Disney-Lucasfilm Deal Merits Cautious Optimism


In case you missed it dwelling under a rock or in the dark due to Hurricane Sandy-related damage, The Walt Disney Company rocked the movie industry on Tuesday when they announced a $4.05 billion deal to acquire Lucasfilm Ltd., the production company founded by George Lucas that just so happens to own several of the most valuable and famous movie properties in the history of the medium.

Darth Vader and Indiana Jones? Meet Mickey Mouse.

Look, there's almost no angle from which a deal this massive and transformative isn't interesting, starting with the eye-popping sum Disney is set to pay out. But you know we like to focus on the actual silver screen around these parts, and the big news in that regard is that Star Wars Episode VII (full title to be announced) is first on the docket for Disney. It's coming soon, too, -- in 2015 -- meaning the plans for this picture are likely pretty well in place.

It's not as if there are legions of fans that are exactly pleased with Lucas' handling of the franchise over the last decade-plus -- more specifically with his work on Episodes I-III. At the same time, there seems to be trepidation about Disney getting involved in the Star Wars game.

From an Atlantic article titled "'Star Wars' Will Survive Whatever Horrible Thing Disney Does to It":

When 2015 rolls around, Disney's new film could feature nothing but Jar Jar Binks relatives for characters, and it still might well help mint a whole new generation of fans. This process of providing more and more entry points for the series has made Lucas insanely rich and produced a lot of bad art. But it also, incredibly, has kept a creaky old story cool among the group that always has final say in what's cool: the young. Adults may not like it, but they don't need to be converted.

That's relatively sunny compared to some of the other -- ahem -- more visceral reactions out there, but I don't think it's quite sunny enough. By my accounting, it's too focused on the problems that have plagued the Star Wars franchise basically since Return of the Jedi was released and not nearly focused enough on the power of Disney. I mean, is there a better brand in the film industry than Disney? Is there a big studio that knows more about maintaining the quality of a valuable film franchise? Are Marvel, The Muppets and Pixar (all Disney purchases) not reason for optimism?

Or as Wired put it:

We all know that corporate mergers can yield a wretched hive of scum and villainy. When it comes to corporate overlords and the creative arts, media conglomerates need to take their own version of the medical ethics statement: Primum non nocere (“First, do no harm”). Disney seems to have done no harm to Marvel, or to Pixar, which it acquired in 2006.

The reasons to be hopeful about Star Wars, and for that matter Indiana Jones and the other franchises Disney could tap into, going forward are two-fold: (a.) Star Wars was going nowhere with Lucasfilm, and, in fact, has done itself only real harm lately, and (b.) Disney is good at this sort of thing. It overall seems to know how to breathe life into properties like Lucasfilm where needed but also seems to have a good knack for staying out of the way when that's all that's needed.

This might not be enough to save Star Wars from gradual irrelevance, with New York Magazine suggesting that the motivation for making this public now, with an election cycle nearing its completion and the Eastern Seaboard reeling from a natural disaster, might have been because the deal is a "financial dud" for all parties involved.

Compared to its other acquisitions (most notably, its 2006 purchase of Pixar for $7.4 billion), Disney is buying Lucasfilm for a steal. And at a glance, $4 billion does look low for an iconic movie series. Earlier this year, 24/7 Wall Street ran some back-of-envelope calculations and estimated that the Star Wars franchise alone was worth upwards of $30 billion.


[But] If Disney can't keep a parade of Star Wars sequels from suffering diminishing returns, its "evergreen" acquisition may be more like a wilting flower. And if Disney knows it overpaid, or even senses it might have, then burying the news makes all the sense in the world.

But even if that's the case, I keep coming back to the fact that last week Star Wars had a totally bleak future, even if you account for the fact that Lucasfilm could have easily done the next three movies on their own and still made plenty of money. Disney might not be able to save the franchise from its creative downward spiral, but it's hard to think of any company better equipped to give us all at least a sliver of a new hope.