Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Clarifying the News: Disney Buys Lucasfilm, Star Wars for $4 Billion

Nov 13 2012 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

There’s a certain way stories like this work:

(1) You hear about a breaking film news story as it’s unfolding and feel obligated to post about it. (2) All the other sites are already aiming to be first. Every. Single. One. You quickly feel less obligation to add to the clutter. (3) A week or two passes and you’ve been reading all the follow up stories, noting the misleading rumors, confusing explanations, and flat out misinformation. You think – hmmm, I heard everything straight from the source a week ago. Let’s get people back to reality!

And so, two weeks later, you end up with your own post adding to the overload anyway. Enjoy!

What Makes This More Informative Than What You’ve Already Heard?

In case you somehow haven’t heard, George Lucas recently sold his independent, San Francisco-based, LucasFilm to Disney to the tune of $4 billion dollars. Among a long line of other assets, this includes most of the rights to the Star Wars franchise as well as some to Indiana Jones (see below).

I feel qualified to share about this for two reasons: First, I’ve been an ardent Star Wars fan since the second grade. Having seen the movies countless times (my favorite films in cinema history) and making a respectable foray into the Expanded Universe as well as the self-dubbed “collector’s universe,” Star Wars is the reason I got into the industry in the first place – so I’ve got some odd knowledge others don’t know about the situation. (Check out how I’ve clearly thought too much about how to expose my future children to the saga)

Second, a well-placed friend and industry contact in the Bay Area alerted me to the news moments after it broke. Thus, we were able to join the conference call between Disney’s board members and investors when few people knew yet that anything was happening at all.

George Lucas signes off on the deal

The timeline breaks down like this (all times approximate, PST unless noted):

1:15 PM: Phone call from source. I begrudgingly put off my already overdue Taco Bell run and answer.

1:16 PM: I try to recall if April Fools Day falls on Oct 30 this year. It doesn’t.

1:17 PM: Phone call continues, we try to determine validity of announcement. Although everyone is reporting it without question, press release on Disney’s site is still too recent to rule out a prank/hack.

1:30 PM: Source discovers Disney will be holding conference call at 4:30 PM EST to inform investors.

1:30:01 PM: I check the time.

1:30:02 PM: “Well that’s right now…”

1:30:32 PM: We join the call.

I finally leave for Taco Bell while still listening to the call. I get my free World Series “Steal a Base, #StealATaco” (two good things from San Francisco in one post!) taco and simultaneously become one of those stuck up businessmen who orders fast food while they’re on the phone. Thus, two things I never expected to happen happened – and on the same day.

What Was Said That You Probably Haven’t Heard

Quite a bit actually. That is when you consider the specifics of how it was said.

Although most creative types probably viewed the conversation as just a bunch of rich people talking about what was happening to boring investments numbers, I still feel that this call was overall the best source of information on the news.

Don’t worry, I’ve kindly removed the references (one at least every two sentences) to similarities between the 2009 acquisition of Marvel and how well that was capitalized on by Disney. That being said, here are some of the more interesting points from the Q&A session with shareholders:

What are the plans for future films?

“Part of what we’re buying [along with the company…] is a pretty extensive & detailed treatment that George has already written for the next three movies. That would be VII, VIII, and IX in the overall arc.” (slated for release roughly every 2-3 years starting in 2015 and an additional film every 2 years after IX). George Lucas will be on board as a creative consultant for at least the next three.

Hardcore fans of the saga will know that Lucas did in fact write treatments for all nine originally-planned films long ago (despite famously later saying he’d stop with just the first six – “there are no seven, eight, and nine”).

Armed with this knowledge, it’s rather likely that the material Disney is referring to here was written before the prequel trilogy was actually scripted and before much of the Expanded Universe was conceived of. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), even commented on these sequels multiple times during press tours for the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi (watch from 3:10-4:10):

It was obvious what these treatments were to any hardcore fan listening to the conference call. It should not come as a surprise to fans who wanted an adaptation of the Thrawn novel trilogy that this will be something different. That was not something Lucas would have been able to draw from for this, as these treatments were his original work, predating much of the EU.

That being said, some minor overlap or even full film adaptations of certain EU novels after IX is released would not be out of the question. Likewise, it doesn’t necessarily mean LucasFilm needs to remove much, or any, post-ROTJ canon as some have worriedly suggested.

As LucasFilm (now Disney) also owned the Indiana Jones franchise, are there any plans to capitalize on this part of the acquisition?

Short answer, no. But it was a great question.

Disney executives commented that they’re huge fans of the franchise. Yet, on paper, they doesn’t see as much value to this because the distribution rights are still owned by Paramount Pictures, not Disney/LucasFilm. Essentially, buying out that contract would cut into profit margins too much to make future Indy films worth the risk financially.

I have a feeling this evaluation could change in the future though, as it didn’t sound like Disney had thought too much about the possibility, not having “factored it into the valuation” of the acquisition (Star Wars having enough market potential to seal the deal on its own). I wouldn’t hold your breath though.

Why did George choose to sell now instead of, say, several years down the line?

Disney executives did “not want to put words in George’s mouth” but did cite the long established fact that Lucas was already planning to transition out of his leadership roles at the company and “pass the torch.” This, of course, mirrors exactly things Lucas has already said.

What will happen to ILM?

Disney thinks they’ve always done great work as an industry leader. As an asset of LucasFilm, ownership is obviously transferred under the deal, but they plan to leave them operating as is, largely untouched. In essence, Disney views them as a separate entity. Naturally, this adds a lot of value to the deal despite getting limited press.

Off to the Rumor Mill

So there you have it: some insight into what Disney actually said, in what context they said it, and a little backstory into what it really meant. Plus a few tidbits on other things that got lost in the hype directly surrounding the Star Wars sequels.

Beyond that, it’s all still rumors regarding, storylines, writers, directors, and cast members for the future additions to the saga. I’ll save my thoughts on that for another time.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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