George Lucas Lets Go…
Talking about Han’s last appearance for a while will have to wait until Monday… What follows are some thoughts about George Lucas’ shock announcement of the sale of LucasFilm (including Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to Disney.
The immediate reaction from many was to assume that Disney Star Wars means cutesy, even cheap, renditions of a once great franchise. Queue the inevitable jokes and internet memes sticking a Star Wars reference on any iconic Disney imagery. While I have little doubt that we WILL eventually see Princess Leia join the Disney princess pantheon in merchandise for young girls, I would think we all know that the studio has produced good (sometimes great) movies; particularly in the last decade. The announcement of Star Wars VII in 2015, and the curious goings on with George Lucas himself, have been overshadowed by unnecessary vitriol toward the sale to Disney.
Disney makes few animated films these days. Although I’m not a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean or the National Treasure franchises, movies like Tron: Legacy, John Carter, and Avengers show the respect and effort Disney is capable of investing into a property. In these cases, they worked with directors and writers that had passion and extensive knowledge of the property. In addition, Pixar know how to put story and characters first, something the Prequels struggled with. Star Wars, in film and television, can benefit from this relationship.
That said, I’m unsettled on another front. Leanne yelled the news from the living room and the first thing I thought about was Disney: The business empire.
Disney has every right to go after companies making money off their characters without a license. I personally can’t stand the fly-by-night T-shirt companies that try to walk a fine line between Fair Use of pop culture and outright infringement. However, in 1989 Disney went after day care centers that had Disney characters as murals on their walls. Not everyone who gets hit by the legal department intended infringement. LucasFilm had an active relationship with fans, but corporate giant, Disney has an ominous shadow. For many of us, as fans of Star Wars, our estranged father has just turned us over to either a cold stepmother or loving uncle… or something halfway in-between.
Blue Milk Special is a fan-made parody of Star Wars, essentially a hybrid of fan art and fan fiction. Although we could exploit Fair Use law, we respect LucasFilm’s rights. The spirit of this fan webcomic is to celebrate and have fun with the characters and stories that are dear to a whole generation. For that reason, Blue Milk Special remains a free fan project and so we will not publish it for sale. It’s the best way to ensure we get to complete the journey, plus we feel better about ourselves this way.
I think Blue Milk Special will be fine.
I don’t think George Lucas is a sellout, but I don’t think he’s happy either. Giving up LucasFilm and movie-making? He must really have been hurting to let go of everything he has built in the last four decades. I think George is tired and exhausted on several fronts. The most obvious burden would be the jokes and hatred from some quarters, and the sheer size of the cultural and financial impact of Star Wars. But even inside the Skywalker Ranch bubble, exposure to the growing criticism of his decisions must be impossible to escape.
It’s not just fans, it’s the movie-making business too. In May of this year, Lucas abandoned a 25 year battle with his rich neighbors over his plans to build a huge independent movie-making studio on land he owns in the North San Francisco Bay. Lucas Valley would have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to the area and provided a place for independent films to flourish. Tired of the “not in our backyard” campaign, George is now planning to turn the property into low-income housing to benefit those that need it most. Five months later, he’s giving up LucasFilm and movie-making altogether and donating the majority of the $4 billion from Disney to benefit education.
I suppose it should not be a total surprise that he doesn’t want the responsibility anymore. By selling LucasFilm to Disney, he’s ensuring continuity for his former employees and their livelihoods with a huge, stable, company in the same line of business. That makes sense.
I just didn’t expect him to let go of Star Wars.
I think selling LucasFilm at all, regardless of who the buyer was, is the most surprising thing about all of this. Before Tuesday this week, George was either going to his grave at the head of LucasFilm, or he was going to pass the baton on to someone else. But could LucasFilm have survived intact with no clear plan in place beyond George Lucas himself?
Interestingly, Disney almost collapsed in the ensuing decades after its founder, Walt Disney died in 1966. It survived a shaky period to evolve into the diversified entertainment giant it is today, but LucasFilm might not have been so lucky.
I believe George when he says he wanted to leave Star Wars in a safe pair of hands. He’s entrusting his life’s work to someone that can promise it a future. Disney’s Kathleen Kennedy mentioned protecting the characters, which sounds ominous, but is probably music to George’s ears. Financially, Disney in the 21st century has the power to protect his creations for eternity, successfully lobbying congress to stretch copyright laws to suit their interests.
Most other corporations lack the institutional stability of Disney to guarantee a company like LucasFilm has longevity. Selling to Disney means that the ideals George expects them to maintain for his former properties will endure without the risk and uncertainty of less secure corporate entities. In addition, Disney has a reputation for family entertainment and will guarantee Star Wars remains approachable for that audience.
It sounds like he will remain as a sort of executive producer or consultant, perhaps in a similar capacity as he did on a film like Labyrinth. George will still be around, but probably in the capacity in which he has served best in recent times, as a guiding light. I just hope he can find a little of the magic that once made him passionate as a filmmaker. Part of him has to be emotional about making this decision, and I think it shows. He looks so sad in all the press release photos in recent years.
As a fan who makes a Star Wars webcomic, I can’t be the only one feeling unsettled about how the relationship with Disney/LucasFilm might change. How will this impact Dark Horse comics Star Wars license? A license they have held for almost 20 years. Given that Disney owns Marvel Comics, and Marvel originally had the license in the early 1980s, I expect the days of Dark Horse Comics retaining the license are numbered.
Another thought is whether Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi EVER enter public domain now that they are owned by Disney? Disney is infamous for lobbying Congress to extend copyright protection, using their money and power to reshape the laws that were established to foster the innovation and evolution of ideas. Perhaps Disney’s legal contortionism, and ability to protect their “Intellectual Property”, was one of the attractions for Lucas when looking for Star Wars’ new home.
How will this affect the fans? LucasFilm has sponsored Fan Movie Awards, hosted Star Wars Celebration conventions, and generally been very tolerant of fandom in its various forms. Disney somehow seems less personable and approachable. The 501st Legion / Rebel Legion should be fine although Disney may have stricter rules than LucasFilm which charity organizations are obliged to follow.
We will unlikely be able to fund our appearances at conventions as Blue Milk Special, due to the costs. We’re definitely not going to cross Disney. If you want to support the upkeep of the site, you can commission a sketchcard and check out our professional non-Star Wars work like Leanne’s art books and Once Upon A Super Hero.
I’m looking forward to Monday’s Blue Milk Special, because the parody of Empire Strikes Back continues to move forward, and it’s what I enjoy about Star Wars. I’m already worn out with all the Disney / Star Wars news. I have no real concern about the quality of future movies. The prequels already lowered my expectations and Disney has a good track record for story-driven entertainment outside of its animated features. The chances of a movie that captures something of the spirit of the originals are at least better now than they were before the announcement.
I feel bad for George. We wish him a happier future, not simply as a Star Wars consultant, but as the visionary that brought us Star Wars with a team of the best movie-makers in the 20th century. He is the philanthropist behind Edutopia, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Finding ways to boost education and make improvements to society is a noble project and it is praiseworthy that he is making this his focus in later life. We also wish Kathleen Kennedy and Disney the best of luck reinvigorating and upholding a universe that we still want to escape into.
Bye, George. Thanks for dreaming.