On Tuesday, October 30, 2012 I received an email from the United States of Geekdom’s Rick Gutierrez. It was a brief missive informing me that Disney had acquired LucasFilm, Ltd. for 4 billion dollars. At first I was skeptical, but decided to have a peek at Yahoo. Certainly such news would be part of their various headlines. Even with the volume of Hurricane Sandy-themed stories, there were ample highlights of a non-newsworthy nature like recipes for Halloween cookies and sports stories that undoubtedly should be overshadowed by a bombshell of this magnitude. Finding nothing I transitioned to dubious and. thinking that I had been taken, dug a little deeper with a targeted search. As it was the end of October and not the beginning of April I could not doubt the veracity of the numerous headlines which were revealed on a myriad of sites. It seems Francis’ father was right – everything’s negotiable! So it was true. The empire Walt built was going to swallow up the empire that George built!
Episode VII: Rise of the Mouse
I find myself reflecting on the sale of LucasFilm to Disney with a rather reserved air about me. As a lifelong Star Wars fan I have been sought out for my thoughts on the acquisition by a number of friends. While I do not consider myself a font of Yoda-like sage wisdom, nor by any means an authority, I recognize that I have had the opportunity to become rather outspoken on the Star Wars over the past six years. So as JediCole it seems that I am someone who’s opinion on the subject is valued, especially when sweeping change looms large.
Does Disney’s ownership of LucasFilm portend disaster on the scale of the destruction of Alderaan? Have I felt a sensation like millions of Star Wars fans crying out in horror and not being suddenly silenced? Will the Ewoks suddenly sprout Mickey Mouse ears? Will the AT-ATs now resemble Pluto? Will Jar Jar Binks now sound more like Donald Duck? And in the case of Jar Jar, will anyone care? While many a Star Wars fan cringes in horror as if confronted by a rampaging Wampa at the thought of Disney’s purchase, I believe that such exaggerated scenarios as outlined above are as likely as some more plausible concerns that are being voiced. In other words, there is no great cause for alarm.
I am struck by that odd inevitability of our short memory as a society. In this case as a fan society. However, I am mindful of the fact that I walk in many worlds when it comes to fandom. Many are the Star Wars fan who’s feet are so firmly planted in that galaxy far, far away that all other genre happen to other people, so they are not those of whom I speak. That said, I find it odd that no one seems to recall this exact level of reaction to the news a mere three years ago when Marvel Comics was brought permanently into the Disney fold. In the time the House of Ideas has been under the stewardship of the House of Mouse there have been no monumental changes in editorial direction, no sugar-coating of characters (i.e.; the Punisher is still around, despite being decidedly un-Disney), and the film franchises are going full steam ahead. Can we expect anything less when LucasFilm is hitched to Disney’s wagon? Or is it a big carriage made from a pumpkin? I lose track.
Song of the Sith
Disney is by no means the bright center to the universe and fans of Star Wars will rightly feel uncertainty when it comes to this acquisition, myself included. The news was, to me, more surprise than gut-wrenching shock. But that does not mean that it was a pleasant surprise. I am wracked with mixed feelings about the instantaneous announcement of the long-awaited, oft-denied Episode 7 of Star Wars. Being of a generation who was there when the saga was nine episodes in length I have remained in a state bemusement over the years that George Lucas proclaimed that the saga was always intended to be merely six episodes in length. On rare occasion there would be some suggestion that what we were told when I was a kid was accurate, but for the most part any suggestion of Episodes 7 through 9 had gone the way of the Star Wars Holiday Special.
The excitement potential of the revelation that Disney is taking up the reigns of the Saga and getting it back in action is overshadowed by a profound fear that they will prove patently incapable of capturing the dynamic and the flavor of Star Wars. When even George Lucas himself was unable to find his footing with a trio of episodes that were the New Coke of Star Wars, there is little hope that Disney will field a production team equipped for the task. Since they failed miserably to capture the wonder and spirit of Barsoom with John Carter, a film I enjoyed but still fell considerably shy of its mark, I am concerned that the next chapter of Star Wars could easily become a cash grab rather than a heart-felt tribute to the original trilogy. Disney is out just over four billion after all!
