Welcome to a new column here on SF Signal: …And Another Thing, a weekly commentary on issues and news from the speculative fiction community! We feel that there’s a lot of news that comes flying out from every corner of the internet on a number of issues: the incident at ReaderCon, the extreme popularity of the summertime releases of Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, to the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars. This column will feature a roving band of SF Signal Irregulars and their takes on the world around us.
As John and I were getting ready to launch this, a proverbial earthquake happened: Disney announced that they were purchasing LucasFilm Limited for $4.05 billion dollars in cash and stocks. Almost immediately, my Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with people excited, freaking out and everything in between. The noise is going to continue for a while, I suspect, and while I was initially skeptical, I realized that this isn’t something that’s unexpected.
LucasFilm and Disney have enjoyed a good relationship for a number of years now. Star Tours originally opened in 1987, Disney’s first non-property ride at one of their parks, and in recent years, the Star Wars Weekends have been extremely popular, and with Disney’s acquisitions of other companies and franchises, such as Pixar, Marvel and the Muppets, it’s clear that they’ve been developing a track record of working with other companies.
Star Wars has also been building towards a third trilogy for a while now, going back to the mid-90s: The release of the Special Editions in theaters revitalized a franchise that had been largely dormant in the public’s consciousness, building to the release of Episodes 1, 2 and 3 (for better or for worse), which, despite their numerous issues, have enjoyed enormous success in theaters. With the end of the prequel trilogy and faced with a lull, The Clone Wars television series has provided a weekly fix for young fans, all while all of the films are being released in 3D: The Phantom Menace earlier this year, and with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith next year, leaving a year or so for the entire Original Trilogy to be released in preparation for a 2015 release of Episode VII. New films, released 2-3 years apart will continue the franchise through to the 2020s. Disney’s resources will help to expand the franchise, and I would not be surprised if they’ll be watching how successful Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show will be doing, and push forward a plan for the long-awaited and speculated upon live-action TV series, which has largely been outside of Lucasfilm’s resources, but likely well within Disney’s.
The inevitable outcry is coming from longtime fans: Lucasfilm has sold out; they’re going to continue to trash a franchise so dear to our hearts; I’m just not going to watch it. The thing to remember is, this isn’t about the integrity of the stories or a nostalgic memory that should be preserved. Disney’s smelled the potential enormous revenue that a continuing Star Wars franchise will bring to audiences. There’s a reason why they’ve gone for the cartoons: kids will be life-long fans. Don’t believe me? Go watch the trick-or-treaters tonight, and count the number of clone troopers and Darth Vaders that you see. They’re here to stay.
Sad as it is to say it, Star Wars is a product that will be released again and again, with the occasional breaks. For Star Wars fans who enjoy the stories, this is welcome news: your franchise has a long future ahead of it. For those who don’t: well, you’ve got the original trilogy. One has to break away the childhood nostalgia from the business realities that guide the entertainment world: nobody is going to walk away from $4.05 billion dollars.
Until we see more about now-forthcoming films, we’re in completely new territory. Disney’s got a mixed record with science fiction: The Avengers was quite a bit of fun, while John Carter really wasn’t. Tron: Legacy falls somewhere in between. Wall*E and the rest of the Pixar stable have withstood some of the concerns that Disney would ruin that particular brand, although that’s largely unfounded, with the exception of Cars 2. My hope is that they’ll take more from the experience with Marvel Studios and the coordinated successes of the films in the Avengers series, which by and large, have worked well together. Plus, with the experience of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones under our belts (and god forbid, the Holiday Special), we’ve seen the low points of the Star Wars franchise: there’s nowhere to go but up, really. While Lucas is hanging around as a creative consultant, the franchise is out of his hands, opening up the story to new directors seems like the only way forward to me.
Until we see more (and the rumors will be flying for the next year or two), there’s not a lot to judge this move on, except for the experience of other companies in similar positions, and for the most part, this has been a positive one. I’ll be interested in seeing what comes out of this, at least cautiously. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll see Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as Episodes 7, 8 and 9. that would be something to see. At the end of the day, it’s a major win for Disney, and hopefully, one for the fans as well.