The merger between The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm will come as a shock to many, but really it shouldn’t. With the announcement in June 2012 that Kathleen Kennedy was taking over as Chairman of the company, with George stepping back, it was clear that he was making plans to hand Star Wars off to a new generation.
For George it makes a lot of personal sense. The deal gives him and his kids more money than they will ever want or need, so he can retire in peace to do whatever he wants, with no need to devote any more precious time to running a company that’s in good hands. By merging into a larger company, he has an extra level of security while at the same time opening Lucasfilm up to new horizons provided by Disney’s deep access into markets where Star Wars is far less known.
Disney CEO Bob Iger’s track record in acquisitions certainly put Disney in a strong position to make this deal. Iger’s approach is to let the companies stay as independent as they want, but offer the resources and access Disney has if and when requsted. Acting more like an investor than an owner, Pixar, Marvel and numerous other smaller companies have been left to do their own thing, while simultaneously being given a boost by their heavyweight patron.
If Iger (and his successor – Iger is due to step down in 2015) continue this approach, Lucasfilm will be in a good place to enjoy both creative and unprecedented financial freedom.
It helps enormously, of course, that Disney and Lucas have worked together successfully for years. Three theme park attractions (‘Captain EO’, ‘Star Tours’ and ‘The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular’) have continually drawn crowds since the 1980s, and every year Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando hosts ‘Star Wars Weekends’, a month of weekend parties featuring Star Wars meet and greets, stage shows, and a merging of the Disney characters with the Star Wars universe. Cross-character merchandise (Jedi Mickey, Goofy-3PO etc.) are among the biggest selling items in the park.
For Disney Parks & Resorts, the deal couldn’t have come at a better time. Attendance at Walt Disney World is suffering badly at the hands of Universal’s ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, and many fans felt a Star Wars land would be the natural response. Instead, new Parks & Resorts head Tom Staggs inked a mystifying deal with James Cameron to create a ‘Pandora: World of Avatar’ mini-land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Rumours continue to swirl that relations between Cameron, who expected JK Rowling levels of control and say, and Disney, concerned at the lack of progress on Avatar movie sequels, are on the rocks, with plans being scaled back accordingly.
So Disney really needs a better wizard killer than giant blue cats. It’s thought that Walt Disney Imagineering (which works on many concept projects that never get made) has developed many ideas over the years for Lucasfilm-based attractions. Could a Lucas-land be around the corner?
Of course the biggest news of the merger, and the biggest reason for fan concern, will be the news that new Star Wars movies will be made. While a movie featuring an aging Luke, Han and Leia may be ill-advised, there is a generation now who have grown up on five years of ‘The Clone Wars’ but were too young to see the prequels in the cinema, so maybe it’s time they had a trilogy of their own.
As long as the new films chart a new course and don’t relate too much to what has gone before, they should be able to get a new audience, avoid alienating existing fans and keep George’s legacy going for generations to come. If that happens, then this deal could prove to be the best Jedi mind trick Lucas has ever pulled.