By now, you’ve all heard the news. It’s been buzzing around the social media like angry geek bees to a parent’s basement hive. Lucasfilms, those purveyors of all things Star and Wars has been bought, lock, stock, and dark side of the force, by the Walt Disney Company, in a deal worth nearly $4 billion dollars. Along with the boardroom bartering, it was also announced that the long desired sequels to the original trilogy, those promised by Big George himself way back before Jar-Jar, Hayden Christensen, and the pathetic prequels, would finally be made. Episode VII is scheduled for sometime in 2014, with the rest already in greenlight development. And that’s just the beginning…
Immediately, shockwaves spread out within Fanboy Nation as obsessives of the films and the franchise wondered how the House of Mouse would handle the far, far away galaxy’s uneven entertainment traits. Many worried about the almost mandatory Disney-fication of the source, citing chances to tie-in the company’s already standing characters with those of the scattered Skywalkers. There was speculation over a potential theme park based on the material, as well as cartoons and other content for Disney’s many marketing outlets. Others argued over the entire money grab element of the exchange, wondering what Lucas would do with such a huge and potent windfall.
When it was learned that the entire $4 billion would go toward investment in education, not the Jedi creator’s pocket, the conversation turned. Suddenly, the man who many believed raped their childhood, sullied their memories of light sabers past, and parlayed his ever-expanding empire into a solid slice of out of control ego, looked like a good guy. More promising still was the news that Disney would diversify the upcoming projects, looking into allowing established (Steven Spielberg, James Cameron) and promising newcomers (Matthew Vaughn, Alex Proyas, Duncan Jones) a shot at adding their voice to the already growing Wars world. Suddenly, the stain of all those wasted hours spent harrumphing over Episodes I through III seem rather pointless.
However, one should proceed to this new packaging with caution. Disney doesn’t like to lose, and when it buys something, it expects it to make money. Look at the Muppets. After removing it from the Henson family estate a few years back, they twisted and turned the existing product into as many profitable elements as possible before finally rebooting the characters with the clever, cheeky Muppets movie. Then there is Marvel. While the comic company “controls” the way in which its movies are made (supposedly), the House of Mouse banked on the unbelievable popularity of the characters to carry them to 2012’s box office champion, as well as a continuing series of films that will, hopefully, result in another Avengers 2 aided BO bonanza.
So when it comes to Star Wars, and its numerous variations, Walt’s workforce has a financial given. Even the mostly despised prequels managed to make more cash than critic’s lists (unless, of course, you’re talking about a given year’s worst-of). Besides, Wars whelps are the most forgiving of all fans. Ask one about a potential problem in plotting, characterization, or direction and they will defer to a certain, unspecified genius. Even worse, they have so wholly wrapped up their childhoods in these disguised genre Westerns (with a lot of help from the Asian martial arts movies) that they’ve forgotten they are supposed to be visions of the future, not spacey shoot-em-ups.
That’s always been the difference between Shatners and the Han Solos. Star Wars is not remotely close to science fiction. It’s Cowboys and Indians with robots and aliens. It’s samurai flicks with the cold hard sting of metal replaced by brightly colored nursery lights. Even within the context of its most “ethereal” element—the elusive religious thingy called “the Force”—it fails the thinking person’s test. Star Trek and others of its ilk at least try to invest their work with actual ideas. Star Wars was always about the outward patina. As long as it looked good (first with practical F/X, and now digitally) and played to the populace, it passed movie muster.
This is the kind of concept that’s right up Disney’s dark alley. While they tend toward quality when it is offered, the House of Mouse also understands how to milk something for every possible penny. Take a look at their multiple cable channels. In between the occasional cartoon short and feature film, there are dozens upon dozens of disposable, kiddie-oriented efforts spawning their own growth industry of talented (and free) tie-ins. There are songs and singers, concerts and entire careers. Subdivide and resection on a regular basis, and you’ve got an ATM as entertainment excuse. Now, this is not to say that the same thing would happen to Wars. But in a world which continues to support all things Clone and console, don’t be surprised.
Besides, this is Disney’s baby now. They can have an entire Ewoks franchise if they want, develop a sitcom around Jar-Jar and his ethnically specious species if they so desire. They can also take the high road and treat the Star Wars dynasty like the cultural lynchpin it appears to be. Heck, even old holdouts like Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford have expressed interest in being in the so-far unnamed Episode VII and while he will be a creative consultant, Lucas says he will leave any new entries into the Wars world to those who control the content. Not quite the hands-on many truly fear.
In fact, it’s safe to say that the transition to Disney could be the best thing that ever happened to the property - all whoring out excepted. When they were released, the prequels were condemned as being “too close” to their creator - meaning Lucas was too familiar with the franchise to take it where it needed to go. Of course, the House of Mouse need only do a bit of Jake Lloyd like casting and the call for a certain pair of ears (and the animated head attached to same) will be heard loud and clear. For now, fans can rejoice in knowing that there is more Star Wars—much more—on the way. Where it’s coming from, however, could be a whole new world of worries.