Star Wars and the Disney Empire

You must have heard by now that Lucasfilm, the production company that owns the Star Wars franchise (not to mention Indiana Jones), has been bought by Disney for some $4.04 billion. I have to ask myself why I care so much about this transaction, which after all is just business. George Lucas has been called “nuts” before. The Walt Disney empire will release Episode VII in 2015.

When Star Wars was released in 1977 I was lucky enough to see it. Perhaps too young to understand the gravity of the epic space story about a boy coming of age as a rebel against the evil galactic empire, I was still smitten with the characters and humour from the start. Star Wars borrowed heavily from the brilliant Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (Lucas acknowledges this). Most specifically, Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress, which is a comedy-drama about a medieval princess, her general and two peasants who have to cross enemy lines to get home.

Star Wars was an imaginative and thrilling movie that had crowds on the edge of their seats, and it was a fictional triumph of what can happen when a small group of good people get together and take on a massive evil tyranny. What other movie of late can you think of that had people standing up at the end in the theatre, clapping and cheering? None that I can think of. Star Wars was just something very different and very risky at a time when people were laughing at a young upstart director named George Lucas. It made 20th Century Fox very nervous. Either they had a blockbuster or a bomb. But look at them now.

Confusingly, they chose to start at episode 4, and made the sequels 5 (The Empire Strikes Back) and 6 (Return of the Jedi) at 3-year intervals, but that was some time ago. Lucas decided to make 3 prequels and go back to what happened before (I, II and III). CGI animation was starting to change movies, and suddenly directors didn’t have to make stunning puppets (think the lovable Muppets of Jim Henson and the original Yoda) or hire hundreds of extras.

I saw the first of the prequels (The Phantom Menace, 1999) when I was in London. I left the movie theatre so disappointed and almost enraged that Lucas would have made such a terrible movie. Witness the rise of Jar-Jar Binks and the clone wars. It felt wrong and it felt like a merchandising opportunity rather than an actual story. Of course, one might argue that Star Wars always was a money-making enterprise, and selling toys to impressionable children was really what it was all about. What child at the time didn’t want Luke and Darth action-figures to imagine further light-saber conflict and reconciliation?

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described Binks as “a major miscue, a comic-relief character who’s frankly not funny.” In 2002, Attack of the Clones was released, and Ewan McGregor was quoted as saying that The Phantom Menace lacked some of the “humour and colour” of the original films, and the prequels were “kind of flat.”

I guess I’m not the only one disappointed by the news. Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, asked George Lucas if he was “nuts” when he said he was planning a third trilogy (according to the New Zealand Herald) He is also quoted as saying:

“People either just don’t care for it or are passionate about it. I guess that defines what cult movies are all about.”

We’ll just have to see what happens.

The Guardian article below is also worth reading:

Why Disney was destined to buy Lucasfilm

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One thought on “Star Wars and the Disney Empire

  1. storiesbywilliams November 3, 2012 / 4:35 am

    Oh is this ever making the rounds! Any thoughts on what the latest installments, what they are likely to be about?

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