31 Oct

It took George Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney to make me excited about Star Wars again

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 31, 2012 | News

 

Around 4pm eastern, news dropped today that inspired more Star Wars angst since we all stepped out of Episode 1 and realized that we’d been had. I’m sure by now you’ve heard. It’s late as I write this and everyone who wants to know knows. George Lucas has sold his company Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney company for $4.05 billion dollars. This means that Disney takes the reins over the entire Lucasfilm production company and its related properties meaning that primarily Disney gets total control of Star Wars.

George Lucas sells Star Wars to DisneyBack when Marvel was acquired by Disney the entire internet exploded. We’re talking an outpouring of fan emotion and anxiety the likes of which have never been seen. We had histrionic fans spewing the most ridiculous hyperbolic bullshit on every internet outlet that allowed them to panic in public. Fan speculation was anything but measured and reasonable. The general tone saw super Marvel team up books where Wolverine and Goofy teamed up to stop Doctor Doom and Cruella DeVille’s plan to flood New York City and loot it’s animal shelters to make new villain capes out of Dalmation pelts. No one on Earth could foresee a future where we got the shit entertained out of us at the receiving end of two Iron Man movies, Captain America, Thor and that fucking amazing Avengers flick! High octaine fun the way a summer movie should be, brought to you by The Walt Disney Company. Nobody seemed to notice as they tried their best to wipe the tears from their eyes at the conclusion of The Muppets without being seen that The Muppets was triumphantly brought back to screen by, wait for it, The Walt Disney company.

Maybe there’s little crossover between Muppet fans, Marvel fans and Star Wars fans that makes it hard to see that Disney’s involvement in Star Wars is not the cataclysmic ending to the innocence of your childhood that you think it is. I’m in a fighting mood right now and my need to spar verbally with short sighted nerds on the internet who need something, anything to complain about is being satisfied by an endless wave of endtimes prophecy that predicts cameos on The Clone Wars from Donald Duck. You have caught me at an interesting time, true believers.

Let me explain why this is awesome.

The stakes have never been lower. George Lucas got lucky with Star Wars. I’m talking “intelligent life in the universe” lucky here. For all his vision in the technical department, George Lucas is a supremely lousy storyteller. I once read a biography of him called Mythmaker and I gleaned two bits of fact from it.

  1. George Lucas hates working with actors. They’re a pain in the ass and they never do exactly what he wants them to do.
  2. George Lucas lifted all his best ideas from movies he enjoyed as a kid and as a film student.

Donald Duck Darth MaulNow, item number 2 doesn’t necessarily indicate anything bad. Plenty of filmmakers are derivative. It’s the nature of art and there’s plenty out there that there’s is seriously derivative of other work and is just as good if not better. Case in point, Star Wars. It lends credence to my argument, however, that Star Wars succeeded because Akira Kurosawa, to whom Star Wars owes a huge debt, is an awesome filmmaker and the formula of the Saturday matinee serial is proven to work in any medium. But poll your friends who like Star Wars and ask them what their favorite movie in the series is. Ten’ll get you twenty they say The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe they prefer Jedi but I guarantee that nine times out of ten they’re not going to say Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you actually call it that). The first in the series is great but the trilogy really takes off when Lucas handed off the writing and direction to other people and put himself in the producers chair. He was able to concentrate on the parts of the craft that he actually enjoyed, pioneered an innovative new wave of special effects and founded one of the leading companies in Hollywood post-production. The Empire Strikes Back was the true genesis of the Star Wars legacy and the hands-off material in Lucas’ magnum opus is the best of it all with some exceptions, which I’ll get to.

I still remember when the prequels were announced and how insane I was going. I was going to school at the time and when the trailer hit, we crashed the school’s network trying to download it. The school eventually came up with a solution to save bandwidth by putting the quicktime trailer on a public server and letting us all in one by one to download it. We all went insane watching this thing. It played again and again and again and we all declared it the greatest thing in the universe. We were all so, so stupid. When the time finally came to the see the movie none of us could believe what we were seeing. I actually occupied a holdout of apologists who hung on to this naive idea that Episode 1 was actually everything I’d hoped it would be but after a couple of weeks and a couple more viewings I couldn’t take myself seriously anymore and had to admit that I hated nearly every second of it. If there was anything I enjoyed it was the fight between Qui Gon Jin, Obi Wan and Darth Maul toward the end because let’s face it, that fight is fucking awesome!

