I received the text message while recording an episode of my podcast: “Breaking news Disney buying Lucasfilm! Story on Forbes.con” (sic). The show must go on, I figured, so I tried to push the news to the back of my mind. Just another multibillion dollar company buying another multibillion dollar company. George Lucas just got richer. Must be Tuesday. It can wait fifteen minutes for me to finish up here.
Then, the follow up: “Ok FYI ep 7 is set for 2015 w/ 8 and 9 to follow apparently”
That one I didn’t believe for a second. You don’t just throw that out there mid-day on a Tuesday. Everything Star Wars is an event. They had a flipping countdown to the Blu-ray announcement. A countdown to an announcement, and they were films that were technically already available on home video. Crass? You betcha. But effective. Believe it or not, the announcement of that upcoming announcement still ranks among one of the most visited pages on this site. “Speculation,” I figured. The internet hard at work. Must be Tuesday.
So I finished up the podcast, sent Witney Seibold on his merry way to that day job he loves so dearly and pulled up a press release announcing that, yes, Disney was in the process of purchasing LucasFilm. And yes, they were planning on making Star Wars: Episode VII. And this, most importantly: that George Lucas was going to, in his own words, “pass on Star Wars to a new generation of filmmakers.”
I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. Whether it was the dawn of a new, golden era of Star Wars or the last gasp of the once mighty cultural giant remains to be seen, and maybe not for many, many years. But it was the end of something very, very big. And the possibilities that splayed out before me were so vast, and seemingly so impossible until just seconds prior, that my jaw did something it never, ever does.
It went slack. For several minutes on end. Literally, and in the literal sense of the word. Zebra crossings were to be avoided at all costs: black was white, right was left. Zebra crossings suddenly existed. Did anyone else have this reaction? Was anyone else’s world permanently upended in one swoul foop?
It’s not just that Star Wars belonged to another company now. That was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s not even that there was going to be an Episode VII, although that was kind of a shock on its own merits. It’s that George Lucas had finally washed his hands of the whole franchise after years of protecting his own creation to a fault, while simultaneously complaining about the lack of creative freedom that came part and parcel with that stewardship. After years of saying, simply and assertively, “These are my movies,” he has actually said, “They are yours.” He may still be on board as a creative consultant, but he has relinquished final authority, and all our problems with the man who gave us our dreams and then took them back two decades later vanished in a puff of prestige.
As I think about that image, I can’t help wondering: as he slipped into the shadows, did George Lucas smile inwardly at his own generosity, or cackle maniacally at the curse he has finally passed on to another?
For years we’ve been acting as if we know better. We’ve deconstructed his every creative decision and found him wanting, marveling at our own brilliance for doing so. We’ve called The Phantom Menace “the worst film of all time,” and some of us actually believed it. I myself have often proposed an amendment to Godwin’s Law, suggesting that, “As a conversation between two geeks grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the new Star Wars trilogy approaches zero.” In other words, so ubiquitous is our resentment of George Lucas’s creative decisions, that they have become a universally recognized cultural touchstone of wrongheadedness.
And we felt free to do so, because Lucas refused to allow anyone else inside his playhouse, or even admit to an iota of fallibility. He became an unsympathetic figure, because he gave us our toys for decades and then, rather unexpectedly, started claiming they were all his again. He had a right to do this, he created them after all, but it defied our expectations of pop culture ownership. Great art is never finished, they say, just taken away. It was unheard of for an artist to take it back and fiddle with it, add new chapters that don’t make any sense, and then tell us it’s the same creation we fell in love with. And when we complained that it wasn’t, he just told us that he knew better. Because he created it, he claimed, he knew why we really loved it. It turned out that this wasn’t true, and we’ve been bitching about it ever since.
