By now you have of course heard the news: George Lucas has sold his company, Lucasfilm, and virtually all of its subsidiaries to Disney for the handsome sum of $4.5 billion dollars. From a pop culture standpoint, this is one of the biggest bombshells of the last decade, perhaps longer. The acquisition of Lucasfilm and all of the moving parts that come with it represent a tremendous power grab from one of biggest film studios in the industry, if not the biggest. Even more importantly, though, this transaction comes with an added piece of fascinating news: Disney immediately announced that a seventh Star Wars movie, the first of a new trilogy, will reach theaters in 2015.
To be honest with you, dear reader(s), I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I am known, both in real life and in this space, for always having an opinion and being open about that opinion. This caught me off guard, however, and I see a tremendous number of pros and cons. Columns, news pieces, and articles related to this topic have been abundant over the last 72 hours and I’ve pored through every one I could come across in an effort to wrap my head around this. Since The Soap Box Office has always been dedicated to the average moviegoer who perhaps does not have the time to dig into a dozen articles on one subject, I decided the best use of my time would be to compile a concise guide to what all of this means and where the series goes from here as wells as where we the fans go. Please enjoy and be sure to click the links if something catches your eye.
I was heading into a grocery store when this piece of news came across the airwaves and within minutes my phone absolutely blew up. Like almost every member of my generation (and the generations before and after), I grew up on the virtues of Star Wars. It is, to this day, my favorite film series of all time and that will probably never change at this point. All of my friends know this, of course, and so I spent a solid 45 minutes standing in the candy aisle the day before Halloween answering texts and refreshing Twitter, desperately trying to get all the news I could. (Quick plug for Twitter: if you’re not on Twitter, you are missing out on the greatest source of instant information the world has ever seen. Just FYI.)
I met each text and each piece of information with a feeling that is akin to riding a new, dangerous looking roller coaster for the first time, only this roller coaster has a 30% chance of crashing and killing everyone aboard. It’s a mix of genuine, childlike excitement and abject, “oh the humanity!” horror. The battle inside my body was the battle of Heart versus Brain. My heart, the part of me that loves the Star Wars universe in a way that should probably be reserved for only the closest family members, believed this was the greatest piece of news ever in the history of the world. Meanwhile, my Brain patiently and continually reminded me of all the past transgressions the Star Wars universe has afflicted upon me. The conversation went something like this:
Heart: “New Star Wars films!!!” Brain: “Yeah but do you remember the last set of new Star Wars films?” Heart: “Yeah but…New Star Wars films!” Brain: “Seriously, man, Hayden Christensen. Jake Lloyd. An entire trilogy based on trade regulations.” Heart: “Chewbacca, dude! New stuff with Chewbacca!” Brain: “Jar Jar Binks.” Heart: “…Crap.” (Brain is a real Debbie Downer.)
In truth, none of us know what to expect from this new merger. There’s some sentiment, which I am inclined to agree with in principal, that it can’t get any worse. The ways in which Lucas ruined both his original trilogy and the second series (my own personal views on this matter can be found here) are unlikely to be reproduced. At the same time, however, any further Star Wars films that don’t at least come close to holding up to the standard set by those first three films only serve to further cheapen their legacy, even if they are tremendously better than the prequels. I thought John Carter was a decent movie, a solid “B” sort of film that was better than any of the Star Wars prequels. But in no way does it stand up against the original trilogy and if we get three more films that fall into the same camp as John Carter then all we’ve done is make some rich people richer and taken a little more of the sheen off of the luster of those first three films. Consider that Disney’s last ten big budget, epic, live action films (John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Prince of Persia, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Tron Legacy, National Treasure 2, Chronicles of Narnia, and three Pirates of the Caribbean films) have all been less than stellar from a critical standpoint. It’s a risky proposition and one that makes me incredibly nervous.
This is the best way I can sum up my initial reaction. My wife and I are expecting our first child next spring and as such, just about everything that goes through my head right now comes around to how it will impact this kiddo. As I told my friend, “On the one hand, MY KID WILL GET TO SEE NEW STAR WARS MOVIES IN THE THEATER!!! But on the other hand, my kid will get to see new Star Wars movies in the theater.” It’s a coin flip at this point.
