When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2013, and then immediately announced that it would release not only Episode 7, but also a Star Wars movie every single year after 2015. Fans were ecstatic yet an afterthought of doubt and high-expectations-that-were-disappointed with the release of Phantom Menace came back to haunt all of us.
Now, as the release of the first Star Wars movie in 10 years is closer than ever (still 15 months away, but who’s counting? Or who’s not, actually!) let’s look at what could make (and break) the future Star Wars franchise revival.
Here are five reasons why Disney producing Episode 7 could work:
5. Disney knows how to handle sequels, prequels, and big franchise
We won’t go into the Direct-to-DVD sequels, but Disney knows how make sequels. Look at the Pirates franchise; or even Tron: we waited 19 years for it, but we got a good (if not great) sequel. Disney has the patience, the nurturing grace, and the talent to create great sequels even decades after the original movies. And that’s exactly the case with the Star Wars sequels (se-sequels? late-quels? post-quels?).
And let’s not go into their marketing talent to create franchise out of movies that no one expected! I mentioned the Pirates franchise, but even National Treasure is a good example. The Disney Studios just has the back solid enough to support a movie all the way, and the nerve to make them big enough to warrant a sequel.
4. Disney knows mergers inside out
Look at ESPN and ABC. Look at Pixar. Look at Marvel. Those are very strong brands, very strong cultures with utterly devoted fans that were acquired by Disney and have multiplied their assets, their value, and their delivery in a few short years. Disney really knows how to absorb a company, leverage its huge assets, yet keep the acquired company’s culture intact, and its strengths honed. Disney is a company that knows mergers and acquisitions inside out. They’ll be able to restructure and integrate LucasFilm in no time! It’s a small structure, on the West Coast, and with devoted employees. Disney has already done cross-border deals that were humongous and with a fidgety workforce! So, the merger will work…
3. They are so many potential cross-pollination ideas
Just an hour after the merger announcement, the web was already full of Mickey/Luke mash-ups, or Ian/Donald ones, too. Of course, some of them have existed in the minds of fans everywhere, or at the Star Tours parks. Yet, if the fans were ready, it means that they’ll be happy to see new cartoons cross-overs, or talent cross-overs… Let’s not even go into the Marvel/Star Wars cross-over potential!! It’s just too big…
What is funny, actually, is that if you look at the licenses that Marvel had for comics in the late 70s and early 80s, all of them became huge franchise, with strong stories and great characters, yet no one remembers that it was Marvel that put top talent on those universe in the beginning and helped them grow when the original writers were long past their due date. Transformers. G.I. Joe. Conan. And yes, Star Wars… It’s only fitting that Marvel would once again be able to do Star Wars comics, and that perhaps their respective characters might cross-over as well…
2. There are so many talents out there for the sequels
Disney can choose within its own roster (Brad Bird, John Lasseter), within the talent it has fostered (Jon Turterltaub, Gore Verbinski), or “newer” talent to direct the post-quels. Some articles have already mentioned Chris Nolan… But I’m not sure he would be a fit for a Star Wars movie… Perhaps the Star Wars Underground TV Show? But can you imagine someone as gifted as Nolan, or as versatile as Brad Bird getting their hands on a Star Wars Episode? Talk about geek-gasm… It would actually be akin to someone like Joss Whedon doing the Avengers… But that would never happen, right? Not only did it happen, but under Disney’s watch, as well!!!
The world is Disney’s playground, and we can now dream about which incredible new director and talent will get to work on the Star Wars post-quels! Can you actually imagine Joseph-Gordon Levitt playing Han Solo? Why not! Fans can now hope that any actor they love will get cast in the new episodes, and that’s paradise on earth!
1. We will have waited 38 years for Episode 7
Even when I was a wee lad growing up in France, I had heard about George Lucas’ plans. It might be an urban legend, but I still believe it: When Lucas pitched his saga to the studios, he had 3 acts in mind. He decided to concentrate on the middle section, almost starting “in media res”. That meant Episode IV, V, and VI. Even if the movie Star Wars had yet to be called Star Wars – A new Hope, and then Star Wars: Episode I – A New Hope, the fans knew. They knew that if they were patient, if they waited dutifully, they would be rewarded with new episodes… So, we waited 3 years. And then 3 more years, and we had the “2nd act”, or the first Trilogy… And then we waited, and waited some more, until we got the Prequels… Now, people might have been disappointed, but at least they got new episodes… And then pretty soon they heard they wouldn’t be a third act. Lucas had spent too long on each episode, too long on the Star Wars saga as part of his life… So, fans had not only been treated to disappointing new episodes, they would never see more… Until the faithful announcement from yesterday!
And here are fove reasons why Disney producing Episode 7 could ruin it:
5. Disney’s acquisitions of characters does not always work
They bought the Muppets, yet outside of two recent movies that worked so-so in the US, but flopped (when released!) in international markets, they haven’t done anything with them.
Winnie the Pooh as well was an acquisition that didn’t work that well. And even worse, it had been licensed by Disney for more than 30 years when the final acquisition was completed. Yet, they haven’t been able to revive the brand.
