Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Future of the Star Wars Franchise After it's Sale to Disney


Image Source
Now that Star Wars fans both the hardcore and the casual of exhausted themselves in celebration, like a 10-year old on a Halloween candy binge or an Ewok hopped up on Stormtrooper blood, it is time to take a step back and look at how Lucasfilm's sale to Disney could shape the future direction of the franchise.

Films:
"The last Star Wars movie release was 2005's Revenge of the Sith – and we believe there's substantial pent up demand. In 2015, we're planning to release Star Wars Episode 7 – the first feature film under the "Disney-Lucasfilm" brand. That will be followed by Episodes 8 and 9 – and our long term plan is to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years. We're very happy that George Lucas will be creative consultant on our new Star Wars films and that Kathleen Kennedy, the current Co-Chair of Lucasfilm, will executive produce. George handpicked Kathy earlier this year to lead Lucasfilm into the future. She'll join Disney as President of Lucasfilm, reporting into Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and integrating and building the Star Wars franchise across our company." ~Disney CEO and Chairman Robert Iger
Oh boy, oh boy. I guess we know what Ms. Kennedy meant when she talked about focusing on Lucasfilm as a film company.  Not only are we getting a new Sequel Trilogy (Episodes VII, VIII, & IX) but there is also the promise of future potential Star Wars films.  That sound you hear is Director Joe Johnston calling his agent to try to get a Boba Fett film green lighted.

Much like it's use of the Marvel franchise, Disney could branch out and focus on films set around other characters than the "big three." We could also see them delve into the Expanded Universe either forward or backward in the timeline.

With Lucasfilm Animation and Pixar both in the Disney corporate family, it would not be surprising that at some point we see Star Wars animated films.  This may be a better option if they want to tell stories either original or from the early SWEU set after Return of the Jedi.

There are two ways they can really go with the new Sequel Trilogy.  Either they recast the roles (ugh!) and set it at some point not to far after Return of the Jedi or they move it far enough forward on the timeline that the old actors can return to their roles even if they are not the "stars" of the trilogy.

Lucas revealed in his comments about the sale that he has written story treatments for Episodes VII, VIII and IX and that he will be serving as a creative consultant, but not directing or writing the films.  So it seems likely that while there will be writers hired that they will at least initially be working off of Lucas' ideas.

In the end I am very excited to be able to experience new Star Was adventures on the format that they are  meant to be told, the big screen.

Television:

This is where things get interesting.  We have one television property currently airing in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, one property pretty far along in development in Star Wars: Detours, and one project in mothballs in the Live Action Series.  We also have a back catalog of Droid and Ewok cartoons and the well hidden Star Wars: Holiday Special. I have the feeling Lucas included a clause in the contract forcing Mickey to hunt down and destroy any copy of the Holiday Special in existence.

Disney owns a number of TV channels including the ABC Networks, Live Well Network, A+E, Lifetime, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, and ESPN.

In all seriousness, with The Clone Wars (TCW) we have a series that is currently airing on Cartoon Network and in syndication.  TCW was renewed for Season Five on Cartoon Network, but it may be headed to a Disney owned channel like Disney XD in Season Six.  It is hard to imagine TCW lasting past Season Seven at the latest, but you never know.

The new corporate parent may also find a home for the new animated spoof/comedy series Star Wars: Detours by Seth Green and Matt Senreich. In fact IGN was on the Disney-Lucasfilm conference call and quotes Bob Iger as saying, "We intend to do more and create a strong Marvel block,” before adding, “We really like Star Wars‘ potential on TV as well and we think Disney XD will be a strong home for that."

The Live Action Series was something that Lucas and Producer Rick McCallum have developed a season's worth of scripts for but have been unable to get off of the ground because of production costs.  It will be interesting to see if Disney goes forward with this series in some form or not.  The resources are their to make it, but conversely the potential desire to do it because of high production costs may not be there now.

In the future I think we see more dramatic Star Wars animated series in the mold of TCW.  I think that this style of story telling could work in other time periods and the animated format gives the creators of such stories more flexibility than film or live action television.  An animated X-Wing series perhaps.


Home Video: 

The dreaded Disney Vault. This is the biggest concern for me as a fan who wants others to also embrace the franchise that I love. I hate the fact that Disney artificially restricts the market for its films. This allows them to charge a higher than normal price for their films and creates an expensive secondary collecting market for their home video releases.  I and other fans will be fine if we have multiple editions on multiple formats, but for the virgin Star Wars fans I hope Disney-Lucasfilm keeps some version of the films on sale at all times. I would note that it is common industry wide for home video releases to go "out of print" either due to lack of interest or for popular films in anticipation of a pending re-release.

Books:

Del Rey is the current licensee for the main line of Star Wars published novels and related books.  While there are other publishers for some specialized books, for young readers and various types of children's books, the main focus of my thoughts here will be on the story telling books intended for the adult audience.

I don't believe we know the firm end date of the current publishing contract between Lucasfilm and Del Rey, most likely it is sometime between late 2014 and 2015 as we have books scheduled into 2014 already announced.  So in the immediate future there isn't going to be any changes.

Long term is another matter, but as Dunc discusses at Club Jade, Del Rey is a big player in adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy publishing and I am not aware of any major threat to poach the line within Disney's corporate umbrella. Disney owns Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW) and their focus is on books geared more towards children.


