Friday, March 22, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Disney's "Star Wars" Acquisition

Ever since Lucasfilm Ltd. was sold to Disney for $4 billion last year, the internet has been abuzz.  Not only has Disney announced a new trilogy of Star Wars films since then, but this move now effectively solidifies a future for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises beyond George Lucas, because let's face it, he isn't getting any younger.  However, while there has been a lot of good that has come with this transition, there has also been a lot of bad, and in my opinion, some just downright ugly things that have resulted from Disney now taking full ownership of the Star Wars universe.  With that all said, I decided to take a look at the current state of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and dissect the good, the bad, and the ugly points of this new future for Star Wars.  How about we start with some good.

Well, I think the greatest good that has come from Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm are the new Star Wars films in production.  Not only is a sequel trilogy in production, following the Skywalker family a few decades removed from Return of the Jedi, but there will also be standalone films made about individual Star Wars characters like Bobba Fett and a young Han Solo that don't play into the larger Skywalker story of the already established episodes.  With some of the most talented folks in Hollywood tackling this new trilogy and these standalone films, from J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII, to Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt, all the way to original Empire and Jedi scribe Lawrence Kasdan writing one of the standalone films, it's impossible not to be excited about these new films when such amazing talent is involved.  Then there's been all the rumors that the original trilogy's cast will reunite for Episode VII, meaning Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.

George Lucas essentially let the cat out of the bag a few weeks ago, stating that it was pretty much a done deal that the original trio were returning, before he backpedaled and said they were merely in negotiations.  Then, Disney CEO Bob Iger came out and said that what George said was false, and I personally don't buy that.  While George is no longer in charge of Lucasfilm, he is a creative consultant on this new trilogy and would be privy to such information, and I don't think he'd speak out of turn like that if it wasn't true, not to mention some coy comments from both Fisher and Ford recently pretty much have sealed the deal for me.  Even Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams, has sort of let it slip that he too is likely to return.  For me, this is the greatest news there is regarding these new Star Wars films.  Seeing the original cast back, passing on the torch to the new heroes of the Star Wars universe will fit very well with the already established episodes.  Now, this does not mean that all is so clearly good about these new movies though.

The could-be-bad about these new Star Wars films is in where they choose to set this new trilogy.  Since the release of the novel, Heir to the Empire, in 1991, there has been what is now known as the Expanded Universe, telling the official stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, following Return of the Jedi.  George Lucas himself commissioned these novels, comics, and video games, that now make up the vast tapestry of what has transpired since Return of the Jedi.  Now, nearly two decades later, the current Star Wars timeline has told the stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, up to nearly thirty years after the original trilogy ended.  If the new filmmakers tried to set this new trilogy within that thirty year timeframe, then the movies would be highly restricted to what they can or cannot do, but if they went the other way and changed what actually happened in that thirty year timeframe, then fans would be upset.  The only way to fully satisfy fans is to pick up right where the Expanded Universe is at right now, which is what all of the latest rumors are suggesting.  However, the biggest drawback to this is that casual moviegoers are not familiar with all that's transpired in these books and comics since, and therefore it creates a huge burden on the filmmakers to have to fill in all of the blanks before they can tell this new story.

In the current Expanded Universe storylines, Han and Leia's son, Jacen Solo, turned to the dark side and had to be killed by his Jedi sister, Jaina.  Well of course, Jacen had a daughter who's now having to be raised without a father.  Then there's the fact that in this timeline, Chewbacca is dead, as is Han and Leia's other child, Anakin, as well as Luke's wife, Mara Jade.  This is a lot of information to catch viewers up on, not to mention this is some pretty dark, tragic stuff that just doesn't feel very Star Wars-like, which has often been my complaints about many of the more mature-themed stories that the Expanded Universe has offered.  Star Wars is first and foremost a series of kid's movies and I don't want to see that discarded so easily, and this is why this is the could-be-bad of these new films.  However, if Abrams and Arndt play their cards right and make it work, it could all be good.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Now, what is truly ulgy though about the Disney acquisition is what's happened to animated Star Wars on television.

I only recently got into the Cartoon Network TV show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, telling the official adventures of what happened between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  To be perfectly honest, I have never seen a more high quality animated show in my life.  The CG animation was top notch, the voice talent was amazing at mimicking the actors that portrayed these characters in the movies, and the writing was better than the actual prequel movies, making Anakin an extremely likable hero and infusing these stories with the sense of hope and adventure that the original trilogy exuded.  Well, let it be known that The Clone Wars is the first official casualty of Disney's acquisition.  To me, this is not just bad, it's ugly what Disney's done here, cancelling The Clone Wars after its fifth season, and not allowing the folks at Lucasfilm Animation to properly send off the series.  Sure, they said they'll somehow release the final few episodes that had been produced, but that will not tie up all the loose ends of The Clone Wars, and to be perfectly honest, I am just flat-out ticked off.

