It was something of a surprise Tuesday when it was announced that Disney was acquiring Lucasfilm Ltd. for a cool $4.05 billion, and, oh yeah, Disney’s going to release a relatively George Lucas-free Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. Business news hasn’t hit nerdery this big since Disney bought a little firm called Marvel, and now we live in a world where Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man, The Muppets, Indiana Jones and Yoda all sit under the same roof.
But is this good news, or bad news? Maybe it’s terrible news? Let’s break it down using the Leone standard: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:
The Next Star Wars Movie – Star Wars Episode VII has always been on the wish list of fans, but George Lucas has been kind of yanking our chains about it pretty much since the release of Return of the Jedi. With the wrap of Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Lucas admitted that he really had no idea about Episode VII, and consequently fans should probably stop asking about it. Lucas’ participation in the new film is reportedly going to be minimal, so any expectations about Episode VII should probably best be forgotten because it’s going to probably depend on who Diseny’s grooming to be director, and that, I think, is where the real excitement’s going to be. Will it be a trusted pro like Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon? Or maybe a promising newcomer like Neill Blomkamp or Duncan Jones? Needless to say, I think some of the narrative problems with the prequels will be solved with the right director and a competent screenwriter. By the time the prequels were in production, George Lucas, either by his stature as an experienced creator or the fact he was fronting the cash for the film’s himself, didn’t get the type constructive criticism he could have used to make the films better. But whoever’s in charge of the next film will have the big bad mouse to answer to if they drop the ball.
Nerd Synergy – Remember when Disney TRON-ified several Marvel characters on the front cover of many of their comics before the release of TRON Legacy? That was cool, right? As Twitter proved on Monday, the crossover possibilities are endless: a Pixar animated Star Wars film, an WWII-era Indiana Jones encounters Captain America and the Invaders in a new comic, the Muppet Babies do their own version of the trilogy… Oh wait, that actually happened, and hey, Princess Leia is now a Disney Princess, so maybe she’ll be in those Disney Princess videos. But even laying aside what might come next, in nostalgia news, Disney’s purchase of Star Wars will mean that Marvel will more than likely be the future home of Star Wars comics, just as they were in the early 80s when the company published both the adaptations of the actual films, and original adventures from the Star Wars universe as well. And one thing’s for certain, with Indiana Jones and every Star Wars character now under the Disney banner, the next edition of Kingdom Hearts is going to be sick.
Corporate Monopoly – Come on, Disney. Wasn’t it good enough to own Pixar? Touchstone Pictures? ABC? The Anaheim Mighty Ducks? What do you have left to buy at this point? Nintendo, maybe? Or perhaps develop your own smart phone. While the cool news of an Indy Jones and Howard Stark team-up, as someone proposed the other day, would be kind of cool, there can be an ugly, ugly side to the business when too much is concentrated in too few places. Think of all times that your cable provider has gotten into difficult negotiations with channels owned by other media companies, thus resulting in blackouts causing you to miss your favorite show, game or event. Why does that matter? Well gotten lost in the shuffle is the fact that Disney now owns Industrial Light & Magic, the preeminent visual effects company in Hollywood. What if Disney doesn’t like something another studio is doing, like making their own world destroying asteroid flick while Disney’s got one in development? Are the suits at the House of Mouse going to bar ILM from doing business with the competition? It could be a possibility.
Fan Filmmakers – Say what you want about George Lucas, but he’s always had a laissez-faire attitude towards fans making non-profit works of love dedicated to his characters and his universe. The question now is will that change with Disney ownership. Star Wars is now a cog in a greater corporate entity rather than the driving engine of one. Since Disney is moving so quickly to produce a new Star Wars film, you can tell their interest is very high. And because of that, Disney is going to be very motivated to protect their interest. So will they hammer down on fan-made films, and if so, how hard?
Dark Horse – For nearly 20 years, Dark Horse Comics has been the publisher of Star Wars’ four-color adventures, cranking out numerous comic book series, mini-series and graphic novels, which have consequently have been a huge part of Dark Horse’s bottom line. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Disney’s cut the legs out from under one of the smaller comic publishers. When Marvel was bought by Disney in 2010, BOOM! Comics was publishing a very successful line of comics based on Disney characters, a line that was immediately doomed because, of course, Disney at that point owned their own comics publisher. Now I wouldn’t fret for Dark Horse too much. They still own a number of licenses and have several successful titles of their own (Hellboy, anyone?), but it’s still the end of an era, and it will mean some more big changes in the comics business and the bottom line of several creators.
Too Many Rights Holders – Now everyone knows that when Disney bought Marvel it wasn’t so cut and dry. Sure, they were able to build The Avengers universe, but big players like X-Men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were left out of the mix. In the case of Disney’s Lucasfilm deal, it seems that things are also a bit more complicated than you might think. First of all, 20th Century Fox, who distributed the first six Wars movies still own the distribution rights to those films through 2020, and Disney will never get the rights to the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. So those hoping that Disney will hear the call of the original, pre-Special Edition cuts of Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are S.O.L., and the 3-D releases of the films through Fox will continue unabated. As for Indiana Jones, Paramount still has distribution rights to the films both past and future. That might not be an impediment as Disney has to work with Paramount in making the Marvel films, so it’s not impossible, but the financial reward for Disney is greater investing in Star Wars in the meantime.
It’s quiet honestly too soon to know the full extent of the impact of Disney buying Lucasfilm. However, The Walt Disney Company owns TV stations, film studios, distribution services, record companies, publishers, video game producers, animation houses, visual effects creators, and the rights to several of the most profitable franchises that touch all aspects of media. Think about your local Halloween store this year, half the costumes they sold there are now owned in some way by Disney. And while Disney has been very good at their franchise management for the most part, The Muppets and Marvel being the best examples, the hiring of one bad manager might mean years of headaches for fans with their favorite franchises. But like I said, for now we’ll have to play the waiting game…