Even the Pixar deal could have soured: the Toy Story 2 cartoon war originally a direct-to-DVD crappy endeavor. Pixar decided to scrap the whole thing 9 months before its planned release to redo everything. Let’s not even go into Cars 2. Yet, Disney had been fine with that! And the whole Michael Eisner era was full of conflicts of the sort. When Bob Iger became CEO, it improved the relationship with Steve Jobs, but the foundations were not that solid at the start. And who knows, when Iger retires, if his/her successor can handle so many strong personalities that work at Pixar, Marvel, and now LucasFilm…
4. The Avengers (and the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase I movies) were done under Paramount’s distribution arm, not Disney’s
Even if the Marvel acquisition happened in the fall of 2009 (only a year after Iron Man had been out), it still took many years for Disney Studios to assert its influence on Marvel Studios. And worse, the deal with Paramount to distribute the Marvel movies had to be bought back by Disney if they wanted to distribute the Avengers. Yet, the Avengers, and Iron Man 3, were still distributed by Paramount internationally. And all the MCU Phase I movies were fully distributed by Paramount. The marketing, the licensing deals, were all at least co-orchestrated by Paramount with Marvel Studios. So, a lot of the success of the movies can be attributed to Paramount. Especially the one that started it all, Iron Man: without the savvy marketing campaign that made the common folks aware and care for what was only a second-tier character from the Marvel Universe, Iron Man would never have been the success it was, and the movie that started it all! As for Phase 2 movies, they have all seen a nice bump in their box-office, but again due to the Avengers – a Paramount movie – not the Disney touch.
3. Disney already needs to focus on its current characters
What does it tell you about a Studio that the biggest hits in the past few years have come from acquisitions? If a company has hits from outside acquisitions and not from past product lines, they might discontinue those lines… But Disney has Mickey Mouse and his friends, the Princesses, Mary Poppins and the other feature films characters, the based-on-a-ride movies, etc… We’ve been waiting more than 3 years to hear some words about the Magic Kingdom movie made by Jon Favreau.. And how about a movie biography on Walt Disney himself? His life is more interesting than a board game or a toy on which movies are based on, now! And besides Frozen (and Tangled to a lesser extent), there have not been any in-house successful cartoons in many many years… And even those two could be counted as Pixar movies, as they were produced by John Lasseter. Just like Wreck-it-Ralph. Now, I’m all about bringing outside talent, it’s what keeps a company fresh, alive and well… But if this talent doesn’t help rejuvenate old characters, and keeps adding new ones (don’t get me wrong, I loved The Incredibles), then the old characters will never be loved and cherished by new generations.
2. Disney’s resources might be overwhelmed
Disney’s current pipeline calls for about 10 movies a year, including 1 Pixar movie and 1 to 2 Marvel movies. Then, come the DreamWorks movies, and now the LucasFilm movies… How many different sub-brands, sub-studios, sub-something can a Studio handle? We’re talking production, marketing, distribution. All aspects of the movie-making business that Disney is probably a leader at (except for John Carter; and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and The Lone Ranger), but can they handle the schizophrenic aspect of all those different studios vying for their dollars? Looking at those last three movies I mentioned, responsible for some of the biggest write-offs in movie history, it seems that Disney is indeed completely overwhelmed.
1. Disney will dilute the Star Wars brand
For more than 14 years (from 1983 to 1997), the only way to watch Star Wars (the original version, at least!) was on an old VHS that was so run-down because of the multiple viewings you could see the lines on each frame of the tape! But it was okay for a whole generation, actually even more than one generation, because it was a shared experience: something rare, something common that made a father and son bond, roommates relate to one another, or a whole dorm run a Star Wars marathon… In our world, actually throughout history, whether it’s gold, diamonds, oil, what is rare is expensive; what is rare is sought after; what is rare, is seldom seen… The beauty of the Star Wars brand, the whole MYSTIC behind it, actually, was that it was like a comet, a full solar eclipse, or a DB5: something you saw only once in a lifetime, something you knew might come again, but perhaps you might be too old to enjoy it (or dead!), and you might not even be conscious enough to understand what you’re seeing. Even if the Episodes I to III and VII to IX were mentioned in hushed tones whenever a geek would meet a nerd, no one actually believed they would ever see them made. Seeing Star Wars was a rare occurrence, something you did once a year like watching the Super Bowl or the World Series. Buying a new Star Wars toy (from the original series) was something you could only do for a little bit after the original episodes, or at conventions… And that was it.
Then, the Prequels came along while they were not as terrible as some make them out to be (or while the glow of nostalgia was still strong enough to block their awfulness), rarity was blown out of the way. The DVDs came along, then the BluRays, then the packs. And let’s not even talk about the merchandise. Of course, there were merchandise, comics, and expanded universe products during those fabled 14 years of rarity… But nothing was quite like the original products, the ones that actually weren’t even ready for “A New Hope”, but that came with a voucher or a pre-paid empty box…
And that is the whole problem with Disney’s plan: a TV show, or more; a movie every 2 to 3 years; merchandise; more merchandise… How about quality over quantity? Disney used to be about a new cartoon every 4 years, and a re-issue of their old ones every 7 years. Of course, now that we have a new Pixar cartoon every year, and DVDs, I couldn’t be more pleased not to wait that long to share with my children a new Disney feature. Yet, I still long for the days (when I wasn’t even born) when actually WAITING, LONGING for a new feature, searching for a RARE product was actually an adventure in itself. And that was the whole BRAND: sought-after; longed-for; in one word, rare.