bombshell in a longtime was exploded today as news of Disney acquiring Lucasfilm (the company behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones) for a whopping $4 billion, broke. Filmmaker George Lucas has sold the rights to some of the most beloved stories of the past few decades, opening the door for Disney to make new Star Wars films, TV shows, video games, etc. Along with the announcement came the word that George Lucas has written treatments for a new trilogy of Star Wars films and he is now handing it off to Lucasfilm's Co-Chairman, Kathleen Kennedy, and Walt Disney Studios, to hire writers and directors to bring this new trilogy to life, with Star Wars: Episode VII slated to hit theaters in 2015.
First thoughts: surprise, confusion, a smidge anger (Why can't they just leave it alone?), sadness, and perhaps even a small ray of excitement deep inside. I know I am talking about this as if it's life-and-death, but when my top 5 favorite films of all-time include four Lucasfilm productions, I can't help it. How did we get to this?
A few months back it was revealed that George Lucas was preparing to retire from Lucasfilm and he had appointed Spielberg-film producer, Kathleen Kennedy, as his replacement to take over the running of the company once he was gone. For me, that was a smart move, with Mrs. Kennedy proving she knows how to handle big movies, big stars, and big directors, and oversee their work to ensure the best quality possible. Of course, I had no idea that this was coming.
Lucasfilm has been an independent company since its inception in the 1970s, and I think what took me as such a surprise by this announcement, was I had simply assumed that by Lucas picking Kennedy as his replacement, that it was his own way of ensuring the future of his company, but it was only the beginning of this whole thing. I am assuming that Lucasfilm will still be in charge of their day-to-day operations, but Disney will have the final say as to what their money will be spent for and what it wont, thus Lucasfilm loses its independence. It's just sad to see a filmmaker I greatly admire, a man who spent all of his filmmaking career trying to gain independence from the Hollywood studios, selling his company to the biggest studio out there. It's safe to say, Disney has a monopoly on the entertainment industry now.
With Disney's recent acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel, as well as their partnership with Dreamworks, and now owning Lucasfilm, they have a firm hold on the entertainment industry from comics, to films, to TV, and beyond. Great if you're a Disney shareholder, perhaps not so great if you're a fan of the films of Lucasfilm. The problem with Disney being a major studio and not an independent like Lucasfilm, is that it now creates that money mentality where it's no longer about the stories, but about making something that can inspire theme park attractions and sell toys. I mean, how many lackluster sequels has Disney made to Pirates of the Caribbean just to make a quick buck? That's the last thing I want is for Star Wars to turn into a bland adventure film franchise with little heart, originality, and fun. Which brings me to the point of the new Star Wars film, Episode VII.
You can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that this film will happen, and with Disney setting a release for 2015, they're subliminally saying that they want this to cement their relationship with Lucasfilm to filmgoers. Personally, I am not opposed to the idea of making new Star Wars films, my biggest fear is that they're rushing this to do as I said above, to cement the relationship.
Say they want the film out by Summer 2015, then that's less than two and a half years away, and what do they have right now? A treatment for the film, that's it. From a filmmaking point-of-view, that's not a lot to go on with so little time to mount the now most hyped film of all-time. Here's the thing, that's only two and a half years to write a script, get a director, get the cast, shoot the film, do the effects, and release it. Working on such tight time constraints, you inhibit the creative opportunities for whatever filmmakers come on board to realize Episode VII. A lot of really great, clever writers and directors would love to probably work on a Star Wars film (I mean Spike Jonze nearly directed Attack of the Clones), but majority of visionary filmmakers need more time than that to produce something that is truly mindblowing (as well, most truly original filmmakers probably don't like the idea of being bound to the conventions that one has to conform to when making a Star Wars movie, but that's a different post all together). So who would you probably get to make the film? Someone who needs the paycheck, or the exposure doing a Star Wars film would grant, or who simply does whatever the studio tells them. That is not conducive to good filmmaking.
