A Bad Feeling About This: Why Disney’s Lucasfilm Acquisition Spells True Doom for ‘Star Wars’

 

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If there are two things I’ve learned in the seven-and-a-half years since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, it’s that women are impossible, and Star Wars is dead. Kaput. Expired. Regardless of what the prequels yielded, George Lucas and his company were finished making live-action movies. So whenever discussion of a potential Star Wars 7 arose in casual conversation among friends, I would chuckle warmly and perhaps reference one of the many parodies surrounding the title. The series had endured enough damage, I thought. It was time to settle back and enjoy a lifetime of pleasant memories and warm nostalgia, maybe re-watch the Original Trilogy with my kids someday and share with them something that had long ago inspired me to do what I do. And maybe, just maybe, in that time, George Lucas’ recently-announced retirement would bring about the long-awaited restoration of the original release versions of the trilogy. Either way, I saw no Gungans or re-edits in my future, and I was all the happier for it.

So like many, the news of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm came as a complete shock. The George Lucas once demanding full control over any and all aspect of his property was now lamenting the fact that he was the only one who never got to be a fan and happy that the prospect would finally come. Still, the deal made sense in a way – Disney and Lucas have been longtime partners, namely teaming up to bring about the many Indiana Jones and Star Wars-themed events and attractions at the company’s theme parks. You’d think that, given how protective Lucasfilm was over its franchises, that the company would be allotted complete creative control over its output. You’d think that maybe Lucasfilm would finally be allowed to reclaim some of its former glory after Lucas’ departure, given the many talented people still working there with likely several bold new ideas of where to take the franchise next.

Right. Then I woke up.

With the announcement of Disney’s acquisition also came the incredibly presumptuous news that the company had set a target 2015 release date for a seventh Star Wars film to be set after Return of the Jedi. I stared at my computer screen dumbfounded. I bitched. I cussed. A friend called me up and we bitched and cussed together. Overreaction? Perhaps, but I know I’m not the only one. This series has touched so many people, and I know there are others just as disgusted and horrified at the larger implications of this news as me. Really, you’d think by this point, the ongoing reputation of Star Wars hitting rock bottom wouldn’t be so repulsing, but I suppose to ever expect the series to finally bottom out would be wishful thinking. Where Lucas dug deeper and deeper to lower the bar before finally hitting a rock and giving up, Disney came in to toss away the shovel and start drilling. You think Lucas was beating a dead horse? Now he’s got the Mouse Machine beating it for him.

But why, you might ask, if this such a bad thing for whatever modicum of dignity this series has left? Glad you asked.

Let’s start with the fact that Lucasfilm is seemingly no longer in direct control of its properties. From the looks of it, this isn’t the same situation as when Disney acquired Marvel some years ago, where the company has since been essentially left to its own means. Lucas himself assigned producer Kathleen Kennedy as head of the company, and now she reports to Alan Horn, head of Walt Disney Studios. We’re talking about all new management here, which, while certainly there may be some good things that come with Lucas’ departure, on the whole, it’s going to be Disney calling the shots from now on.

Really, for all their faults, Lucasfilm under George Lucas did have the good sense to quit making live action movies for a time. While I won’t argue that Star Wars was whored out immensely under his regime, the company was also independent and with limited resources, with just a single man at the helm. Now, with a major multi-million dollar corporation calling the shots, the potential for abuse is practically unlimited. How about a Jar-Jar themed attraction at Disney World? A Disney Channel cartoon starring a young Luke Skywalker and his buddies on Tatooine? An ABC sitcom featuring everyone’s favorite whistle-blower Garindan? In the pantheon of bad ideas, Lucas’ misdeeds are petty compared to what’s been made of Star Wars without his involvement. Really, we could be looking at several decades worth of material rivaling the Holiday Special in terms of awful. Just let that sink in for a minute.

