This was a long time coming. Ever since the golden years of the original trilogy, the Star Wars faithful have been put through the wringer. Waves and waves of cheap merchandising and marketing tie-ins. An awful prequel trilogy, decked out with wooden acting and largely nonsensical plots. Midichlorians. Jar Jar Binks. And then, cruelest of all, changes to the beloved original trilogy itself, in the form of cash-cow milking 3D versions and, worst of all, “Greedo shot first.”
So, today, when fans found out that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm, and thus Star Wars, to the evil empire of the entertainment world, it probably felt like the final, ultimate, and morbidly appropriate slap in the face to conclude the whole heartwrenching saga.
Star Wars is now property of Disney.
But, then again, how could it get worse? Commercialization of the franchise? That’s already been done to death anyway. Star Wars attractions at theme parks? Already been done, too. It’s not like there are going to be any new live-action movies on the way to further dilute the series, right?
Star Wars: Episode VII, the thing Lucas claimed would never exist after completing the prequel trilogy (largely because of fan backlash at the perceived poor quality of that trilogy), is due out in 2015, and pre-production is already underway. Episodes VIII and IX are slated for release after that, at three-year intervals. Absolutely no details exist yet about those movies, other than that they will exist. If you thought Star Wars had been milked for all its worth before, you might want to turn on some Bachman Turner Overdrive, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until the toy tie-ins to the new movies start coming in. Just you wait.
But, let’s get over the initial shock of the words “Disney owns Star Wars” and take a look at what this move might mean. The first line of defense for the move can be summed up in one word – Marvel. Marvel Entertainment is also owned by Disney, and by most accounts, the recent spate of Marvel superhero movies have been some of the best superhero movies to ever hit the big screen. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man has been practically unimpeachable, and the Thor and Captain America film franchises look promising.
The most important implication here is that Marvel has remained fairly autonomous ever since joining up with Disney. Marvel is enjoying the practically unlimited amount of money it now has access to thanks to its new owners, which has doubtless made most of the excellent Marvel films of the past few years possible. There’s little reason to think that Lucasfilm won’t enjoy the same level of autonomy. Disney has established the fact that, when the situation calls for it, they know how to leave well enough alone.
The problem is that, unlike Marvel’s franchises, Star Wars comes into the deal deeply troubled. The Marvel superhero movies needed to be better, but they weren’t horrible to begin with (OK, sometimes they were). Star Wars, on the other hand, is coming off of what many fans see as disastrous films that did serious damage to the world they knew from the original trilogy. It’s something that needs to be actively addressed in order to make new films viable. Here’s where things get interesting.
According to many accounts of the development of the prequel trilogy, George Lucas went about creating the films largely unchecked by the people around him. The original trilogy was made before Lucas was famous and before he could throw his weight around. Some of his less-than-stellar ideas were checked at that time. With the prequel trilogy, we got a full dose of Lucas’ vision – a vision that included midichlorians, twisting and convoluted plots, and Jar Jar Binks. It didn’t suit most fans.
Lucas is serving as a creative consultant for the new trilogy, and his intention is to head into retirement. He will doubtless have a large hand in the scripts, but the fact remains that Lucas will be less involved in this trilogy than in the previous one, and it’s hard to argue that that’s not a good thing at this point. Kathleen Kennedy will now be president of Lucasfilm, and will likely have a much larger role in the direction of the company than before. A fresh take on Star Wars, along with the full power of Disney’s financing, could produce something special, even if it is all in 3D (which has already been confirmed).
But, trepidation about the new movies isn’t exactly what fan backlash today is all about. It’s about putting beloved franchises on a pedestal. We like to believe that our favorite characters and settings exist in fantastic alternate universes, free from the realities of the world we live in. That’s why we call movies a form of escapism. So, when a beloved franchise gets sold to a media empire, it’s a little like how it would feel if Luke Skywalker actually decided to join his father at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. It ends up being a sad reminder of the relentless commercialization of virtually everything in the world today, and the mostly tacit acceptance of that fact. It brings the franchise back down to Earth, our Earth, and reminds us that our beloved characters and settings are little more than dollars and cents in the 21st century.
Which they are.