The Walt Disney Company has purchased Lucasfilms — and with it, control of the Star Wars media franchise — for $4.05 billion. Disney executives have announced that there will be a new trilogy, Episodes VII-IX, with the first installment due in 2015. There have been plenty of reactions to the sale. Some good, some bad, but there are many reasons for fans of the original Star Wars trilogy to celebrate.
Much of the early response to the Disney purchase has been dismay. Disney is known for making simplistic, animated films for children that revolve around princesses or anthropomorphic animals. However, Disney has released dozens of high-quality films made for an adult audience under their former subsidiaries, Miramax and Hollywood Pictures, such as Ed Wood, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Rushmore, High Fidelity, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Clerks, The Crow, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, From Dusk Till Dawn, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Cold Mountain, The Aviator, Tombstone, and more.
Disney has already sold these subsidiaries, but the recent purchase of Marvel Entertainment and the recent success of The Avengers — which has a very-high 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — suggests that Disney takes movie making seriously, and that viewers can expect similar quality with the Star Wars sequels. Further, Disney's long-running success with its other film subsidiary, Pixar, bodes well in terms of dynamics between the parent company and the creative people behind the films.
George Lucas has a long and successful history of collaboration with Disney, as well. They've worked together to make Star Wars and Indiana Jones rides at Disney theme parks, and he even directed Disney's excellent Captain EO mini-movie starring Michael Jackson. The products they've collaborated on have been successful, and demonstrate that Disney has both a long-term interest in the Star Wars franchise, and an understanding of what Star Wars fans enjoy.
The most hopeful sign for Star Wars fans, and the clearest sign that the sequels may be quite good, is that George Lucas will not be heavily involved. Lucas is sometimes thought to be a genius, and the Star Wars franchise the creation of his singular effort. This perception minimizes the influences and assistance that have contributed to his cinematic success.
When George Lucas was making the first installment in the series, he was a young and new director. The original script went through several drafts, and was edited heavily with the input of his friends. Luckily for Lucas, his friends included cinematic geniuses like Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, Martin Scorsese, and Gary Kurtz. After the long collaborative process, Lucas wrote a screenplay that was re-written, particularly for dialogue, by Willard Hyuck. During this time the people surrounding him were likely to challenge his ideas and give instructive input. Though Lucas was largely responsible for the overall story ideas and special effects, few know that he neither directed nor wrote the following two movies in the series (he received co-writing credit for Episode VI). This decentralized process was critical to the depth of the stories and the quality of the movies overall.
Nearly 20 years after the release of Episode VI, Lucas started work on the much-maligned prequels. By then he was a famous billionaire, and he made the movies almost entirely on his own. No longer were his scripts heavily edited, or entirely written, by professionals, and long-gone was the long collaborative editing process that was so important in the original series. Lucas had dictatorial control over the entire creation and production of the films, and no longer was in a position to be criticized by any other person involved in the process. Lucas, who was always more interested in the technical aspects of movie making, completely botched the most basic elements of story telling, such as character development, internal consistency, story arch, and drama. As it is impossible to detail just how horrible episodes I-III are within the confines of a single article, I suggest viewing this 70-minute critique.
The purchase by Disney likely means that whoever is put in charge of the Episode VII will be forced to collaborate with several other professionals before moving ahead with production. Also, a sequel may be significantly easier to write because it allows Disney to build on the rich and highly-developed characters from the first three installments.This allows the director to have a professionally-written script plus the full team from Lucasfilms to work on special effects. These institutional constraints may well bring back the processes that made the original three films great.
Removing George Lucas from the helm and giving control to competent film makers are necessary but insufficient conditions for a successful sequel. Overall the acquisition indicates that Star Wars fans, at the very least, can expect Episode VII to be much better than episodes I-III. I am hopeful that finished product will be quite good.