that we'll soon see three generations of parents who can say they took their kids to a new  Star Wars movie in theaters.  With the exception of a moderate lull in interest from around 1990-1997 (where the series was still beloved but a lack of new product kept it from peak popularity levels), the Star Wars series has been consistently popular for nearly 40 years.  So yes the idea of taking my daughter, who will be around eight years old, to a new Star Wars film in theaters is kind of exciting.  She recognizes and likes the characters even if I've only shown her the first movie and a handful of Clone Wars episodes.  On the other hand this feels like a prime example of potentially force-feeding the heroes of yesterday onto the children of today.  Is Star Wars the exception due to its continual popularity and the relative quality of most of its incarnations?  And is there something negative to be said for a Disney studios that seems more eager to buy up the cherished properties of other companies rather than make new classics on their own?

The phrase of the day is "mixed emotions".  And with that comes a certain sadness.  By that I mean the teenage "me" would have been thrilled to death at the idea of three new Star Wars movies.  But then back in the 1990s, it was clear that Lucas had a specific story he wanted to tell.  This time around, there is really no motive other than the fact that Disney stands to make loads of money off of new Star Wars films.  Of course profit is the motive for most forms of entertainment, be they Transformers or Argo.  Oddly enough, I don't feel that much different than I would if they had finally/officially/absolutely announced a Ghostbusters III, even though I certainly vastly enjoy the Star Wars universe more than the much smaller world of Ghostbusters. I think there is real value in the Clone Wars cartoon, showing the moral shades of grey that were always on the outskirts of the films, especially the prequels.  And I would have loved a political-motivated television series set in between the respective Star Wars trilogies, showing the sad drift from relative democracy to absolute tyranny.  But the idea of merely just continuing the series in film form, it just leaves me indifferent.  Maybe the films will be outstanding, maybe they will be filled with superb action sequences and a group of characters worth investing in.  I concede, if they go said route, that a story of bringing a tyrannical world out of darkness, would be pretty interesting.  But I suppose it just comes down to one simple question: How long are we expected to continually cheer yesterday's heroes?

Okay, your turn, and this time I mean it.  I really want to know how everybody feels about this rather shocking development.  Is my borderline apathy merely because I'm getting old?  Is the fact that I can't get excited about another friggin Star Wars film a symptom of something deeper?  Or is your reaction equally mezzo-mezzo?  Please share below.

Scott Mendelson        

Continuing its strategy of delivering exceptional creative content to audiences around the world, The Walt Disney Company has agreed to acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. in a stock and cash transaction. Lucasfilm is 100% owned by Lucasfilm Chairman and Founder, George Lucas.

Under the terms of the agreement and based on the closing price of Disney stock on October 26, 2012, the transaction value is $4.05 billion, with Disney paying approximately half of the consideration in cash and issuing approximately 40 million shares at closing. The final consideration will be subject to customary post-closing balance sheet adjustments.

"Lucasfilm reflects the extraordinary passion, vision, and storytelling of its founder, George Lucas," said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company. "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."

"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. "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. Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products."

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Lucasfilm, a leader in entertainment, innovation and technology, including its massively popular and "evergreen" Star Wars franchise and its operating businesses in live action film production, consumer products, animation, visual effects, and audio post production. Disney will also acquire the substantial portfolio of cutting-edge entertainment technologies that have kept audiences enthralled for many years. Lucasfilm, headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and the present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations.

Kathleen Kennedy, current Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm, will become President of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Additionally she will serve as the brand manager for Star Wars, working directly with Disney's global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise. Ms. Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars feature films, with George Lucas serving as creative consultant. Star Wars Episode 7 is targeted for release in 2015, with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future.

The acquisition combines two highly compatible family entertainment brands, and strengthens the long-standing beneficial relationship between them that already includes successful integration of Star Wars content into Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Orlando, Paris and Tokyo.

Driven by a tremendously talented creative team, Lucasfilm's legendary Star Wars franchise has flourished for more than 35 years, and offers a virtually limitless universe of characters and stories to drive continued feature film releases and franchise growth over the long term. Star Wars resonates with consumers around the world and creates extensive opportunities for Disney to deliver the content across its diverse portfolio of businesses including movies, television, consumer products, games and theme parks. Star Wars feature films have earned a total of $4.4 billion in global box to date, and continued global demand has made Star Wars one of the world's top product brands, and Lucasfilm a leading product licensor in the United States in 2011. The franchise provides a sustainable source of high quality, branded content with global appeal and is well suited for new business models including digital platforms, putting the acquisition in strong alignment with Disney's strategic priorities for continued long-term growth.

The Lucasfilm acquisition follows Disney's very successful acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel, which demonstrated the company's unique ability to fully develop and expand the financial potential of high quality creative content with compelling characters and storytelling through the application of innovative technology and multiplatform distribution on a truly global basis to create maximum value. Adding Lucasfilm to Disney's portfolio of world class brands significantly enhances the company's ability to serve consumers with a broad variety of the world's highest-quality content and to create additional long-term value for our shareholders.

