By Gordon Meyer
By now, you’ve no doubt read the big news. The Walt Disney Company has just acquired Lucasfilm, Ltd. for $4.05 billion. The plan is for Lucasfilm to operate autonomously the same as Disney’s two other high profile acquisitions, Marvel and Pixar. A very big part of the news was also the announcement that STAR WARS Episodes VII, VIII and IX are finally on track with Episode VII slated for a 2015 release date.
Even though George Lucas has been coy about the existence of a sequel trilogy for years, back in the 80s, when the original trilogy was in production, the official word was that this was the middle trilogy of an intended nine film saga. The question of a sequel trilogy arose again when Lucas announced plans for the production of the prequels, but he quickly shut that down, no doubt more for the personal reasons of just not wanting to commit another decade of his life to overseeing the continuation of his baby more than anything else.
The good news is that, while Lucas will remain on board as a creative consultant, he’s pretty much handed the reins to veteran producer Kathleen Kennedy, who learned her craft as a creative producer through her long collaboration with Steven Spielberg. Considering Lucas’ close friendship with Spielberg, it’s not surprising that Kennedy would be tapped to take over the Lucasfilm empire.
Personally, I think this is good news for STAR WARS fans. First of all, they’ll finally be able to see the entire nine film saga as originally envisioned by Lucas 35 years ago – but hopefully with really good writers and directors. Don’t get me wrong. Lucas created a marvelous universe with the original STAR WARS and a very compelling collection of characters. The strength of the franchise is built on that original trilogy and the universe Lucas and his colleagues brought to life.
But as Lucas became more successful, he seemed to lose touch with the elements that made the original films so compelling. It wasn’t until the third film in the prequel trilogy that the story quality even began to approach the original film or its first sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But Lucas was the 800 pound gorilla. STAR WARS was his creation and he had the financial resources to not only make the movies he wanted, but also to continuously fiddle around with the older films. When I bought my Blu-ray copy of the original trilogy, I was planning to sell my DVD copy until I realized that there were a number of differences between the two versions, both of which had been altered from their original theatrical cuts.
But now that Lucas will be more or less out of the picture, how does this bode for the franchise? I’ve already begun to see growling from fans, anticipating that “corporate control” of Lucasfilm will result in a series of really bad movies. But if Disney’s ownership of Marvel and Pixar are any indication, I’m cautiously optimistic. Disney’s top management appears to respect the Golden Geese they have acquired, including the creative alchemy the creative heads of those divisions possess. Judging by both the creative and critical success of THE AVENGERS, Disney’s ownership of Marvel hasn’t caused any creative compromises. While Pixar has had its ups and downs, overall the quality of their films remains high.
As for Lucasfilm, with Kathleen Kennedy at the helm, I’m cautiously optimistic. Of course no one will know for sure about the quality of the next STAR WARS films until Episode VII comes out in two and a half years. But Kennedy’s years both with Spielberg and her personal track record as a partner in the Kennedy/Marshall Company have demonstrated that she knows story and storytellers. If anyone can pick up the STAR WARS baton as a producer and bring the franchise back to what fans are hoping for, it’s Kathleen Kennedy.
Meanwhile, thanks to a very savvy deal with Fox on the original STAR WARS, Lucas walks away with a cool $4 billion in cash and Disney stock and a legacy as an innovator in the way movies are made and marketed. Not a bad retirement package.