Do I think that Star Wars Episode 7 will be the Gnome-Mobile of the saga? Not remotely. But unless the production itself is more carefully orchestrated than the seemingly out of the blue pronouncement that there will be a new Star Wars feature film in 2015, then this could easily be the most unappealing Whill journal to date. The vitally important thing for Disney is to find a producer, director, writer, and especially a production designer who all understand that Star Wars is more than a formula. At least it was in the 70s and early 80s. I will save my litany of things to include and things to avoid for the next episode of The Rantcor Pit on The JediCole Universe site. Suffice it to say, if this new chapter in the ongoing saga does not feel like it is taking place in the same universe as its predecessors, then it might be better off to just make a string of dreaded straight-to-home-video features like Obi-Wan and Company.
The real concern I have for Episode 7, on a personal level, is one of fan perception. Will it be possible to know if aspects of the film, be it tiny nit-picking aspects or the entire feature, with which fans find displeasure are the result of it being a Disney project or simply a production facing down insurmountable expectations. Over a decade of waiting rendered it virtually impossible for Episode 1 to truly deliver all that years of anticipation had suggested was possible. Will it be any different in a couple of years when this new installment arrives? George Lucas himself played a heavily active role in the production of Episodes 1-3 in a variety of capacities and created a trilogy that failed to even graze the level of expectations that it faced. And this from the creator of the Star Wars saga himself? The question then is, should Episode 7 not live up to all that we demand of it, is it truly the fault of the new owners or just a product of having to follow a six-part saga that has since been followed with volumes of literary extrapolation that many embrace as canon ?
It’s a Tourist Trap!
My friend and author of the Star Wars Super Collector’s Wishbook series Geoffrey Carlton phoned me to sound me out on the issue at hand the night the news broke. One compelling question he broached was if I was aware of the staggering price tag of Disney Star Wars merchandise. Essentially the question was, what would this mean for the future of Star Wars collectibles from an cost standpoint. Having limited history with the Star Tours and other cross-over collectibles fielded by Disney, I was no less aware that on average a single carded Disney action figure can be easily half again to twice or more the cost of a mass-release toy.
But is this really a matter of Disney price gouging or “we’ve got you over a barrel” economics? Or is it more a product of two extenuating circumstances – licensing costs and limited production. If I am not entirely mistaken, every single Disney/Star Wars consumer product is marketed exclusively in Disney-owned outlets like the theme parks and mall stores. While these venues move a considerable volume of these available-no-where-else goods, the entire production run that stocks the various retail outlets must by its very nature be considerably smaller than that of like products sold at major department and toy store chains. Like any exclusive product there is an economy of scale at work that drives the price structure.
Furthermore there is the matter of licensing fees, which for Star Wars are likely in the Everest range of steep. While Disney owns Minnie Mouse lock, stock, and barrel, to dress her up in the iconic Jabba’s palace metal bikini required being granted a limited toy license and direct approval of Lucasfilm. After 2009 Disney could pop a Mickey-ear hat onto Iron Man’s shell head and call it collectible while raking in every dime of the proceeds. Prior to this week the same could not be said of producing a statue of Jabba the Hutt hungrily devouring Mr. Toad. From a stand point of cost and price point, the post-acquisition Marvel Universe was considerably cheaper to utilize.
I have no great frame of reference for what manufacturers pay for the right to slap Goofy’s face on a t-shirt or make a toy out of Mater the hayseed wrecker truck, so it is impossible to know how Disney’s licensing fee structure differs from that of LucasFilm even a mere week ago. That both companies seemed to have no shortage of vendors seeking the rights to their character catalog suggests that, in some ways, little will change from the standpoint of collectibles costs. Marvel-themed toys, apparel, statuary, and other products seemed to suffer more in a price tag context from increases materials costs than from the change in ownership. Very likely the greatest effect in this regard will be the potential for a Kermit the Frog: Jedi Knight vs. Pluto Rancor Monster action figure to cost less than it would have a year ago.
As if to bring balance to the Force, I find myself treading a line that skirts both the good and the bad suggested by Disney’s purchase. The potential heights to which the Star Wars saga can be taken seem equal to the pitfalls. Historically acquisitions by Disney have illustrated that Mickey’s trademark white glove is not disguising a gauntlet of iron which bears down upon the new charges, but at once I have a greater personal kinship with Star Wars than with the Muppets, Pixar, and even Marvel Comics combined. I will conclude this article with a simple and startling realization which came to me while composing this article…Princess Leia is now a Disney Princess!