The Disney empire strikes back
Disney reviving the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is as inevitable as a Death Star theme park – but there is still one man who can bring balance to the Force
IT’S A GOOD week to bury bad news. With a hurricane eating up the US and some election bubbling to its conclusion, nobody was likely to notice that the Walt Disney Company was about to disinter the moribund Star Wars franchise.
Thirty-five years ago, George Lucas released a modestly diverting, tolerably energetic update of Flash Gordon. To the surprise of everybody, Star Wars IV: A New Hope – as we were later instructed to call it – went on to transform the entertainment industry. Hollywood rejected the innovations of the early 1970s and embraced empty sensation. Two equally amusing sequels followed. George made a fortune from ticket sales and an even greater fortune from merchandising.
The project seemed to have clattered to an unsatisfactory conclusion in the middle of the last decade. Beginning in 1999 with the supernaturally tedious The Phantom Menace, Lucas wrote and directed a trilogy of prequels that played like the anal, obsessive scribblings of a teenage fan. The new films took in staggering sums – The Phantom Menace still sits just outside the all-time top 10 of box-office hits – but very few people owned up to liking the blasted things. Arriving just in time for the rise of internet punditry, the second trilogy generated more bile than Jar Jar Binks could manage after a Wookie Vindaloo. Lucas duly abandoned his plans for a triptych of sequels to the first three flicks.
“Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” he told the New York Times just this year.
Happily for Lucas, the responsibility has been lifted from his shoulders. Doing nothing to dispel cheap comparisons with Star Wars’s rapacious Empire, Disney confirmed on Tuesday that it is to buy Lucasfilm, George’s production company, for the perfectly reasonable sum of $4.05 billion. (To put that in perspective, note that, this year, Disney’s The Avengers took in $1.5 billion all on its own.) The benefits for the Mouse House are considerable. Darth Vader already makes appearances at its theme parks, but that hugely profitable wing of the Disney (ahem) empire can now forge ahead and build an actual Death Star in the outer suburbs of Orlando.
Every Star Wars video game sold brings in a few dollars. There are all those boxes of Lego.
What else? Oh, yes, there is the comparatively small matter of the films themselves. To the surprise of nobody, Robert Iger, Disney’s CEO, quickly confirmed that the company planned to release a new Star Wars flick in 2015. The internet broke down yesterday (not really) as speculation surged concerning Disney’s possible strategy. We know little, but Iger’s confirmation that further films would emerge every two to three years implies that there are no plans to halt after completing a third trilogy. Heck, the Bond films are still going after half a century.
Disney’s announcement is akin to BP declaring that it has discovered a literally inexhaustible well of crude oil. It doesn’t matter if the films are no good. The public flocked to The Phantom Menace and it was about as entertaining as spending an afternoon in the local abattoir.