Can an independent visionary who created a vast sci-fi entertainment multiverse really think that a pop-culture multinational can better protect his brainchild? You bet your asteroids, kid. And he’s not alone.
“I felt I really wanted to put the company somewhere in a larger entity which would protect it,” Lucas illuminates in the corporate-astic promotional video below explaining Disney’s recently proposed $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm. “Disney is a huge corporation. They have all kinds of capabilities and facilities, so there is a lot of strength that is gained by this.”
That seems a galaxy far, far away from the resolutely independent filmmaker who determinedly built a next-generation digital entertainment powerhouse — which ranges from franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones to production heavyweights like Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound — mostly outside of Hollywood’s reductive reach. As recently as the turn of this century, Lucas argued that “it’s very important” to be independent.
“You try to get yourself into a situation where you only have to answer to yourself, where you can ask advice of people and work with your peers and mentors and things to try to do the best job that you can possibly do,” he said in 1999. “There’s nothing worse than the frustration of having somebody who you feel doesn’t get what you’re doing, trying to turn it into something else.”
And yet, that is exactly what has happened, to Lucas, ever since the first Star Wars film reshaped both pop culture and its industry and production back in 1977. His evolving vision for the sprawling franchise, as complex as it may have been or still is, has exponentially been tossed around like C-3PO‘s head in The Empire Strikes Back, from fandom to medium and back again. One could argue that the Star Wars franchise more or less stopped being Lucas’ creative baby the minute Luke destroyed the first Death Star.
Disney and Lucasfilm’s blockbuster merger is the apotheosis of that private-public design. No longer the fierce independent, Lucas is happily selling out to the Mouse House monolith. And that’s a good thing, if you ask fandom, and even Star Wars Jedis.
“Disney and Star Wars are the most recognizable entertainment brand names of the 20th century, and by and large Disney has been an extraordinary steward of both its own legacy as well as that of Jim Henson, Pixar and Marvel,” Javier Grillo-Marxuach told me. His geek-centric cult sci-fi TV series The Middleman was stuffed with Lucasfilm in-jokes, and he even once penned a hilarious essay about trying to go an entire year without Star Wars.
“If this buyout results in some great Star Wars films made by the type of world-class talent Disney attracts to their other franchises, and simultaneously frees George Lucas to make the next American Graffiti, then everybody wins,” he added.
That’s the plan, according to both Lucas and Disney, who explained in its conference call that future Star Wars films, perhaps a new one every few years, are now coming in for much-anticipated landings. Except it will be Lucas’ and Steven Spielberg’s longtime production partner Kathleen Kennedy, and not Lucas himself, who will be calling the shots. Which is, evidently, music to fandom’s ears.
“Now that Lucas has let loose the reins of directing, I can’t help but make fantasy lists,” said Pinback guitarist and vocalist Rob Crow via email. He’s a deep Star Wars geek, whose solo efforts include songs like “Jedi Outcast” and whose side project Goblin Cock includes a bandmate called King Sith.
“The Pixar stable alone!” Crow told me. “When I watch a film like The Incredibles or Toy Story 3, I am often predisposed with thoughts like, ‘Why couldn’t the Star Wars prequels have anywhere near this much heart and intelligence.'”
As Crow suggests, along with the surly Star Wars fandom excellently captured in the documentaries like The People Vs. George Lucas, it is the independent visionary’s overly tight hold on the franchise’s lucrative reins that has been holding back its real-world potential and value. Without Lucas’ overlording, the conventional fan argument posits, the Star Wars franchise could perhaps even achieve immersive spinoffs like Star Wars Land to, Crow’s wish fantasy, a THX-1138 ride and bar.
But right now, that’s all the Disney and Lucasfilm merger really is: A wish fantasy. It first has to be approved, for one, before its ceaseless creative spawn can start trying to pass fandom’s smell test. And whether or not they ever truly will is a matter that will take many years to fully settle. But the fact remains that this may be the most optimistically received sellout in pop culture history.
“My two favorite things, Disney and Star Wars, have now become one,” enthused Ashley Eckstein, the merchandising queen of the Star Wars-centric Her Universe label, as well as the voice of Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ CGI Jedi Ahsoka Tano.
“It’s truly the perfect partnership,” she told me. “I’ve had the honor and privilege to work for both Lucasfilm and Disney for several years now, and I am just overjoyed with this announcement. There are amazing people coming together from both companies who are going to do great things with this new relationship. This is a monumental day for Star Wars and Disney fans.”
George Lucas: Hits and Misses
Take a look at the five most fantastic things Lucas has ever made and revisit five fumbles he probably could’ve handled better. Hey, even the master would probably like another shot at Howard the Duck.
It’s arguable that Lucas’ first feature film, based on his prize-winning University of Southern California student film of roughly the same name, is his best.
THX-1138 is post-war 1984 fed through Mean Streets, with a bit of Brave New World, The Prisoner and Prozac thrown in for good measure. There are no Ewoks in this movie: It delivers the panoptic purism of Star Wars, sans sweetener.