We were all shocked to discover when Darth Vader revealed himself to be Luke Skywalker’s father. But we experienced perhaps even more shock when news broke this week that The Walt Disney Company was acquiring Lucasfilm, George Lucas‘ 41-years-strong company. Now, Mickey Mouse will be both Vader’s and Luke’s parent, though not by blood — what an awkward “modern family” that deserves some critical examination.
Puns and jokes aside, this $4 billion purchase follows what has been a whirlwind of new ventures for Disney in just the past seven years since Bob Iger attained the role of CEO of The Walt Disney Company. 2006 marked Disney’s purchase of Pixar. 2009 signified Disney’s purchase of Marvel. And now 2012 represents news of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. One can only imagine what the Mouse House will obtain in 2015 if this ironically-consistent pattern of buying a big entity every three years continues. These heavily-expensive, but ingenious acquisitions reflect Disney’s focus of branding and leveraging well-known and well-received properties.
Disney’s emphasis on bringing in more male-centric characters from other entities, like the Marvel superheroes, contrasts the traditional and sometimes unfair evaluation of the Disney Company being more female-focused. Pixar has its legions of girl aficionados, and Disney possesses a large fanbase of men, but nevertheless the yearning for boasting a wide array of properties has defined much of Iger’s and his colleagues’ vision. Possessing a diverse portfolio of characters increases interest, and with additional attention comes more money. It’s basic economics, but more importantly it’s smart economics. Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm all hold certain elements in common that Disney values: compelling storytelling; creative personalities; and endless opportunities to be utilized to a higher capacity. That makes the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm a sharp move both resourcefully and financially.
CEO Bob Iger of The Walt Disney Company, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, and C-3PO voice Anthony Daniels ride Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.
In many ways, nobody saw this coming. We have associated the Lucasfilm creations, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, as part of Disney for years. Star Tours takes guests on wild flights in four of the five Disney theme park destinations (Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, and Tokyo) and Indiana Jones offers adventures in Anaheim and Tokyo, a unique roller coaster twist in Paris, and a longtime stunt show in Orlando. Both films’ merchandise stock store shelves at the various parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has hosted Star Wars Weekends since 1997. Maybe because of this established connection it always seemed like Lucasfilm was part of Disney. The Disney-Lucas relationship has existed for some 25 years, but not until this incredible announcement has this bond been cemented.
One obvious question lurks in our minds: will this change how Lucasfilm operates? In many ways, no. As Disney appreciates the minds and forces behind Marvel working on projects independently, that approach will likely extend to Lucasfilm. At any rate, we can expect even more usage out of these characters with Disney’s careful treatment.
As my Geeks of Doom colleague Greg Davies notes in his inspired analysis from a Star Wars geek’s perspective, I agree that this is a well-considered decision for Disney and Lucasfilm. Disney can further integrate the characters from Lucas’ worlds into their productions, parks, and merchandise. Lucasfilm can continue to leverage these brands down new avenues. How could anything go wrong with this acquisition?
Iger and Lucas sign some necessary paperwork.
Well, as we know, “purists” must worry over how a new corporate owner will influence a product, already cherished in the media marketplace. I feel that if Pixar and Marvel are any indication, Disney will recognize how to support the strengths of the characters, whether they are directly involved or not.
Just think of how Disney has branded the Pixar behemoth for the better. Cars Land at Disney California Adventure opened this past June to much acclaim and also to much traffic. The park has seen record levels of attendance, with visitors now highly enjoying their experience at Disneyland’s once long-suffering sibling park. Toy Story goods populate children’s bedrooms, thanks to Disney Consumer Products’ influence. Even some of Pixar’s most financially-successful films at a global level, Up and Toy Story 3, have benefited from Disney’s marketing campaigns.
The Marvel example lacks the same clarity, only because of its novelty and slower integration into the company. Nevertheless, The Avengers, as marketed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Group, claims having earned more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Marvel’s superhero-themed shows hold a mighty presence on the Disney XD network. Even Disney Store is selling products featuring Hulk and Captain America. In just months we may even hear news of the first Marvel attraction at a Disney park, in the form of an E-ticket Iron Man experience. Disney has not messed with the winning Marvel formula, and even better, they have reached numerous highs.
Without a doubt the Lucasfilm purchase makes sense. Star Wars and Indiana Jones will now be under the same mouse umbrella. Permanently. Whether we were clamoring for it or not, they announced Star Wars Episode VII will debut in theatres in 2015, with two others films in that trilogy releasing in subsequent years. The movies will presumably feature new characters within the Star Wars universe. I would imagine that the Disney logo will appear prominently on the trailers and other promotional materials, but one major question comes to mind. Does this mean Disney now owns the previously-released Star Wars films? After all, 20th Century Fox distributed all six live-action feature films and Warner Brothers released The Clone Wars animated feature. Expect more details on that front on how – and if – Disney can even influence those films, considering Fox is re-releasing all of the live-action films in 3D over the next several years. Indiana Jones will not return to theatres, at least not in the near future, as Paramount owns the rights to distribute those productions. Oh, the conflict of interest.
Where else other than the annual Star Wars Weekends can you find Yoda and a Mickey Mouse topiary in one place?
I feel excited by the opportunities associated with this acquisition. Though the Star Wars franchise constantly reinvents itself by utilizing new platforms (Lego video games, animated television series, conventions) to breathe new life, Disney’s ownership will help ensure we never see a “dry spell” in Star Wars-related entertainment. I enjoy the characters and stories of the Star Wars worlds as much as the next geek of Yoda and friends, so to know they are in the hands of Disney keeps me optimistic.
I argue that there are no restrictions in expanding the Star Wars presence at the Disney theme parks. Hollywood Studios already claims two Lucasfilm properties in the southwestern portion of the park (Star Tours: The Adventures Continue and Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular). One could even count the endearing Jedi Training Academy show. Why not transform that section entirely to be “Lucasland,” or something along the lines of that? Sounds Dangerous, a seasonally-operating sound show presentation, could be cleared in favor of an Ewok-themed ride. Just kidding. But really, that space is within close enough proximity of the other Lucas attractions to hold theming. I think a mini Star Wars museum would be practical in representing a minimal financial investment and a high happiness return. Even the Backlot Express dining location could evolve into the Cantina Bar. The possibilities are endless, at least with that Disney destination. Expanding the Star Wars and Indiana Jones presence at the other parks would require more consideration, as the subjects are not as suitable for the environments’ themes. I doubt anybody would want to see C-3PO in Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure Park, unless it was a ride where he and R2D2 take a “road trip” to Earth and visit California. Then again, there’s always Shanghai. Disney may still have time to develop a Lucas-themed land there.
In all practicality, though, I doubt this acquisition will revolutionize the Lucas brands in a negative direction. Maybe in five years Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine will march along Main Street, U.S.A. together? But chances are, Disney knows where these characters belong, and that’s not parading them down a turn-of-the-century avenue. Instead they belong in the form of toys in Tomorrowland’s Star Trader, where they already reside. The Lucasfilm acquisition will certainly impact the Star Wars dynamic somewhat, but Disney recognizes the value these characters have through them not interfering. Disney will undeniably stay clear of messing with the Lucasfilm creativity, and will only come up with ways to strengthen, not hinder, the fantastic formula. I have a really good feeling about this.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Return back next week for another edition of Disney In Depth. Catch alerts for upcoming editions of the column by following me on Twitter. Have a good week!