While the East Coast was coming to terms with the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, Disney added a wave of pop-cultural shock by announcing last Tuesday that it would be buying Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. This means George Lucas’s company—most famous for producing Star Wars and Indiana Jones—will now reside in the House of Mouse, opening up the possibility for a whole new world of dazzling mash-ups we never knew: 101 Stormtroopers, Beauty and the Hutt, The Wookie King, and The Emperor’s New Groove (only a slight—and slightly horrifying—casting change required).
Though unsettling for artists of all kinds, creative monopolies seem to be on the rise: Disney also recently bought Pixar in 2006 and Marvel in 2009, and book publishers Penguin and Random House agreed to join forces just a day before the Lucasfilm acquisition.
But it wasn’t the purchase itself that caught fans off guard. The true imbalance in the force came from the announcement of a new Star Wars film, Episode VII, which is scheduled for release not so far, far away in 2015—with Episodes VIII and IX to follow two or three years apart. Since almost all blockbusters now come packaged with a sequel or four (see—or don’t—Shrek, Air Bud, Beethoven, and The Land Before Time), these new additions, although often disappointing for original fans, shouldn’t come as a big surprise.The difference this time is, back when the franchise was still under his control, George Lucas promised us he was done making Star Wars films.
Of course, a new chapter in the Star Wars saga is no tragedy. Having grown up with TIE fighters and X-wings, I gladly welcome the next generation who’ll share an appreciation of good lightsaber replicas. But with such a large corporation in charge of the production, I can’t help but worry that special effects will take precedent over storytelling, as it did in the most recent run of prequels. Recall how these latest Star Wars installments featured a villain we know almost nothing about (why in the galaxy is Darth Maul is so angry?) and a ten-minute high-speed chase between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and some assassin who, for no apparent reason, has been assigned to kill Queen Amidala.
Sure, the original trilogy has some pretty cool bad guys and battle scenes, but what really draws such a loyal fan base is the film’s creative heart. In comparison to the memorable characters and the engaging plot of Episodes IV through VI, The Phantom Menace and its cohorts are mere flashbacks, unable to stand on their own. Yes, I watched the three most recent movies—even sat through the blathering of the indefensible Jar Jar Binks—but it wasn’t because I was genuinely interested in anything on screen. I did it for my love of Luke and Leia.
Of course, I recognize that this level of fan devotion is ripe for exploitation by Disney—probably why they were willing to spend the whopping 4 billion in the first place. Because whatever Episode VII turns out to be, I’ll surely truck to theaters to see it, lightsaber in hand—if only to find its flaws. So, with Yoda at my side, only hope I can that Disney, lured to the dark side, it isn’t, by newfound power. One can only hope that Disney will seize this opportunity to extend the Star Wars legacy responsibility. I’d personally love to see elements of the Star Wars Expanded Universe literature in the new films—the new Jedi order led by Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia’s children as Jedi trainees.
One thing’s for sure, though: the new generation of fans the Disney marketing team is sure to create had better not think Episode I comes first.