All signs point to streaming being the way of the future in entertainment media. The onslaught of this new avenue is what caused Rupert Murdoch to first approach Disney about selling 20th Century Fox assets (he didn’t want to compete on that field), as well as why Disney is on the cusp of launching its own streaming service next year to compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and the like—how dare they make money off of Disney’s IP assembly line, which includes Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and more live-action remakes of animated classics than there are stars in the sky.
And yet, while Disney’s impending streaming service became a potential iceberg in Netflix’s path when it was announced last year, Disney itself has one small problem in its own way: They will be unable to put the original Star Wars trilogy (which includes the 1977 movie, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), nor the Prequel Trilogy, on their streaming service for at least five years.
This surprising wrinkle of seller’s remorse in the Mouse House comes from Bloomberg, which cites anonymous sources to report that Disney attempted to repurchase the television broadcast and online streaming rights to the first six Star Wars movies from Turner Broadcasting. However, the talks have stalled since Turner asked for compensation and presumably newer content (content that could be earmarked for Disney’s streaming service) to replace the rights to the first several Star Wars trilogies. Turner previously bought the television and online rights to those six films in 2016 for $275 million, back when Disney’s streaming plans were still in flux, and will hold license until 2024. Giving Turner the ability to air Star Wars or even The Phantom Menace on TNT and TBS.
This is a bit of an irony for Disney, because assuming they do not return to the negotiating table to reach a more palatable solution with Turner, this means they cannot put on streaming the six movies—and specifically three classics—from which so much of their current product derives. One doesn’t need to be a Jedi to notice that Disney has leaned hard into nostalgia for the original trilogy while crafting their first four Star Wars movies since 2015. Additionally, Star Wars IP is going to be an apparent cornerstone of Disney’s streaming service, which in addition to likely streaming new Star Wars films will also be producing original content, including live-action and animated television shows, based on that galaxy far, far away.
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Nevertheless, while the films that actually broke new ground and blazed the trail will be off the table for potentially half a decade, Disney can rest easy about Star Wars movies. As Yoda might say, “There is another. And another. And another.”