Why the Disney/Lucasfilm deal is good for Star Wars

Don't be afraid of Star Wars Episode 7, argues Simon. This might just be what the Star Wars franchise needed...

The internet seemed to shake to its very foundations with the out-of-nowhere news that Disney was to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05bn in cash and stock. Granted, George Lucas had asserted that he was looking to get out of the movie business a while back (and apparently had been planning this for years), but few thought he’d sell his company, lock stock and barrel. Yet that’s just what he’s done. The deal gives Disney a huge position of strength in the entertainment business. Not only does it get the Star Wars franchise, Skywalker Sound, ILM and assorted businesses. It’s also got Pixar and Marvel already safely tucked under its wing. It’s fair to say that it’s outmanoeuvred many of its competitors, and bolstered its slate for many, many years to come.

One part of the announcement was the confirmation that Star Wars Episode 7 was being readied for 2015. This has already been met with, it’s fair to say, less than upbeat reactions. The thought of another Star Wars film doesn’t seem to be going down very well at all.

But is the world being a little too hasty here? Because one thing this deal might just do – in fact,should do – is put the Star Wars cinematic franchise right back on track.

By the time the new trilogy came to an end in 2005 with Revenge Of The Sith, the patience of many long-time Star Wars fans had long worn thin. There’s still a lot of affection for the franchise, and it’s still bringing in new viewers – just look at the near-$100m take for The Phantom Menace re-release earlier this year (and that’s pretty much the least-liked film). But the original trilogy is more cherished than ever, given the disdain with which the newer films are held. The Blu-ray sales last year helped prove that.

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So, with that in mind, why is the news of a new Star Wars movie a good thing?

Well, several reasons. Even the most ardent of Star Wars fans would admit that George Lucas wasn’t the best pair of hands to write and direct The Phantom MenaceAttack Of The Clones andRevenge Of The Sith. In fact, and this is easy in hindsight, there’s a strong argument that a prequel trilogy was the wrong move, hindered as it would be and was by a need to ultimately join the broader dots.

We’ve a huge amount of admiration for the vision of George Lucas to bring Star Wars to life in the first place, but the new trilogy really felt like it needed new creative impetus. The announcement of a Star Wars Angry Birds crossover a few weeks ago, and the selling of Star Wars characters for television commercials, did little to disperse the feeling that George Lucas was more interested in the financials than the end products of late. It felt like he’d fallen out of love with Star Wars too.

Granted, many like the new trilogy. But if Star Wars is to live on as a cinematic franchise, then here’s a golden opportunity to properly reinvent it. To tell more stories in what’s a compelling universe. The Clone Wars TV show delivers more interesting tales week in week out than the last three movies (we’re excluding The Clone Wars‘ own big screen adventure, although that too was quite disappointing), and this is a big chance to put the films back at the heart of modern day Star Wars.

Just imagine what creative, imaginative new film makers could do with Star Wars now. We’ve just had the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall,  which has shown that you can take a franchise that’s long established and still find new and interesting things to do with it. Star Wars isn’t so centred on one character as 007 either, so the possibilities are even broader. This is a chance for someone to walk into the universe that George Lucas created, and genuinely inject it with something new and exciting again. It’s arguably the best thing to happen to Star Wars in nearly three decades.

After all, go back to that feeling just before The Phantom Menace was released on the big screen. Remember how exciting it was to have the thought of a new Star Wars movie on the big screen, in the days before we actually met Jar-Jar and his chums? There’s no reason it can’t be like that again. George Lucas will remain as consultant on the Star Wars films, which will be useful, but he won’t be writing or directing. This, then, becomes a franchise with effectively only its second owner in its 35 year history.

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There’s also the fact that there’s a lot of time to put a film together. Even appreciating how special effects-intensive the Star Wars movies are, the widespread negativity about a film coming as soon as 2015 is a bit of a puzzle. The Avengers 2 hasn’t been written yet, but people are excited about that. That comes out in 2015, too. The script for 2015’s Justice League is only a few months ahead of where Star Wars Episode 7 will be. There’s plenty of time to pull the film together, and so there’s time and space in the schedule to do this properly. That said, Disney would be ill-advised to hang around too long.

Disney, crucially, needs to get this first film right. It’ll be a big hit come what may, Star Wars Episode 7. But the plan is firmly for more films. What’s perhaps most compelling at the moment, though, is that this new Star Wars film may be a standalone adventure. That it won’t have to be the start, middle or end point in a trilogy. It won’t be bound by having to reach already-established parts of the story. There’s a chance to tell a two hour story in the Star Wars universe that’s separate from everything we’ve seen to date. There will be threads to pick up in Episode 8 no doubt, but there won’t be the immediate need to adhere to a stricter arc. Putting together a new trilogy arc in three years, after all, is a trickier job than turning out one film (although we do understand that Disney is looking at three new movies at least).

The speculation will inevitably begin as to who will be writing and who will be directing the new film. And that in itself is surely exciting. The early fan favourite for the job, Joss Whedon, has his hands full with The Avengers 2, of course (another Disney project). But what about Duncan Jones? JJ Abrams? Neill Blomkamp? Science fiction has interesting voices who could do wonders with Star Wars. Heck, all of a sudden, it feels fun to talk about a modern Star Wars movie again. That there’s a chance to do what perhaps should have been done back in 1999.

This deal, then, will have done many things. But damaging Star Wars is unlikely to be one of them. Quite the contrary, we’d argue. Disney buying Lucasfilm may just have injected the fresh life intoStar Wars on the big screen that money-grabbing 3D re-releases have failed to do (just look at how well Disney has handled Marvel). See you in 2015, because – as things stand at the moment – there’s an exciting new Star Wars film to look forward to. And when was the last time you could genuinely say that?

(And you never know: Disney might yet release the original trilogy on Blu-ray…)