Feature: Has Disney just saved Star Wars?

by Brian J. Robb

‘It’s alive!’—Henry Frankenstein, Frankenstein (1931)

It’s appropriate for this Hallowe’en season that a seemingly dead monster of a pop culture franchise should be unexpectedly resurrected.

Star Wars is back, and it looks like it is here to stay, thanks to Disney. Yesterday’s largely unexpected news of not only the purchase of Lucasfilm (including ILM, Skywalker Sound and all the other company assets) by the ‘mouse house’, but also the scheduled release of the as yet untitled Star Wars: Episode VII in 2015, has been in the works since earlier this year.

Those in the know have had to keep the new close to their chests right through the mega-convention that was Celebration VI in Florida at the end of August. Now the mouse has squeaked and the news is out: Star Wars lives again! It seems likely that Disney has saved Star Wars for many generations to come.

There has been the predictable mixed reaction from fandom, but anyone who doesn’t welcome this development can hardly call themselves a Star Wars fan. There are a lot of unanswered questions (who’s writing?, who’ll direct?, who’ll star?), but new, proper big screen Star Wars can only be a good thing. Especially as creator George Lucas will now be semi-detached from his creation as ‘creative consultant’.

Lucas has been heavily criticised for the failings (as some see it) of the prequels, but his contribution to the progress of modern cinema technology cannot be doubted. Without The Phantom Menace, the digital revolution in cinema creation and exhibition would not have happened as quickly as it has. For that alone, he deserves his $4.05 billion that Disney are paying (in cash and stock) for Lucasfilm.

The biggest positive and the biggest negative to any new Star Wars has long been the presence of Lucas. He created the thing, and without him the first Star Wars generation who saw the original movie at impressionable ages in 1977 might have led very different lives. However, Lucas has been the biggest brake on Star Wars developing beyond the six movies already made. Yes, there’s the Expanded Universe in fiction, comics and games. Yes, there’s The Clone Wars animated series on television (and that’ll probably wrap up soon so Disney have a clean slate). Lucas was happy to let others play in his sandbox to a limited extent, but he often said the movies were the story of the Skywalker clan, and that story had been concluded.

Fans should welcome Star Wars on the big screen in the hands of fresh talents. A new take on an old favourite can often surpass the original (look at the popularity of the Doctor Who revival since 2005), especially when fresh voices are involved. What should we make of the fact that Lucas has ‘outlines’ for Episodes VII-IX? How much will those new creatives be allowed to deviate? Are we going to see new adventures for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia, in the forms of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher? Or will these be all new adventures featuring all new characters…? Or both?

So many questions—but isn’t that part of the excitement of anticipating new Star Wars? With Disney committed not just to the next three movies, but promising more beyond (as well as a bigger theme park presence and possibly the long-mooted live action TV series), Star Wars looks like it is truly here to stay and will outlive its creator.

As fans, this is great news. Some may not like Disney. As a result of the prequels, some not longer like Lucas. Nothing new will change the original films (in fact, those first three may stand a better chance of an unaltered Blu-ray release if Lucas has loosened his grip): they will always live on, in our memories at the very least. New Star Wars is something fans can take or leave at their leisure—the new films could be fantastic. They might be rubbish. But at least they’ll exist, and new fans will be created as a result.

I was heavily professional involved in the prequels, so was completely spoiled in terms of the story and the feel of the films. This time around, it might be nice to try and discover as little as possible about the new movies (I know, next to impossible in the new media world). That way, there’s maybe a chance of recovering that feeling of 1977 all over again.

Brian J. Robb is a former Editor of the US Star Wars Insider magazine and was Editor of the UK Official Star Wars Magazine for a decade. He is the author of The Brief Guide to Star Wars: The Unauthorised Inside Story.

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