Notes on the Disney Pimping of Star Wars

Lucas Sells Out to Disney

A number of people have asked me what I think about the whole Disney buying Lucasfilm thing. It's a good thing I'm not one of those overzealous blogger type that has to spew off on whatever nerdly developments du jour the very instant they happen. Hell, I barely manage to update this site two of three times a year anymore. But the point is, I like to take time to think about stuff and actually come up with insights of some kind of value and meaning. A rare concept on the Internet these days, for sure.

Anyway, when I first heard the stupefying announcement that George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion, I was pissed off. I thought this really, really sucks. And here's the reason why. The news torpedoed through the electronic grapevine in one clustered chunk: Disney bought Star Wars, they're making new movies without Lucas, Episode VII is out in 2015. The Lucas haters cheered and danced like Ewoks celebrating the demise of the evil Emperor. "Free at last, free at last, fuck the prequels and bless the Mouse." But I felt bitter and betrayed.

A huge part of the Star Wars charm for me has always been its single-minded vision. I love how that one guy who first scribbled about Kane Starkiller and the planet Aquilae in his yellow notepad went on to create and oversee this whole gigantic mythology. There is a romance in the auteur aspect of Star Wars, and sure, that has put me in the position of apologist for George Lucas. He has made some questionable and unfortunate decisions along the way, but I have always respected that one guiding vision. The one hand steering the ship. The one individual responsible. That's why I can agree with Camille Paglia that Star Wars is art, and among the greatest works of any modern artist.

Or at least it was. When Disney bought the whole shebang and wasted not one second in laying out their ready-scheduled profit-raking projections, as of that day Star Wars ceased to be art and became product. Which is what the cynical-minded think it has been all along, but now it's official.

I've heard Lucas's statements on the transaction, and while I can understand his perspective, I'm also disappointed. Like he says, he won't be around forever and he needed an entity to manage the property for the long term. And it's awesome that he's putting the bulk of the money toward philanthropic ends, after presumably seeing that his children's inheritance will be well seen to. But the thing is, he ain't dead yet.

I don't buy all the "I'm old and gonna retire" talk, when Lucas's contemporaries like Steven Spielberg are still cranking out quality work left and right. Remember after he finished Episode III, all his talk about his upcoming projects, all these "small, personal films" he wanted to finally make? Going back to experimental art film techniques, totally uncommercial stuff that he now had the means and the freedom to do, independent of and Hollywood studios financing? So all he's managed since then is the animated Clone Wars show and Red Tails, and now he says he's retiring? Gee, it seems like all those artsy ambitious just faded to dust. With Lucasfilm he had the apparatus to produce all those fabled wonders as the world's most powerful indie filmmaker. Sure, he can still work on those things, but now it will be as an employee of the Buena Vista empire.

And as for Disney? When I first heard the news, I said fuck them. I had no respect for them and how they handled their big announcement. There was no pretense that they are interested in telling great stories and preserving the Star Wars legacy. It was all about the dollar signs. In 1990 fIREHOSE crossed the country on a prolonged hell-ride tour called "Engagin' the Milker," and that's just what I envision the Disney executives doing to the bantha teats. Seriously, putting it out there from Day One that they've greenlit an instant Episode VII was cheap and crass. I felt like a kid hearing that his parents are getting divorced like this: "Billy, your father and I are splitting up, and I've already hooked up with a new guy who's pimping me out for cash, and oh, guess what else? I'm already pregnant, and you're going to have lots of new little brothers and sisters -- one every year from now on!" Sheesh, Mom, slow it down! Star Wars has been reduced to a disgusting whore.

Well, anyway, that's how I felt when I first heard the news. And my response was that I'm going to boycott the Disney movies. I didn't want to hear about them, I didn't want in on the gossip and speculation, I unliked Star Wars of Facebook. And I never wanted to see these bastard movie entertainment products. The saga I know and love has six episodes. The circle is now complete and all that jazz. Cue "Throne Room Theme." The end. Game over. Star Wars manufactured by committee as a corporate profit center ain't no Star Wars of mine. Fuck that shit.

That's what I did think. When I first heard the news. Since then things have changed to shift my resolve and complicate the situation. Well, one thing, really. The selection of the director.

J.J. Abrams

I was imagining some studio hacks like Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay getting handed the reins to the Skywalker legend. But J.J. Abrams? Okay, that changes the equation. If these movies must be made, I can't think of anyone alive better qualified.

I'm no massive Abrams fan and I've never been into his TV series. But I greatly admire what he's done with Star Trek. I had low expectations for that franchise's reboot, and Abrams won me over with his deft and reverent touch. Sure, there are critics and nerds aplenty who quibble with his two Trek films, and no, they're not perfect. But I love the way Abrams grasps the iconic essence of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and the crew, and how he remains faithful to that core while heading in new directions. He knows the right way to give fan service and include the familiar touchstones without painting by numbers. It struck me on seeing the 2009 film that J.J. Abrams understands the mythology that underpins Star Trek and knows how to handle it as such. Star Trek Into Darkness has only confirmed that feeling for me. That's the exactly the sort of guiding vision the Star Wars mythology demands, in order the post-Lucas incarnation not to suck.

So I have hope. A new hope. My expectations remain low, and I still don't approve of this thing being branded Episode VII. The Disney movies should just be subtitled spinoffs, no more Roman numerals -- and as many of these puppies as they're planning on pumping out, they'll soon as unwieldy as Super Bowl numbers. But for now I think the saga is in the hands of someone who can at least make something interesting and respectful out of the opportunity. And I won't have to boycott that.

That said, you know how Disney could have done this the right way? No one seems to mention this, but it's obvious. When they bought Star Wars, they should have announced their plans to produce a bold new project: the legendary, long-awaited live-action television series.

George Lucas has thing in development forever, supposedly 100 episodes are scripted and ready to go, but he put it on hold because he couldn't manage the financing. Now here's Disney with megabucks to put into their extraordinarily valuable new property. They could finance that sucker -- make it the most expensive TV show ever produced, if necessary -- and put it on ABC Sunday nights. Boom. Massive hit. Event television. Crazy ad revenue and Blu-ray sales. It was be super awesome, and I move that I would have totally respected Disney for. After that played out, then maybe, just maybe, Disney could start thinking about taking the saga back into theatres. Instead, that noble road is left untaken, and the House of Mickey has chosen the quick and easy path directly to Episode VII, for better or for worse.

Of course, if J.J. Abrams comes up with brilliant uses for Mark, Carrie and Harrison that they'd be too old for in other decade or so... then maybe this move to the Disney dark side will prove to be the best destiny for my beloved saga, after all.

Always in motion is the future. And I'd love to be proven wrong.