How the Disney Deal Could Save ‘Star Wars’

It would’ve taken a seismic shock to get Twitter and the blogosphere to stop chattering about Frankenmummystorm Sandy yesterday afternoon — and that’s exactly what happened (okay, maybe just metaphorically). Late in the day, Disney announced that they’d closed a $4.05 billion deal to purchase George Lucas’ LucasFilm production company; the same announcement also included news that a new Star Wars feature film will be released in 2015, an Episode VII that will mark the beginning of a new trilogy. Movie geeks across the Internet went, shall we say, ape-shit. And so did we, initially — how on earth can anyone in their right mind expect anything but the worst from another Star Wars trilogy? Didn’t the last one sully our beloved childhood memories enough? But the more we’ve thought about it, the more we’ve come to the conclusion that this whole Disney/LucasFilm business could, ultimately, be a very good thing.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: the notion, which we’ve actually seen some fans put forth with a straight face, that handing Disney the keys to a galaxy far, far away will somehow compromise the integrity of the brand is utterly, laughably ridiculous. Putting aside the execrable “prequel trilogy” (which we’ll get back to presently), Lucas has licensed his baby to everything from Legos to Angry Birds; he not only turned it into a cartoon TV series, but managed to turn it into a cartoon TV series that nobody watched. (Watches? Is Clone Wars still on the air? See what we mean?) This is nothing new; lest you forget, there were two made-for-TV Ewok movies in ’84 and ’85. Lucas is in it for the cheddar, and any interest in an actual legacy evaporated years — maybe decades — ago.

So what does that mean, in terms of LucasFilms’ new home? Not much; Disney is a brand even more interested in monetizing their investments. But this could also be great news for longtime fans tired of the increasingly dispiriting Lucas obstructionism; as several people have noted on Twitter, Disney doesn’t have pride or stubbornness preventing them from, say, releasing Blu-rays of the unaltered, untouched, un-CGI-sprayed versions of the original trilogy. Freed of the pigheaded notion that the shitty special editions are somehow superior, they probably (and rightly) see that as a revenue source worth exploiting. And fans will gladly pony up — including those of us who skipped the Lucas-sanctioned Blu-rays solely because they didn’t include the versions of the films that, y’know, we actually saw and loved. (And if they do that, can a Star Wars Holiday Special release be far behind?)

But what about this new trilogy? Lucas had been talking about Episodes 7-9 way back during the original trilogy, but Episodes 1-3 were such a clusterfuck that most fans could only muster up a sigh of relief when Lucas decided he wasn’t going to make them after all. But here’s what’s vitally important to note about this new trilogy: Lucas will not be writing or directing them. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” he says. “I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.” Mr. Lucas is clearly too much of a control freak to just walk away from the franchise. But the fact remains: he’ll be turning over the actual writing and directing duties to other (and, quite possibly, better) filmmakers — just as he did in Empire and Jedi, both of which came out pretty well, yes? It’s not that further Star Wars features can’t be good; it’s just that the chances of them actually being good decrease sharply if they’re stuck with Lucas’ tin-eared dialogue, lead-footed pacing, and C-SPAN-inspired narratives. Freed of that dead weight, they might have a shot.

We don’t want to get too attached to the view behind our rose-colored glasses; these new Star Wars films could make the prequel trilogy look like, well, the originals. But Disney has also proven fairly good at breathing new life into the existing brands they’ve taken over. When they bought Marvel, they took a chance on Joss Whedon to write and direct The Avengers. When the Muppets were flagging, they brought on Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Their acquisition of Pixar was followed by Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. Somebody at that company knows what they’re doing, is the point, and this could be the best thing that’s happened to LucasFilms in years. Or are we nuts on this?