Quite simply, if Disney is to win over the Star Wars fans, they need to make all of the right moves here. Personally, I feel Disney needs to let the fans know that they are serious about taking care of the franchise, and to ensure this, they need to get topnotch talent behind the camera, people who are on the same imaginative level as George Lucas. Well, that makes the list very small. Some might say James Cameron or Peter Jackson, both inspired choices who have proven with other films that they could deliver, but they wont do it, because they are so driven by their own storytelling efforts on Pandora and Middle Earth. To me, if Disney wants to make Episode VII work, they should realize the dreams of fanboys all over the world, and the dream of the filmmaker, as well, and allow Steven Spielberg to finally helm a Star Wars film. Think about it, Spielberg is George Lucas's best friend, Kathleen Kennedy is his producing partner, and Spielberg was to have directed Return of the Jedi until Lucas ran into his little trouble with the Director's Guild of America (which is another story for another time). Spielberg has the imagination, the caliber, and talent to succeed Lucas at the helm of the franchise. Now, that's just my personal dream, but someone akin to Spielberg's level needs to be hired if they're to win us fans over. It also wouldn't hurt if Disney and Kennedy could woo screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan back to write the film, Kasdan having co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Of course, what could really allay fanboy fears, is the cast.
Disney will not just need to get Anthony Daniels back as C-3P0, but with the assumption that Episode VII will continue the tradition of each Star Wars film, following the Skywalker family, and the film following the original trilogy in chronology, it's safe to assume that in some way, shape or form, we could potentially expect to see Luke, Han, or Leia. While Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are old, and perhaps not necessarily in the best shape to return to action, seeing a ghost Luke Skywalker mentoring his kid or grandkid, akin to Obi-Wan in the original trilogy, isn't too far-fetched for me. Personally, I think Hamill and Fisher would probably say yes in a heartbeat, but Ford would take the most convincing. He's been very public about how he felt that Han should have bit the dust at the end of Empire and not have returned for Jedi, freeing him from the persona of Han Solo to pursue other parts. I honestly don't know if Ford would do it, which is why getting top tier talent like Spielberg and Kasdan would help to possibly get Ford to sign on the dotted line, with Ford still harboring a great relationship with Spielberg. Of course, all I've talked about so far is how disastrous this acquisition could be, and there are a few rays of light at the end of the tunnel.
If Disney does hire the right talent, it could finally wash the bad taste of the much debated prequels out of the mouths of Star Wars fans. Obviously, though, there will always be detractors, but there really are an unlimited number of stories to be told in the Star Wars universe. Who's to say they even have to make a film about the Skywalker family? They could make a Bobba Fett film, or an Old Republic film, or explore some territory that no storyteller has ever even thought about before. As well, many Star Wars fans have been dissatisfied with all of the changes George Lucas has made to the old films on DVD and Blu Ray releases, perhaps Disney will see the great chance to make money and will release the original versions of all Star Wars films with none of the changes that were made. On a similar note, most blame George Lucas for how the prequels turned out, and with him only on as a story by credit from now on, like he was on Empire and Jedi, this could yield some of the best films since those two. Then, there is Disney themselves.
Right now, Disney has positioned themselves really well by hiring Alan Horn a few months back to run the studio. Horn has proven himself over the past decade at being very great working with visionary talents and bringing franchises to the screen, thanks to his work on the Harry Potter films and with director Christopher Nolan, the right type of guy to shepherd a new Star Wars to the screen with top notch talent attached. As well, the way Disney has dealt with Marvel and Pixar since acquiring them a few years back, really fills me with hope for how they'll deal with Lucasfilm. For the most part, they've left the creative talents at those institutions in charge of the creative decisions and it's yielded great results, ranging from the films, Up to The Avengers. As well, now Disney has picked up Lucasfilm's effects branch, Industrial Light & Magic, and their sound branch, Skywalker Sound, two of the leading innovators in film technology, now adding their power behind the films of Disney to only create better product for Disney films in general.
Even with this large amount of information, there are many question marks remaining. Who is going to make the new Star Wars film? What will its story be? Will John Williams stick around to do the music for this new trilogy? Will the Star Wars comics continue to be published by Dark Horse, or go to Marvel? And my biggest question of all: What about Indiana Jones? The press release mentioned nothing about the future of Dr. Jones, and it makes me wonder how much power Disney will now have over the Indy brand. These questions, and many more, will be answered slowly over time, but the real take away today is that Disney is now in charge of Lucasfilm. While there will always be that fear of a Star Wars reboot in my mind, now that it is no longer independently owned and is owned by a Hollywood studio seeking money, but I am choosing from now on to be a lobbier for this new direction for Lucasfilm. It's tough to do, but I love Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and to me, more Star Wars is never a bad thing. All I want is good Star Wars, and if Disney delivers that, I'm going to be a happy fan.
(Check out this video with George Lucas detailing the acquisition in his own words:)