Disney to buy Lucasfilm for $4 billion. That was the headline you may have missed amid all the coverage of Hurricane Sandy.
Lucasfilm is the movie company owned by George Lucas, the Yoda-like producer, writer and director behind Star Wars. He has decided to pursue his philanthropic interests full time, helped by adding Disney’s $4 billion to his already Everest-sized piles of gold.
What the news means for the rest of us is that Star Wars is never going to end. Disney has already announced that the next chapter in the sci-fi film series, which most of us assumed had mercifully breathed its last with the 2005 release of the dismal dud, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, is now slotted for a 2015 release. And you can bet that there will be more after that.
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Movies have become the new TV. Like a television series that runs for years, now movies are supposed to yield sequel after sequel. But Star Wars? Is nothing sacred?
For a generation, including even some readers of Next Avenue, movies began with Star Wars. They were adolescents when they first saw the film and, well, movies just didn’t get any better than that.
The first film, Star Wars, opened on May 25, 1977, and became an instant must-see, introducing audiences to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the heavy-breathing Darth Vader. Along with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a summer smash two years earlier, it helped establish the notion of the summer blockbuster.
Lucas followed with two more Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. Both were also big hits.
OK, so fine, he made a trilogy. There’s a certain allure to three: three on a match, three's company, three's a charm, etc.
Then in 1999, Lucas returned to Star Wars on the big screen, turning out three more films. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith were prequels to the original trilogy. Most fans, and certainly most critics, consider these flicks to be lesser works, full of stilted dialog and bad acting. And don’t even get me started on Jar Jar Binks.
Now, Lucas is turning his baby over to a new owner and the adoptive parent plans to put the kid to work. The Mouse House, which already has Star Wars attractions at its theme parks, seemingly hopes to keep turning out Star Wars movies (and attendant merchandise) as long as there’s a buzzing light saber to be sold.
As Yoda might say, “Not good this idea is.”
That’s because nothing lasts forever — and shouldn’t. There are only so many stories you can tell within a framework. This is true for TV series and it’s true for movie franchises. The only reason that NBC’s ER lasted for 15 seasons was that it kept breathing life into the show by bringing in new doctors and nurses as earlier cast members left. When the series finally ended in 2009, the only remaining characters from the first season were the little seen support staff (desk clerk Jerry and nurses Chuny, Malik and Haleh). Similarly, the James Bond series has been able to go on for 50 years — and 23 films, as of Skyfall’s opening this month — only because the producers keep replacing the actor playing the martini-drinking British spy when the previous occupant grows too arthritic.
Be that as it may, Disney’s move on the Star Wars franchise should come as no surprise. Movie studios are now just pieces in pies that make up giant corporations. The corporate masters want profits, not art. The movies most likely to generate profits are those that have done so before, like sequels that are, in Hollywood parlance, “pre-sold.”
The result: endless movies built around X-Men, Batman, Harry Potter, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Mission Impossible crew, Jason Bourne, Sherlock Holmes, and other familiar names.
Star Wars is possibly the biggest franchise of all. For the past 35 years, from the moment kids all over the world don their first pair of Star Wars pajamas, sleep under their first Star Wars comforter, or lift their first light saber, they know and revere the name Star Wars. They grow up to buy their kids Star Wars pajamas and take them to Star Wars movies, just as you probably did and your children either have done or will.
In deciding to fork over $4 billion to George Lucas, obviously Disney has concluded that the Force will be with us for years to come.