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Under Lucas, there was at least a familiarity to the mediocrity. Now, it’s a whole new ball game. And it’s not just Star Wars – once the distribution rights to Indiana Jones are sorted out with Paramount, it and seemingly every other Lucasfilm property will all be going to Disney. Remember that Shia LeBouf-centric Indiana Jones 5 batted around for a time after the fourth film? And remember how Disney basically launched Shia LeBouf’s career with Even Stevens? You see where I’m going with this, let us speak no more of it. And what happens with Harrison Ford once he’s hung up the fedora for good? Even Lucas and Spielberg understood that Ford was Indy and to recast the role would be blasphemous. You think Disney shares that sensibility when there’s money to be made? If you do, you’ve more faith in them than I.

Not to mention, Disney has a long, storied history of abusing its new acquisitions. Think of how the company has whored out the Muppets over the past several years. For last year’s release of Jason Segel’s The Muppets (a solid movie in its own right, to be clear), the familiar Jim Henson characters were everywhere, making appearances on talk shows, interviewing celebrities for the red-carper premieres of other Disney movies…the company completely took away the fantasy of the Muppet world. A rag-tag group of mischief makers had been turned into squeaky-clean kids toys, marketing tools pandering to children and plastered all over the media. Hell, what was Mickey Mouse originally but a mischievous cartoon character? Now you see aging mothers wearing his likeness on t-shirts. Say what you will about Lucasfilm, but for all the merchandising and perceived selling-out, the fantasy of that world, the edge of that universe, was still more or less preserved. Disney is going to scrub away whatever’s left of it.

I mean, look at this (credit goes to Bleeding Cool):

And even this, long before the acquisition:

Good god, can you miss the point any more? If you’re going to completely sterilize Star Wars and take the punch out of everything it once stood for, then this is a pretty damn good start. And this is what Disney is already doing to Lucas’ beloved characters. Now picture that on a massive, widespread scale.

Some might argue that, like Marvel before it, Disney may very well leave Lucasfilm alone. Bullshit. Marvel has committed people at their company determined to keep its properties all on the right track and keeping to a consistent image/vision. Lucasfilm had George Lucas there to give the final word on everything as far as integrity to the property was concerned, and now that he’s gone, who’s going to be the visionary now? Horn and his cronies, that’s who, and unlike Lucas’ largely one-man operation, they’ve got the means to keep this kind of thing going on for an eternity.

Let’s not forget also that even Disney employees themselves have admitted their live-action output is garbage, focused more on visual flair than narrative. What makes people think a future seventh episode will be any different? “Oh, but they hired an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and he’s using George Lucas’ old story treatments!” some might counter (writings which Lucas denied the existence of for years, but that’s another matter entirely). Really, who cares? They could resurrect Shakespeare for all I care. In Disney’s hands, Star Wars won’t be Star Wars.

Besides, it’s widely know that whatever treatments Lucas may have been plotting weren’t extensive enough to be translated to film without being heavily rewritten, as was the case with the prequels before them. And that’s even ignoring the fact that much of what Lucas planned for those films was used in Return of the Jedi to wrap everything up when he thought he was done with the series for good (see The Secret History of Star Wars for details). So what we’re looking at, in a sense, is a company with a shitty live-action division hiring people other than those who made Star Wars Star Wars to make Star Wars. Even as a Lucas dissenter, that just makes me feel dirty.

So then, what people made Star Wars the legacy it is today in the first place? People like Ben Burtt, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Irvin Kershner, Stuart Freeborn, and countless other names, not the least of which Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. I don’t see any of these guys returning to their respective positions, regardless of what’s already been making headlines in recent weeks. Look past the PR bullshit and you’ll see a group of people that have long moved on, a people with far too much going on right now and with too much pride to return, under new management no less, to what will likely be a soulless imitation of what came before. If they do, I will lose a great deal of respect for them.