Sure, majority of funding for the show came from Time Warner, who owns Cartoon Network and Warner Bros., and I know that the show was very costly to make, but it was still one of the highest rated animated TV shows of all-time and was still getting rave critical reviews episode after episode.  Disney pulling the plug on it, rather than funding to give the series a proper finish, is just flat-out wrong.  These were the best Star Wars stories told since Return of the Jedi in 1983, and Disney should feel ashamed.  Of course, they obviously don't care.

While in their press release Disney said that there is something exciting on the horizon, probably an animated show that will fall into the timeline of the sequel trilogy coming out to help catch viewers up to speed, Disney has gone and disbanded The Clone Wars team and fired over 350 of the best animators and writers in the business.  It's pretty clear that they aren't interested in just shepherding the already established Lucasfilm Animation branch under the Disney umbrella, with it now looking more and more likely that they'll just use their in-house animation departments to make whatever this new Star Wars show will be, and probably at a lower production value than The Clone Wars was.

This happened after Disney bought Marvel and they pulled the plug on the high quality show, The Spectacular Spider-Man, not brining any of that show's cast and crew onboard of their "official" Spider-Man show, Ultimate Spider-ManUltimate Spider-Man is nowhere near the high quality storytelling that Spectacular Spider-Man was, and I fear the same is going to be true for whatever replaces The Clone Wars.  Speaking of Marvel, this leads to another of the bad things that have resulted from this Disney acquisition.

Way back in the '70s and '80s, Marvel published all Star Wars comic books and they were never really that good (obviously, seeing as how they aren't considered official canon), but since the '90s,  Dark Horse Comics has been publishing all of the Star Wars comic books and they have been consistently of high quality.  Now, with Disney owning both Marvel and Lucasfilm, it's been widely assumed that when Dark Horse's contract finished within the next year or so, Marvel will start publishing all Star Wars comics again.  While this is by no means ugly, seeing as how Marvel does feature so much top notch talent nowadays, Dark Horse Comics are still cranking out some of the finest Star Wars stories out there right now, such as the current Brian Wood comic simply titled Star Wars, telling the stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, immediately following the Death Star's destruction in Episode IV.  Great comics like this will come to an end, and therefore, more great Star Wars stories will be silenced.  However, even though Marvel will more than likely start publishing new Star Wars comics in the next year or so, it's not like what has happened with the animation.  With Marvel's vast talent pool of some of the greatest writers and artists currently working in comics, there's no reason to believe that these stories wont be of high quality, it's just sad to see such high quality comics come to an end so that another company can take over.

Now, I know I've been talking negatively a lot about this acquisition, but I am still a supporter of it, because Star Wars has to become more than George Lucas if it wants to survive for generations to come, and nothing quite symbolizes it better than the good that is coming from this acquisition for the Disney theme parks.

I recently visited Orlando, FL, where I went to both Universal Studios and Disney World.  At Universal I checked out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I have never seen anything else quite like it at any other theme park, including Disney.  It's just so highly detailed and clearly made for fans, I could have easily spent a whole day in that small part of the park constantly finding new Easter eggs.  Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, the rumors have begun that Disney is thinking of creating their own Star Wars-themed land at the Disney parks.  These rumors are actually not that far-fetched considering that Disney has sent out surveys to selected Annual Disneyland Pass members asking them what they think of the possibility of not just one ride at the Disney parks, like there is now, but an entire land devoted entirely to Star Wars.  After seeing the awesomeness of what Universal has done with Harry Potter firsthand, not only would an entire land devoted entirely to Star Wars be the perfect thing to combat that for Disney, but if any single movie franchise deserved a land entirely to itself, it's Star Wars.  There are so many different worlds and characters in Star Wars, there are limitless possibilities to the types of rides, restaurants, stunt shows, and gift shops that could be constructed to take you into the Star Wars universe.  I for one am fully behind this idea and hope that this isn't Disney just yanking our chain.

All in all, there have been good aspects to Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd., as well as some bad and just downright ugly things, but at the end of the day I'm still a supporter of this acquisition.  While my faith in Disney has been a little rocked in recent weeks, in particular with the announcement of the cancellation of The Clone Wars and the firing of its staff, I don't think there has ever been a more exciting time in history to be a Star Wars fan.  These new films are something that I never thought were possible and I couldn't be more excited just to see more live action Star Wars on the bigscreen for decades to come.

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