I allowed myself to get pulled back in for the sequel, hoping that there would be improvement, but there wasn’t. By the time Revenge of the Sith rolled out I took it in out of a strange sense of obligation but I loathed it and I still loathe it to this day. Why did I hate it so much? What was the culprit? This was easy to figure out. George Lucas was the problem. He insisted on writing and directing each one of them because his OCD had progressed to such a level that he’d never be able to let anyone else touch his baby. In the intervening time there was the needless Special Edition. DVD boxed sets arrived forcing you to buy them all or nothing in expensive sets. Theatrical re-releases were engineered to squeeze every last drop of blood out of the franchise and with each new development, Lucas drove more and more of us away. Star Wars as managed by George Lucas, science fiction’s analog to Moses, had become a zero-sum game. True fans of the order found before the Special Editions were impossible to find and the hold outs were the worst kind of nerd. A dork with no sense of taste or judgement, a sub-triple digit IQ with bad skin and a meaningless collection of unopened toys. By this point, even I’d sold off all my sealed Star Wars action figures for a modest profit.

Jar JarSo here we are. Lucas is old and tired and sick of trying to figure out a way to satisfy fans in a way that’ll make them spend their money on his product while still producing the product on his own misguided terms. He’s tired of being the greatest fallen idol of all time. Disney happens to be in the unique position of looking for an angle that sells something to boys. I’m the father of a five year old girl. I know all about the market power of Disney because of her. Thanks to Tinker Bell and Princesses, Disney has the little girl demographic on lock. She doesn’t give a fuck about anything unless it has Cinderella on it. But they’ve made all the money they’re going to make off Cars and boys are a market share that is slipping through their fingers like dry sand. They made some headway with Marvel but Disney is sealing the deal with Star Wars. Boys from 3 years old up to grown-ass men will be shelling out for this foolproof product because as much as we hate George Lucas, we still can’t pry ourselves away from Star Wars fully. Even though we know that we should.

The benefit is that Disney, love them or hate them, is a faceless money-making automaton. This is a company which shamelessly shook off the Disney family. It has become the Skynet of the free market and they know what you want. I should hate this being as I am a cynical asshole with high standards but I don’t. I understand Disney’s objective and their handling of both The Muppets and Marvel have been amazing, quite frankly. Disney remains hands off. They acquired troubled properties with a solid potential for growth and nurse them back to health by giving them the space to grow and keeping their hands out of the mix. The Muppets hadn’t been in the public eye for a long time, it’s a big part of the movie’s story. Marvel has always had trouble staying competitive and turning a profit. Star Wars is at an all time low and fan confidence in its creator couldn’t be any lower. From where Disney sees it, even if they fail, they’re still doing better than Lucas did.

There’s a caveat to all of this and it’s the one part of the deal which bugs me. Disney has announced a new Star Wars sequel, Episode 7, to be released in 2015.

I won’t lie. I’ll probably see it. I don’t know anything about it except that they’re referring to it as Episode 7 and I can only assume that it takes place after Jedi but I will pay for this. I know I will. I’m like that. But I don’t relish the thought. I like to think of Episodes 4-6 as a complete cycle. I don’t think it needs anything else. Upon review I decided that it didn’t need prequels. They were unnecessary. This is why I also don’t like the Expanded Universe. If you’re unfamiliar, Expanded Universe is all the Lucasfilm approved stories on the side in the form of books, comics, video games and any other means of telling more stories about Luke, Leia, Han and whoever else. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of this stuff and it all amounts to little more than licensed fan fiction. I know I’ll draw some flak for this as lots and lots of people enjoy all these books and games and shit but of nearly all that I’ve seen, I’ve hated. I prefer to ignore all of it. The only Expanded Universe stuff I’ve ever cared for was the Gendy Tartakovsky short animated series Clone Wars and the currently running Clone Wars show as both were pretty sophisticated and gritty for a franchise that had been watered down to meet the broadest market appeal.

We are facing a brave new world of possibility for Star Wars. There’s a new commander at the helm and the future for Star Wars looks bright. I have hopes that Disney will restart the production for the TV show that stalled due to budget problems (apparently it’s EXPENSIVE!). I’m also an unapologetic fan of Walt Disney World and an expanded, far less restrictive license hopefully means a greater presence of Star Wars in the theme parks. I have stars in my eyes thinking of an entire Star Wars themed resort.

I haven’t been this excited about Star Wars since I was a kid. I was a super fan. I can recite large portions of the dialog from The Empire Strikes Back from memory. But over time I’d grown sick of seeing it shit on time and time again by the very person who had created it. It was almost as though Lucas had nothing but contempt for it. As though Star Wars had locked his career as a filmmaker down to this one project when all he wanted to do was abstract shit like THX-1138. Now that he’s gone, existing in a consultancy role only, I am extremely excited and ready for more Star Wars.

To all the haters out there who think this news is the worst thing ever, I want to know why. I’ve seen your shitty, alarmist scenarios on Twitter and Facebook. Worry that Disney is going to make Star Wars something for toddlers but you’re wrong and you’re stupid. Disney has no interest in watering down the product. It’s succeeding on its own and their formula for success is to own it and then get out of the way so it can do its thing along with their vast network of market support. If you can’t see how Disney taking over Star Wars is a good thing, you’re a fucking idiot.

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