Disney made a surprise announcement yesterday that it had acquired Lucasfilm, and its stable of characters, from owner George Lucas. Among high-profile properties Disney will be acquiring is the rights to the Star Wars universe and characters, and along with the purchase, Disney announced that a new Star Wars film would hit theaters in 2015. Lucas will reportedly stay on as a "creative consultant," but at this point it's Disney's show.
The announcement led to a lot of predictable grousing from Star Wars fans about how Disney's goliath corporate interests would ruin a franchise that has, until now, been controlled by its visionary creator.
I'm as fond of the Star Wars universe as anyone (OK, maybe not this guy), but on this one I side with the Empire. Lucas' management of the franchise over the last couple decades has not exactly been stellar. I waited in line for hours to see each of the Star Wars prequels, and even dressed in a homemade costume for the first. But, like the majority of viewers, I came away pretty disappointed with all of them.
Nor is Lucas content merely to make mediocre sequels. His constant reworking of the original trilogy — adding new effects and scenes while changing key, character defining moments — has only made the first three movies worse. Indeed, Lucas often seems to take some a perverse pleasure in refusing to give the fans what they actually want, including something as obvious as a no-frills high-definition releases of the original trilogy in its original form, without any additional updates or edits, where Han Solo shoots first and there are no computer-generated song-and-dance routines, as it was meant to be.
But as Jonathan Last suggests, that may change now that there's a big corporation in charge of the franchise rather than a prickly creator:
For too long we've been held hostage to the personal artistic visions of George Lucas who, like Stalin airbrushing his enemies out of state photographs, carefully disappeared the original theatrical cuts so that Gredo could shoot first, CGI spectacle could muddle up Mos Eisley, and a young Hayden Christiansen could appear to Luke Skywalker and automatically make him realize that he's his dad.
Now Disney's corporate greed could give us the product we've always craved. All hail Disney corporate greed!
I even think there's even hope for the new Star Wars movie. Since buying Marvel Comics in 2009, Disney has proven quite adept at handling beloved franchises and characters, putting fanboy-fave Joss Whedon in charge of The Avengers, which turned out to be pretty great. There's obviously a place for personal artistic visions and work that challenges fans, but in the case of huge mass-market properties like Star Wars, big corporations probably have stronger incentives than wealthy individual creators to produce work that mass audiences really like. That obviously doesn't mean that they always follow through with a fantastic product. But as Lucas proves, individual creators don't always deliver either.