Column: Disney buyout should benefit Star Wars films

By Michael Chasin

This week unquestionably saw the biggest entertainment news of the year with the announcement that Disney bought Lucasfilm for the blockbuster-worthy sum of $4.05 billion. The deal has plenty of long-lasting, far-reaching implications, but the vast majority of them have to do with one simple fact: From this day forward, the Mouse owns Star Wars.

No, these are not just rights to keep their Star Tours attraction up and running in Tomorrowland. We’re talking about the whole franchise here. Every movie, character and piece of merchandise from perhaps the most lucrative intellectual property in history is owned, from this point forward, by the house that Walt built. And they have no intention of letting it go to waste.

On the contrary, they’re going to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. Yes, that does require repeating. In three years or less, there will be a new, full-fledged Star Wars film in theaters. In terms of shifts in the pop-culture paradigm, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Many fans — and when it comes to Star Wars, practically everyone is a fan, if only through osmosis — expressed initial dismay that the series will be further tarnished, an already over beaten horse reduced to a fine pulp. But they’re missing the big picture.

The prequels were, well, less than what people had hoped for almost entirely because of the overbearing presence of George Lucas, who wrote and directed each film with a level of absolute control that ensured his vision made it onscreen. It just so happened to turn out that the original trilogy was classic stuff — perhaps because of the difficult conditions and creative compromises that surrounded its making, not in spite of them.

But whomever’s to blame, it didn’t matter much because Lucas made it very clear that he had no interest in directing or producing any more Star Wars films. Considering his word on the franchise had always been law, there was no reason to think that someone would attempt to continue the series for perhaps decades to come.

Well, it would appear even George Lucas couldn’t say no to $4 billion.

“It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Lucas said in the initial announcement, and he’s backing that up by ceding the Lucasfilm presidency and Star Wars brand management onto producer extraordinaire Kathleen Kennedy. Lucas is moving toward retirement, which means it’s finally time for a fresh group of creators to see what they can do with a galaxy far, far away.

Though it would normally be more than a little troubling to hear about media consolidation on such a grand scale, the truth is that Star Wars will never be more stagnant than it was under Lucas’ total control. With Lucasfilm and Disney now working together to produce new content, there’s a fair chance that Star Wars could be genuinely good again. And regardless of the quality, the quantity that Disney has planned is staggering. They’ve announced that beyond a sequel trilogy taking fans through Episode IX, they’ll continue to release a Star Wars film every two or three years for the foreseeable future.

It’s a massive undertaking that calls to mind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which also falls firmly under the Disney umbrella ever since they acquired the comic book behemoth in 2009 in a deal much like this one.

At their most optimistic, fans are wondering if Disney’s plans for Star Wars could turn out as well as they did with The Avengers. Maybe Joss Whedon would even want to direct a Star Wars movie. Why not? And at their most ridiculous, fans are wondering if Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could cross Universes and join the Rebel Alliance. Ridiculous and impossible, sure, but don’t act like it wouldn’t sell tickets.

That’s not to say these new Star Wars films are guaranteed to hit home. It pays to remember how badly Disney botched John Carter last year. But in a way, that doesn’t matter at the moment. No one knows anything concrete about Episode VII or beyond at this early in the game. But in a way, the quality is hardly the point. What Disney’s done already is something that no one could have predicted: They made Star Wars relevant again.

The Disney-Lucasfilm buyout is the topic of discussion among anyone who cares even slightly about what goes on in the movie-making world, and it will be for years to come as millions of fans scrutinize, criticize and celebrate every word from Disney and Lucasfilm in regards to how they’re handling this massively important enterprise. The questions are already flying fast (Who might be involved? Will Pixar animate a Star Wars movie? Does this mean Leia is now a Disney princess?) and they’re not going to stop so long as there’s more Star Wars on the horizon. Knowing Disney, there always will be. A week ago it would have been horribly cheesy to say this, and maybe it still is, but they’ve earned it regardless: May the Force be with them.

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