Even from a basic screenwriting perspective, George Lucas had a very distinct way of telling his stories. And even the prequels, essentially the filmmaker’s one-man show, had tbilderaces of good stuff amidst their visual indulgence. Lucas’ dialogue, while bad, had an idealistic, otherworldly quality to it that made the Star Wars universe feel so unique. Such unnatural, yet endlessly-quotable lines like “I have a bad feeling about this” have become iconic over the years…who could try to replicate that? Really, the highest one could hope to shoot for is to ape Segel’s Muppets and just make the best fan film possible. But even then, it’s not really Star Wars, just someone else’s interpretation. So as much as internet fanboys are ready to rally behind movie-of-the-week names like Jon Favreau and J.J. Abrams, nothing Disney could do would convince me a seventh episode would ever truly be a worthy follow-up.

What it all comes down to is, too much time has passed. These films have been engrained in our cultural heritage for generations; people are too familiar with the saga and its classic status to accept anything less than what came before. Really, another time and place and I would’ve been thrilled at this news. Back in 1978, Lucas himself wanted the series to become something of an anthology series, with his friends Spielberg, Coppola, De Palma, and more each getting to direct an episode. The approach could’ve worked, except when Star Wars exploded into a major franchise, Lucas claimed direct ownership and kept the property largely to himself. In the time since then, the remaining story threads Lucas planned for future episodes were all tied up with Return of the Jedi, having only left room to go backward and make the prequels if he ever desired to. Then those happened, and pretty much cemented the fact that the series should’ve stayed dead.

I’ve actually seen several online forum dwellers celebrate the fact that the franchise is no longer in Lucas’ hands. Sure, that’s all well and good, but at what cost? Lucas should’ve left the company to its own means and its own decisions. Lucasfilm could’ve once again been a visionary company employing visionary people with great ideas to share. If there are any such people working there now, it looks as though they’ll never be heard in the way their predecessors, Ben Burtt, Joe Johnston, etc. were. Now, Disney’s corporate hand will be there to continue to stifle their ideas, a reality made especially clear by the fact that the studio is setting a release date on another episode before they’ve even entered pre-production.

I’ve also seen people celebrate the idea of more Star Wars movies in generalFOCStarWars_jpg_627x325_crop_upscale_q85. May I ask why? Because of how much time has passed, I’ve always failed to see the point of Star Wars without its principle players from the OT present. What is Star Wars without Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke, 3P0, R2, Vader, etc.? Character is an integral part of what makes this series so special. Could I buy into a new set of characters and a new time period? Maybe, but you’d think in all the time the Expanded Universe had been around, someone would’ve been able to make something better or on par with the OT. If even that’s not possible, then what’s the point?

In short, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a new episode in the hands of Disney, who will no doubt continue moving the property further and further away from what made the Original Trilogy so great in the first place. I’m saddened to think that the greatness of those films may one day be so diluted by Disney’s corporate prostitution that even the simple sense of child-like wonder I felt while watching the OT as a kid will begin to fade away. The ubiquitous reach of the Disney Corporation is so wide, there’ll be little chance of staying completely away from their version of the Star Wars universe. I worry that myself and new fans will never again be able to see the old movies the way they should be seen.

As for Lucas himself, the filmmaker has become all but blameless for whatever happens to the franchise. I’d bet that’s probably part of why he sold it all off in the first place, tired of being a constant pariah for what he’s done. So instead of pointing my finger back at Lucas yet again for such a disastrous decision for the fate of Star Wars, I’m pointing it squarely at fans and general audiences. Where we go from here, ladies and gentlemen, is up to you. The responsibility has fallen to you. It’s your fault if this thing isn’t allowed to be put out of its misery like it should be. It’s your fault if you continue buying tickets and complain about it afterwards. It’s your fault if you continue to blindly support an even larger Empire sure to criminally exploit Star Wars into oblivion.

Me, I’ll be continuing to swear off anything further to do with the property outside of the Original Trilogy. I suggest anyone with the good taste to understand what I’m saying to do the same. Ignore the widespread media attention and endless rumors to come. It’s time to move on from this dead, buried, unearthed, raped corpse of a franchise.

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One of the central themes of Star Wars is the underdog/nature vs. the machine, a metaphor for Lucas’ ardent criticism of the studio system and his fight to maintain the integrity of his work. How ironic that for everything he sacrificed along the way, his greatest creation is now a part of that machine.

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