The Boards of Directors of Disney and Lucasfilm have approved the transaction, which is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, certain non-United States merger control regulations, and other customary closing conditions. The agreement has been approved by the sole shareholder of Lucasfilm.


Maxwell Haddad said...

I'm cautiously optimistic about this. Disney has obviously done a very nice job with Marvel so far, allowing them to essentially exist as an independent studio while still making sure they stay on track. I imagine this will be the same with Star Wars and Kennedy. Disney and Star Wars have always had a strong relationship (you can already buy lots of Mickey Mouse/Jedi gear) and I can't help but be excited about the idea of a new Star Wars film without George Lucas. I mean lest we forget Empire Strikes Back was not written or Directed by Lucas, and the press release (and conference call earlier) was careful to note that Lucas will consult so he'll at least be involved in an advisory capacity. I have no idea how the new films will turn out, but I welcome the opportunity for a good new Star Wars film and I think Disney is capable of producing it.

Robert hawks said...

For those of us who only indulge the Star Wars universe via the films, this would have been good news in the 80's, before we were reminded (after we started all that crazy childhood raping nonsense) we were reminded, recall, that these were kids movies, and we should lighten up, Francis. The fans who bought the comics, the paperbacks, the audio books, the novels, none of which were, George, written for kids, were embarrassed and at the same time frustrated, as was I when as just the film guy, ready to forgive the Ewoks, when I was fucking Jar-Jar'd. But, yeah, it's just a movie, and just a movie universe. Screw it, let Spielberg do Harvey, reboot Philp K. Dick weekly if you must, and have the Coen Brothers do the next Star Wars. I'll sit in a pup tent with my grand daughter to see that one, I'll tell you for a dollar.

Martín ϟ said...

First things first: I'm not really a Star Wars fan. I have seen the films and I do think "Empire Strikes Back" is brilliant, but I didn't grow up with Han Solo and/or Luke Skywalker.

The first SW film I actually remember seeing was "Phantom Menace", when I was 16 at the theater, and was bored to death by it. Yet, later I discovered the OT and saw that there were interesting things to the SW universe.

What I mean is that this is probably good news. If you ask me, SW is best when there's less Lucas involved (he's a very poor screenwriter when it comes to dialogue and his direction is sometimes lifeless), but the universe he created has enormous potential.

Now it should be given to a director (or directors, that would be even better, a la Mission Impossible) to do their thing. Anyone from Guillermo del Toro to J.J. Abrams, from Brad Bird to Joss Whedon could be a potentially good director.

So, what I'm saying is: get a good writer, hire a great director, and make it happen. Change directors, keep it interesting and fresh, and expand the universe.

One last thing: I know it won't happen, but I like to think that Spielberg is now the closest he's been to directing a SW film since "Return of the Jedi", when Lucas had to let him go because of his fight with the DGA. Think about it: Disney is partners with DreamWorks now, and Kathleen Kennedy (longtime Spielberg producer) will be President. A Spielberg Star Wars would make my day.

I know it won't happen, but still...

Robert hawks said...

Also, not for nothing, loved your Bond review. I'm almost afraid to see Skyfall, for fear it'll ruin the review for me. ;)

Tom Andrews said...

Im generally optimistic. Im 37 and "old school" if you will. Im also a prequel lover though. If your daughter will be 8 in 2015, then you know how little there is that is Star Wars related that is accessible to little kids. 3-5ish. I have a 4 year old a 2 year old and expect one more in another year. I look forward to mixing some Adventures of Jar-Jar Binks edu-tainment in with Curious George and Kai-Lan and Team Umizoomi.

I'm more interested in the Live - Action series than more movies. But one thing the Prequels revealed is how really widespread the galaxy can be. I think theres lots of good stuff out there that we can see and I think we will. Kathleen Kennedy seems to have the kind of credibility that we would be looking for.

Im excited to see whats out there.

Sean Power said...

I too am cautiously optimistic. Of course, it remains to be seen how the films will turn out, but one thing we can all be excited about is that the franchise will not have to be pried from Lucas's cold, dead hands. I think we've all been prepping ourselves for that day when we learn that George Lucas has died. As I never, ever, ever expected him to allow anyone else control in this way, I always thought that the news would come with some strong, mixed emotions. I expected to feel deeply sad at the passing of the man who invented such a wonderful universe, saw the OT through in various capacities, and made a serviceable stab at the prequels (which get better with fan edits or the machete order, btw), and yet I also expected to feel this excitement that finally the franchise could move forward. I always wondered how long whoever gained the rights would have to wait before it was appropriate to start releasing the original cuts of the OT on Blu-ray or make new films, or properly remake the prequels. While I don't think Disney will do all of that right away, I am excited that it is all happening while Lucas is still alive and well and that the only reason it is happening is not that Lucas is no longer here to tell anyone not to. So, count me as happy at this news.


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