5 Reasons the Disney Acquisition is Good for Star Wars

I remember the moment I got the news with a crystal clarity usually reserved for momentous events like the birth of a child or the arrival of a long-lost loved one.  I remember, like it was yesterday (because it was), when I read the first tweet informing me of the news I never expected: Disney had bought Star Wars.  Disney, the biggest of media companies, was now the owner of one of the most fiercely independent film studios.  Disney, whose decades of cheerful cartoons had brought joy to millions of children and adults around the world, was now custodian of such iconic figures as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Yoda, and Darth Vader.  My initial reaction was shock and disappointment, and I immediate posted the following reaction on Facebook:

Oh no…Episode 7? C’mon George Lucas, just let it rest already.

I read a lot of other opinions and news stories, and watched the video in which Bob Iger and George Lucas talk about the decision.  And now that I’ve had time to digest this news and really give it the consideration it deserves (because, let’s face it, 24 hours is an eternity in internet time), I think this is actually a good thing.  In fact, it might be the best thing that has happened to Star Wars and all of Lucasfilm since Return of the Jedi.  Here are five reasons why:

1. Disney knows how to make good movies.

Disney’s track record is kind of like the stock market in that it goes up and down, often unpredictably.  The studio has put out some stinkers like Mars Needs Moms and Old Dogs, but on the whole Disney can deliver the goods when it needs to.  They’re not afraid to spend big money on good talent, and let’s not forget that this is the studio that somehow they turned a 50-year-old theme park ride into one of the most successful franchises of the past decade. The icing on the cake?  The movies were actually pretty good.  Disney is also not afraid to take chances on giant projects that don’t turn out so well.   John Carter and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time didn’t turn out to be the gravy trains they were made to be, the quality of the movies wasn’t half bad.  The main problem with these big-budget letdowns was partially due to their lack of recognition in the mainstream zeitgeist:  nobody cares about Barsoomians or ancient Persians when heading to the summer megaplex, but it’s a safe bet that ten out of ten filmgoers could pick Yoda out of a lineup with no problems at all. Give Disney some established characters and storylines, and stand back with your blast shield down lest the shockwave knock you over. They will do everything humanly possible to capture lightning in a bottle, which also means they will make certain Michael Bay will never, never be involved.  While the Star Wars prequels and the most recent Indiana Jones movie were commercial blockbusters, they were critical goose eggs.  Put these characters in the hands of the Disney corporation, and it’s a safe bet they will hire screenwriters and directors who can inject a new lifeblood into these franchises who will make sure the movies are golden eggs for the studio while also being quality films.

2. Lucasfilm was Disney already.

A giant company has massive film franchises that are beloved around the world.  It leverages the characters and stories in these franchises to sell merchandise of every conceivable kind, from action figures to lunch boxes to bedsheets to candy to clothing to video games, comic books, and spinoff novels.  This company also keeps milking cash from its franchises directly in the form of spinoffs, sequels, prequels, and 3-D re-releases ad infinitum.  Is this company Disney or is it Lucasfilm?  It’s both.  And anyone who thinks Disney could do any further damage to the beloved Star Wars franchise by whoring it out to product vendors of every conceivable kind has obviously not been paying attention.

(it was Lucasfilm who allowed this Star Wars Kinect game to happen, not Disney. There is literally no possible way things could get any worse.)