THE WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE OF THE NEW FILMS
The short answer to, “What will the focus of the new films be?” is we don’t know. There is a TON of material out there from which the new films could draw from. Full length novels, video games, and comic books focusing on the Star Wars universe exist in troves and some of them provide some excellent content. I think it’s safe to assume that the new films will take place after the events of Return of the Jedi (though there’s certainly room to speculate that they could focus on the events prior to Episode I) as George Lucas himself has always insisted that his Star Wars vision included nine films broken into three trilogies. We’ve seen parts one and two, obviously, now it’s on to part three.
If Disney decided to adapt some previously made content, there are two likely sources from which they would draw. One is the “Heir to the Empire” trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn which take place directly after the destruction of the second Death Star. They are well-written books that many Star Wars nerds consider to be the official-unofficial story of what became of Luke, Han, Leia, and the rest of our the Rebel Alliance as they attempted to restore order to the galaxy. The problem with this series is that they take place within a few months of the conclusion to Return of the Jedi, meaning Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and the rest would be far too old to reassume their famed roles. The second source that would likely be considered would be the various tales of Jacen Solo, the son of Han and Leia. Jacen has been a staple in the post-Return books and comics and has become an established member of the Star Wars universe, though the events of his life tend to change from book to book/series to series. Using this story would allow our old favorites to play minor roles that are now age appropriate but it also means jumping far into the future, which may be tough for fans of the movies who haven’t read any of the books to get on board.
It is far more likely, however, that the new Star Wars films will feature all-new, original content. Lucas made it clear that he had “detailed” story treatments for new films which he essentially handed over to Disney and knowing Lucas, it’s unlikely that he based any of his story off of something someone else had written. Lucas has also hinted over the years that the third trilogy would center on Luke Skywalker and would be based 20 to 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. From a narrative standpoint, I think that timeframe makes sense as it allows the story to move forward past the rebuilding of the New Republic but doesn’t jump so far forward as to bring the audience into a completely new world. From an acting standpoint, though, I think it could be challenging to accept new actors in the roles established by Hamill, Ford, etc. Going only 20 years forward would likely ensure that the original cast would not be a part of the trilogy and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about that.
Of even more interest to me is the suggestion that the new Star Wars films might not (read: “will not”) stop at just one more trilogy. Lucas said he had ideas for “hundreds” of Star Wars movies and while that’s not realistic, it’s a good bet that when Disney wraps up their new trilogy in roughly 2021, they could then begin inserting new stories with new character and/or new actors into the canon. Star Wars could become a James Bond-like entity. We could see a Boba Fett movie, an origin story on the founding of the Jedi Order or, of most interest to me, a movie about the beginning of the partnership between Han Solo and Chewbacca. Personally, I love this idea and I think it could breathe continual new life into the series…if it’s done right.
WHO WILL DIRECT THE NEW FILM?
Boy, now this is a big one. As we all know, the problem with the prequels isn’t that they exist. Everyone who had ever seen and loved one of the original Star Wars films just about died when the prequels were announced. I personally walked around brimming with anticipation for about three years leading up to the biggest let down of my entire life. No, the problem wasn’t their existence but that George Lucas wrote and directed them himself. Lucas has long been an opponent of the Hollywood system and has been very open about the fact that he never wanted anyone to have enough power to tell him no. That’s a noble thought when it comes to perseverance and stick-to-itiveness but having no one around whose opinion you respect and who has the stones to tell you, “Jar Jar Binks is the devil, George” then you’ve done a great disservice to your film/films. Who Disney will choose to helm this thing, therefore, is a really big deal.
