This article is technically the third in our own little Walking Taco trilogy regarding the works of George Lucas. You can read the others to help you get back story, although this one does stand on its own.
Episode 1: Star Wars: Why the Originals Matter
Episode 2: In Defense of George Lucas: Why the New Trilogy Matters
Also, check out Simon’s article – 5 Reasons the Disney Acquisition is Good for Star Wars
If you don’t follow breaking movie news, Oct 30th it was announced that Disney was acquiring Lucasfilm Ltd for a sum a little over $4 billion in cash and stock. This merger of companies brings all of Lucasfilm’s properties and subsidiary companies into the fold of the Disney entertainment juggernaut. Details of the deal are slowly coming to light, and what we know, among other things, is that Disney will acquire Industrial Light and Magic (the premiere visual effects company in the world) and Skywalker Sound (which does the sound recording/editing/mixing on many Hollywood films), both of which will continue to be able to provide services for films outside of the Disney corporation, as well as LucasArts (the video game branch of Lucas’ empire). The deal includes all of the Star Wars properties, as well as the Indiana Jones series (although those distribution rights are currently shared with Paramount, so will require some negotiation). Along with this major announcement, Kathleen Kennedy, the new Co-Chair/President of LucasFilm has announced that Star Wars Episode VII is already in the works, and under the new Disney banner will arrive in theatres in 2015, with Episodes VIII and IX to arrive shortly thereafter, and Star Wars films every 2-3 years after into the foreseeable future.
It is, needless to say, a very big development in the world of film and Star Wars. Everyone is weighing in on their thoughts as details and questions continue to emerge. I’m still sorting out all of my thoughts, but figured I would gather them in writing.
So, what do I think about all this?
Five years ago I would have been extremely leery of it all. I would have thought “Oh no, Jar Jar has gotten to George. He’s going all super-kiddy and soon Mickey will be appearing in a live-action Star Wars film that will rival the ill-conceived Holiday Special.” But two words put all those fears at ease – The Avengers. If Disney’s purchase of Marvel has shown us one thing, it’s that Disney can handle a well-established source material and allow it to flourish within it’s own individualized existence. We shouldn’t have to worry about them suddenly trying to water down the Star Wars films to appeal to even younger audiences because the Marvel movies are some of the most enjoyable films I’ve experienced as an adult. So in that regard, I welcome the merger. If Lucasfilm can flourish as much as Marvel has under the Disney banner, we should see some amazing things down the line.
Let’s also look at the new creative structure on the upcoming Star Wars films. Lucas has already created a treatment (which is basically a rough outline of the story for those who don’t know film-speak). But Lucas has also entered semi-retirement, meaning he will only be serving as a creative consultant on these films. Kathleen Kennedy, who has worked with both Lucas and Spielberg on many of the amazing films they created over the past 3.5 decades, is executive producing the films, and they’ll be bringing on new writers and someone else to direct. In essence, you have almost the same formula as The Empire Strikes Back, which is arguably the best film in the series. It allows George to offer his input and keep the universe cohesive, but doesn’t require him to write out all the dialogue (which even I’ve acknowledged he’s not always the best at) and gives other people with fresh eyes a chance to make the material more accessible to a mass audience. So, depending on who they can get to direct, and fans are speculating from names like the Wachowskis to Spielberg to Nolan (although odds are it will be someone less-known), it could produce some really intriguing results.
Lucas has always known that Star Wars would continue long beyond his time on this earth. It is a legacy. It is a universe that has amassed fans of all ages, from all generations, and continues to grow, even without (or in spite of) additional movies. He couldn’t keep hold of it forever, and as he stated in a video interview you can watch on StarWars.com, he knew that Disney was a safe, stable company to house that property within. It’s a company he’s worked with on various projects in their parks, so he was comfortable with them, and I’m sure after seeing how they handled Marvel, he’s really got some peace of mind that they’ll handle that responsibility well. But more than that, even though George has been hesitant to relinquish control of making Star Wars movies to someone else because, in his words – “they’re my thing”, he acknowledges that in order for the property to stay relevant with future generations, there will need to be more films, and they will need to be done well without him feeling like he has to do it all himself.
However, this decision has bigger ramifications than simply excited fans getting to see more Star Wars movies. It’s bigger than a potential “Star Wars Land” at Disney parks, or the $4 billion George Lucas made, it once again opens the door for some serious advances in film. Many of the advances in all areas of film production – effects, cameras, editing, sound, etc. – all came in tandem with Star Wars movies. Lucasfilm, ILM, and Skywalker Sound have all continued pioneering new technology, but the times they seem to be at their best are when they are pushing the envelope on a new Star Wars film. So with an endless future of the sci-fi series in the works, it would reason for us to believe that we will continue to see bold new advances to film technology.
But even more than that, this decision will open the door for a new generation of film makers. Keep in mind, Lucas was a member of the group affectionately known as “The Movie Brats”, the first real crop of students formally trained in the art of film making. He and his classmates (Spielberg, Scorcese, Ford Coppola, Cameron, etc.) have literally defined quality cinema of the past few decades. We’re now at a point in the history of film where people who were children when the original, or even the new, trilogy hit theatres are now adults. Some of these people went into a career in film as a result of these movies – inspired to become filmmakers themselves. Who better to take over the helm of Star Wars films than the very people they so passionately inspired? I can’t think of a more fitting circle-of-life-esque tribute to George Lucas’ love of education and fostering creativity.
So once again, I sign off with a note to George Lucas. (Although I’m pretty sure he will never read these posts.) I want to thank you, sir. You have inspired me on many levels. As a lover of film, of storytelling, of imagination, as an educator, as a parent, as a human being – you have added so much to my life through your work, and although I can only imagine how many mixed emotions are involved with such a decision, rest assured that it will continue that impact far into the future. Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, and may your “retirement”, whatever that entails, reward you with as much enjoyment as you’ve provided us for all these years, and the peace of knowing that your legacy will make a difference for a long, long time into the future.