3. Iron Man/The Avengers

This kind of piggybacks on Reason #1, but I think it deserves its own entry.  Let’s rewind things a bit to the 1990’s, when comic book movies were kind of a joke.  While Tim Burton injected a much-needed shot in the arm to this corny celluloid stepchild with his dark and gritty Batman, his counterparts were busy churning out schlock like Tank Girl, Timecop, and The Phantom, not to mention a string of subsequently stupider Batman films culminating in one of the worse offenders in modern cinema: Batman and Robin. It wasn’t until Bryan Singer brought the X-Men to the silver screen, followed soon after by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) that comic book films really launched into the stratosphere.  These were deep, thought-provoking movies with multi-dimensional characters and solid acting–a far cry from the cornball movies of yore like Howard the Duck (a Lucasfilm production, no less).  Comic books, in the hands of talented directors and writers, became a gold mine of characters and storylines that shows no signs of running dry.  Marvel leveraged its own deep roster and financial clout to form its own movie studio, which was bought by Disney in 2009.  Sure enough, fans cried foul, grabbed their pitchforks and torches, and took to the internet in fits of collective rage decrying the inevitable befouling of their beloved franchises at the hands of Mickey Mouse.

So what happened?

Iron Man.  Iron Man 2.  Thor.  Captain America: The First Avenger.  And of course, towering over all modern comic book movies, The Avengers.

Some might dispute the faithfulness of these movies with respect to the source material. Others might quibble about costumes or supporting characters.  But few would argue that these are not quality films.  Disney knows how to turn franchises into commercial and critical hits, and there is no reason to suspect anything else from future Star Wars or Indiana Jones films.  They spent too much money to mess these up, and while audiences might have forgiven the awful dialog and painful characters of the Prequels because they sprouted from the same mind that brought them Star Wars in the first place, this same leniency will not be extended to Disney. Any new films are going to have to work hard to earn their place in the fans’ hearts, and if Disney’s track record since acquiring Marvel is any indication, Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones are in good hands.

4. We might get the original trilogy back.

For fanboys like me who have been crying foul over George Lucas’ treatment of his original trilogy by releasing endless special editions with gratuitous CGI effects might finally get their wish granted.  Disney knows how to get every last dime out of a sense of public nostalgia, but few could argue that they do a great job paying tribute to their original works.  Take Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, for example.  By all accounts this film is hopelessly outdated with what would now be seen as shoddy animation, poor quality sound, and unflattering character stereotypes.  But when Disney released it as the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray, they left the original untouched in all its lo-fi glory. The colors have been restored, not edited, and the release strives to be as close to the original version as possible as opposed to George Lucas’ endless tinkering with the classic trilogy in order to suit his ever-changing “original vision.”  But after years of repeatedly denying fans the opportunity to see the classic Star Wars trilogy without all the CGI muck, Disney might finally leverage its considerable power and financial werewithal to give the original trilogy the Blu Ray release it deserves.

It might be wishful thinking, but it’s the best shot we have had in years.

5. It’s better than the alternatives.

Think what would happen in five years if George Lucas were left in charge of Star Wars.  At best, we would likely get sequels with the same terrible dialog and wooden acting (but gosh darn it if those CGI effects aren’t pretty) as Episodes I-III.  But at worst, they might never happen at all.

George Lucas is in his 70’s, and to be honest the man deserves a break.  Say what you want about the licensing, the prequels, and the endless spinoffs, you gotta respect the man for bringing all this to us in the first place.  And like my buddy Dave pointed out, it was George Lucas who single-handedly changed the face of modern filmmaking while also bringing us Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, and THX not to mention countless innovations in how films are produced and edited.  The man deserves our respect, our thanks, and more than anything, a break.  I applaud him for letting Kathleen Kennedy take charge of Lucasfilm back in June of this year, and selling the company to Disney is the next logical step.  I honestly don’t believe George’s heart is in it anymore, which is why he wants to get back to basics and work on smaller, more personal projects.  More power to him, and I hope he does well.  If Lucasfilm was left in charge of Star Wars the franchise would likely sink into mediocrity, and while it would still make boatloads of money it would probably not innovate.  The Disney buyout is a breath of fresh air for our beloved galaxy far, far away, and probably the best thing that has happened to it in years.

As we look forward to Episodes 7-9 (hopefully based on the outstanding Timothy Zahn novels), a possible TV show, and no doubt a tidal wave of products and merchandise along with them, I feel a disturbance in the force I have not felt in a long time: hope.

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