Comics:

"Dark Horse and Lucasfilm have a strong partnership which spans over 20 years, and has produced multiple characters and story lines which are now part of the Star Wars lore. Star Wars will be with us for the near future. Obviously, this deal changes the landscape, so we'll all have to see what it means for the future." ~Dark Horse President Mike Richardson

I am not a huge comic reader, but overall I am impressed with the product that Dark Horse puts out.  They also have a long and rich history with Lucasfilm and in recent years have tied their licensed work in closely with the book publisher Del Rey.  This working relationship no doubt is a good thing and short term at least it seems like things are not going to change, however long term it looks like Dark Horse will be one of the biggest losers from Lucasfilm's sale.

Marvel is also owned by Disney and it makes to much sense for Disney to leverage it's newly acquired property Star Wars to help drive profits for Marvel as well.  It is only a matter of when and not if Marvel will get the Star Wars license.

Theme Parks:

The popularity of the renovated Star Wars: Star Tours II no doubt was noticed by Disney.  It seems beyond doubt that their will be an expanded Star Wars footprint at the various Disney parks and resorts.  This is a good thing for Star Wars fans. The fact is that it was never going to be economically feasible for Lucasfilm to construct a Star Wars theme park on it's own dime.  That leaves aside the issue of whether or not Lucas would have been inclined to green light such a massive investment in the first place.  Disney already has the facilities and experience delivering a theme park experience.  This part of the sale seems to be a tremendous fit.  It also means that we are likely to see Disney's Star Wars Weekends continue in perpetuity.  Perhaps we will even see more Star Wars events at Disney Land in California, which would probably be enough to convince me to buy a pass.

Merchandise:
Image Source: Rebelscum


"However, we believe there is great opportunity to further expand the consumer products business. Today, Star Wars is heavily skewed toward toys and North America. We see great opportunity domestically to extend the breadth and depth of the Star Wars franchise into other categories. We also plan to leverage Disney's global consumer products organization to grow the Star Wars consumer products business internationally.
Let me note that in 2012 Lucasfilm's consumer products business is expected to generate total licensing revenue that is comparable to the roughly $215 million in consumer products revenue Marvel generated in 2009, the year in which we announced our acquisition. With renewed film releases, and the support we can give the Star Wars property on our Disney-branded TV channels, we expect that business to grow substantially and profitably for many years to come." ~ Jay Rasulo, Sr. Executive VP and CFO of Disney 

This news will make completest collectors and Steve Sansweet smile and cry as they will be getting more Star Wars merchandise both domestically and internationally.  It may mean Steve needs to put another addition on Rancho Obi-Wan though.

Video Games:


 "We're likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console..."We'll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they've already demonstrated to the other platforms." ~Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger

I am a big fan of Star Wars console games and occasional player of PC games such as Knights of the Old Republic, but I am far from a serious gamer these days.  There has been a great deal of turnover at LucasArts in recent years. We have a less than stellar performance of the Star Wars MMORPG, The Old Republic recently.  Coming soon we have Angry Birds Star Wars and in development we have the awesome looking Star Wars: 1313. There are a number of other video game products in development by LucasArts. At this point I have no idea how the sale of Lucasfilm will effect gamers.


Concluding Thoughts:

In the end we knew that the Star Wars franchise would have to deal with the departure of George Lucas as it's guiding force at some point.  I like to think it is a good thing that Lucas is handing over control of his company and taking a consulting role at a time of his choosing.  It would be sad to lose Mr. Lucas without having a succession plan and vision for the future of the franchise in place.  This is what you call responsible corporate governance and taking care of a franchise for fans who have provided so well for Mr. Lucas and his family financially.

The reason that I love Star Wars is the story telling.  The sale to Disney excites me because it ensures that we will be getting a steady stream of new Star Wars stories.  It is natural that some trepidation exists with the change.  I would like if I didn't worry about seeing Star Wars turned into a direct to video cash cow like Disney did putting out sequels to many of it's successful animated features.  I just hope that Kathleen Kennedy and the institutional memory in place at Lucasfilm retains the high bar of quality that George Lucas has established in his story telling vehicles.

If you are a serious Expanded Universe fan like myself, I can see a few major concerns with this sale. Do they reboot the EU? Do they cannibalize the EU for story material for films and TV instead of creating new stories? What becomes of continuity?

It is too early to know for sure, but I think it is likely that we will see a clear delineation in continuity.  The film and television properties will exist as the primary canon.  This would merge G-level canon with Mickey canon.  They could also create new published stories in novel and comic form that fit in with this canon.  They could also maintain the published continuity separately.  The complicated part would be if they would publish stories in the two separate continuities at the same time.

I am sure we will get further clarification on continuity and canon as the new Disney-Lucasfilm plans it's future. In the end to those readers who obsess over continuity, it is time to take a deep breath and enjoy the stories you enjoy. Focus on enjoying the moment, life is to short to be that "obnoxious continuity guy".

Finally, I'll leave you with this Anakin Skywalker montage produced by Lucasfilm for their Star Wars Youtube Channel.






2 comments:

  1. I really hope they don’t mess with TCW, if its one thing Disney is not good at its producing quality TV shows.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In some manner I do agree with you , hope this is not going to be destroy in soon future. Let's fingers crossed for that.




    canadian franchises

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget