A deal right out of Hollywood yesterday brings together two of the most successful juggernauts in entertainment history, both created by men with singular creative visions who drew broader success with groundbreaking merchandising: Walt Disney’s legacy company is paying more than $4 billion to acquire George Lucas’ film studio and other enterprises, lock, stock and blaster.
This not only means that “Darth Vader has a new master: Mickey Mouse,” as Ethan Smith and Erica Orden write in the Wall Street Journal, it also “extends the acquisition strategy that Disney CEO Robert Iger has pursued” in deals such as the $7.4 billion he paid for Pixar Animation in 2006 and shelling out more than $4 billion for Marvel Entertainment in 2009.
“Those acquisitions have given Disney more material to draw from as it seeks to appeal to a broader range of children and families, especially teenage boys, a notoriously hard-to-reach audience,” they write.
Disney says that at least three new “Star Wars” films will be produced, with the first released in 2015. “Dating all the way back to Walt Disney’s day, we learned the value of great content, characters, storytelling and great imaginary worlds,” Iger tells Bloomberg Businessweek’s Christopher Palmeri and Michael White in an interview.
“The deal furthers Iger’s pursuit of marquee content in an era marked by technology changes, such as $8-a-month video streaming and free game downloads, that disrupted Hollywood’s traditional revenue sources,” observe Palmeri and White. “Technology has proved more friend than foe to great storytelling,” Iger tells them. “It allows us to distribute in ways we never thought would have been imaginable.”
Iger told analysts on a call that “Star Wars” merchandising has mostly been domestic and “using Marvel as a model, Disney plans to grow international marketing of ‘Star Wars’ products by increasing the brand's presence in their stores, with more toys and with other products,” Alex Ben Block tells us in the Hollywood Reporter.
"I've always believed that 'Star Wars' could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime," says Lucas in a statement. "Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment and consumer products.”
“I’m investing in Disney, that’s my retirement fund,” Lucas proclaims in a video Disney posted on YouTube. He is getting 40 million Disney shares as half of the payout -- the other half is in cash -- and will serve as a “creative consultant” to the new trilogy.
Kathleen Kennedy, the co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will be its president, reporting to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. She also will be brand manager for Star Wars, “working directly with Disney's global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise,” according to the Disney statement.
“The acquisition surprised rival studios, especially 20th Century Fox, which has released all of the live-action ‘Star Wars’ movies since the 1977 original,” write Ben Fritz and Richard Verrier in the Los Angeles Times. “But it's unlikely anyone else would have paid more than Disney, which can make use of ‘Star Wars’ characters throughout its sprawling media and consumer empire, analysts said.”
Not everybody sees the deal as being at one with the source, however.
“The news comes as a tremendous shock to ‘Star Wars’ fans, seeing as the prequels were disastrous, and the affiliated animated ‘Star Wars’ installments were appalling,” opines Ken Syme on Examiner.com.
Marlow Stern, a self-professed “die-hard fan of the original trilogy,” writes in The Daily Beast that the “franchise’s licensing division has, it seems, already milked the ‘Star Wars’ brand’s proverbial teat for every last penny.” As for the entertainment value of the films that are yet to come, the headline on his piece says it all: “Disney Acquires Lucasfilm, Will Foist More ‘Star Wars’ On New Generation.”
Good point. By now, after several less-than-satisfying sequel prequels, I’m wondering if the poll question on the Los Angeles Times site -- “Is the Dagobah system ready for Planet Disney?” –- resonates with the old-generation masses either. Not only from a cultural integration standpoint (54% say no early this morning) but rather from a consumer ennui standpoint. How many of us recall, or really care, what the Dagobah system is, after all? That said, activate cloaking device.