Any Star Wars fanboy worth his/her salt has already given thought to the obvious choices for this position: Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, JJ Abrams, and Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately, we can probably rule all of them out. Coming off of his Batman trilogy, I think it’s likely that Nolan will take a short break (he has no directorial projects in the work) and then resume doing his original work. Whedon has a hardened contract with Marvel and will be working on the second Avengers movie during the would-be production of Episode VII. Abrams is out based solely on his continued involvement with the Star Trek franchise. You just don’t cross the streams. And Spielberg… Spielberg would be my number one choice and of these four, he’s the only one I’ll hold out any hope for. But given their longtime friendship and Spielberg’s own loyalty, I think he would view making a Star Wars movie as a betrayal of Lucas. And, to my knowledge, Spielberg has a longstanding relationship with Disney competitor Sony/DreamWorks.
What we’re likely looking for in a director is an established filmmaker but who also doesn’t have a name that everybody knows. This is a massive undertaking that would crush a newbie but would also likely prove too risky for a big name director to take hold of. No one wants to be the guy who further damaged the Star Wars name. We’re also looking for someone who has an eye for the nerdy and a healthy respect for the original material. The Hollywood Reporter and /Film both published a wish list of would-be Star Wars directors and both lists make good arguments. Very briefly, these are the five names that realistically might be called upon whom I’d be most interested in (beyond those top four).
David Fincher – The director of The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would bring a little bit of edge to the Star Wars universe that would suit it well. He also has a history with the Lucasfilm system and seems to be looking to do something a little less serious than his recent films have been (his pet project, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been delayed again).
Jon Favreau – He’s a nerd, he’s great with effects, and he understands how to make a Blockbuster (Iron Man). He does put an emphasis on humor, however, and that skill will not translate to Star Wars.
Alfonso Cuaron – This would be a bold choice for Disney but it might be the best fit of the bunch. Cuaron put together a near sci-fi masterpiece in 2006’s Children of Men and also helmed the third Harry Potter film which marks the transition of that series from the kiddie fare of the first two films to the darker, serious narrative of the last five.
Duncan Jones – My favorite name on this list. Jones has never handled a budget anywhere close to what Star Wars would bring with it but he has a tremendous understanding of the sci-fi genre that few big-time filmmakers have. Moon is a modern sci-fi classic and he transitioned quite nicely to bigger things with 2011’s Source Code.
Brad Bird – This is the one that seems most likely to me. Bird has worked within the Disney system before, having done The Incredibles for Pixar and showed tremendous skill in moving over to live-action with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. If Vegas laid odds on this sort of thing, Bird would be the favorite.
THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY
After processing the sale of Lucasfilm and the news of the new series of films, my next thought was what implications this would have on the original trilogy. It is no secret that of all Lucas’ many sins, the one true fans have the most trouble forgiving him for is his insistence on tweaking the first three films and refusing to even acknowledge the films as they were when they debuted. This came to a head yet again last year when all six films were released on Blu-Ray for the first time but came with a whole host of new, stupid changes and additions instead of an option to see the unedited version we’ve all come to know and love. (All of this could have been avoided, mind you, by simply including both the original and the extended versions in the pack. That’s all it would have taken.)
The problem is this: Fox still holds the distribution rights to all of the previous Star Wars films. Episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 will eventually turn over to Disney as part of this deal (this will happen in 2020). However, the rights to Episode IV: A New Hope remains with Fox into perpetuity. As such, it would be impossible for Disney to turn right around today and release the original trilogy tomorrow.
With that said, it is not uncommon for two studios/production companies to work together on a deal that is mutually beneficial which this would clearly be. For Fox, cutting a deal with Disney to have the original trilogy released would be a win-win. They would get paid to allow someone else to pay to release a film series that is going to sell tremendously well. For Disney, releasing the trilogy as it should be would endear the company to the fans, many of whom are skeptical of Disney’s involvement. Basically, it’s a matter of how much money will have to change hands to make this happen. It’s likely to be a lot of money but given that Disney just spent $4.5 billion to acquire this franchise and that the release of the real films on Blu-Ray would be a landmark event, you can bet Disney will pony up the cash. But it may take a while to both figure out an acceptable deal and then the chances are Disney will hold the set until the release of the new film gets closer. So continue to bide your time, nerd of the world, and you will be rewarded!
Thanks for taking the time to read this nonsense. Or to not read it. Whichever. The news on this story is going to be flying over the next few months and The Soap Box Office will do its best to stay on top of it all!