I use the royal “we” here, because unless you’re one of the select few who publicly defended everything Lucas did and actively fought against the criticisms lobbied against the filmmaker, you were at least complicit in this behavior. And yes, I maintain that our criticisms were justified, if unnecessarily persistent and emphatic. And yes, I realize that Lucas’s statement yesterday was symbolic. If he really wanted to give Star Wars to a new generation of filmmakers, he’d have given up his stake in the property altogether, and allowed Star Wars to fall suddenly into the public domain. Instead, he gave it to Disney, a company that will keep his employees employed and will, no doubt, run the franchise the way that any multimedia conglomerate will: with an eye towards profit.
But I suspect that amounts to practically the same thing. There are very few employees at Disney who, like the rest of us, didn’t grow up inspired by Star Wars, or at least the era of Hollywood that followed its release. The legitimization of pop culture phenomena, the marriage of visual effects and personal expression, the quality merchandizing tie-ins, these are things that post-Star Wars generations happily take for granted. And now those generations have access to the original article, provided Disney okays it. And Disney is far more likely to give someone other than George Lucas a chance to experiment with the property than George Lucas ever was.
What will happen to Star Wars? They claim they’re already meeting with writers about Episode VII, and we’re all deadly curious to discover who’s getting an invite to those meetings. Who is willing to be the first one to tackle Star Wars without the firewall of George Lucas protecting them? Who, in other words, will risk screwing it up worse than George Lucas ever did, and be willing to take all the blame on themselves? And who, equally importantly, will be the one who actually makes a Star Wars movie that shows George Lucas that we knew how to do it right all along? Assuming we even can, of course.
There are issues here that remain unresolved. LucasFilm has a stake in Indiana Jones as well, but Paramount has always been connected to that property and, after the Marvel Studios changeover, I’m curious how willing they will be to let Disney take over that particular franchise all by themselves. 20th Century Fox has distribution rights to Star Wars, so how will that new partnership shake down in the years to come? And who at Disney will be the first to make re-releasing the original trilogy, unmeddled with, in high definition Blu-ray, a priority, for the masses who have been begging for just such a release? If I were working at Disney I would have made that part of the initial announcement, as a gesture of good will. Star Wars: Episode VII is question mark, but the original films would be a slam-dunk. While you’re at it, re-release Genndy Tartakovsky’s superior 2D-animated “Clone Wars” TV series. That was the ideal example of bringing outside talent into the Star Wars creative circle. Tartakovsky knocked it out of the park. No wonder LucasFilm suppressed it once their CG-animated version of “The Clone Wars,” which isn’t all that bad these days but still pales in comparison, came to fruition.
As for Episode VII, there is already talk of which expanded universe materials could be adapted to the screen. Personally, and I may be alone on this, I hope they ignore that material altogether. George Lucas sure as hell did. Let the movies stand on their own. Acknowledge that the original trilogy benefitted from a sense of extempore. We didn’t know what was coming next when Empire and Jedi were first released. It was a surprise. I want to be surprised by Star Wars. Yes, it would be cool if someone finally adapted Timothy Zahn’s well-regarded, and in some circles beloved, Heir to the Empire. But maybe it would be best to do that later. Don’t just rearrange the pieces on the chessboard, Disney. Change the game.
And please, for the love of god, resist the urge to somehow cross Star Wars over with the Marvel Universe. Don’t get tacky on us, Disney. We realize that’s kind of your forte, but earn our trust here. You’ve taken on a responsibility for all of us, diehard and casual fans alike. We’re depending on you not to screw it up. That said, if you want to add a “Star Wars” wing to Disneyland, I think we’d all be cool with it. So long as actual alcoholic beverages are served in the Cantina, and the jukebox only plays that one stupid song.
The ball's in our court now, and for better or worse, Disney is our proxy. Let’s give them a chance. If you want to be wary of this deal, you are probably wise to do so, but don’t ignore the possibilities out of cynicism that, for the first time in over a decade, may be groundless. The rebellion has won. We have, at last, a new hope. There is another… and it is you.