There are three famous pictures of George Lucas signing over his company “Lucasfilm” to Disney in October of 2012. In all three of them, Disney CEO Bob Iger is smiling as he signs over two billion dollars in stock and two billion dollars in cash to Lucas (the cash would be donated to one of Lucas’s charities). In all three pictures, George Lucas is not smiling.
Since then, there are more than a few Star Wars fans that aren’t smiling either. Disney, meanwhile, is smiling all the way to the bank.
October 30, 2012 – As the USA east coast reels from the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, the memes and jokes are flying fast and furious across social media as news breaks about the four billion dollar deal. My own wife joked that Episode VII could be about the wacky adventures of Jar Jar Binks’s children. Under the deal, Disney acquired ownership of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lucasfilm’s operating businesses in live-action film production, consumer products, video games, animation, visual effects, and audio post-production. Disney announces that they will be releasing new films, starting with Episode VII in 2015. The deal would be approved by the FTC less than six weeks later.
March 11, 2013 – Fans were stunned to hear the announcement that the much-loved animated series “The Clone Wars” would be coming to a close so the animators would focus more on the upcoming series called “Star Wars Rebels”. The Clone Wars show began in October of 2008 and ran for six seasons, ending in March of 2014. It had won numerous awards including three Emmy Awards. Outrage from the fans led to the creation of the popular hashtag #SaveTheCloneWars. Many felt betrayed that Lucasfilm would cut off the show before it had a proper ending to begin work on an entirely new show.
April 3, 2013 – The development arm of the LucasArts division was closed down and most of its staff was laid off. However, LucasArts remained open with a skeleton staff of fewer than ten employees so it could retain its function as a video game licensor. The division was founded in 1982 and developed classic games such as Maniac Mansion (1987), The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), and a number of Star Wars games including the beloved X-Wing simulator. However, the division was experiencing severe issues in the 2010 decade including layoffs, directors being replaced, games being cancelled, and one anonymous LucasArts employee saying in an interview with Games Industry that “The ‘business’ has been on life-support since the Star Wars license and subsequent development for their best title went to Bioware/EA. I’m frankly amazed that they’ve stayed in business this long.” In 2009, the division released eight games. From 2010 to 2013, they released the same number of games.
May 6, 2013 – Barely a month after closing down LucasArts, Disney announced a multi-year licensing agreement with Electronics Arts to publish Star wars games developed by Visceral Games, DICE, and BioWare. The games would be developed using their “Frostbite 3” engine, which developed some of the latest games on the market at the time. BioWare had developed the much-appreciated “Knights of the Old Republic” game and had released the on the MMO “The Old Republic” game in 2011. In a press release on the Star Wars website, president Kathleen Kennedy said the publisher would consistently deliver “great Star Wars games for years to come.”
April 25, 2014 – As rumors swirled around what the plot of Episode VII would be, Lucasfilm made a pre-emptive announcement that would split the fanbase. “In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded.” A large number of fans, who were looking forward to seeing novels coming to life on the big screen, voiced their disapproval on social media and a great debate ensued as to what was “canon” in the Star Wars universe. Two years later, fans would buy space on a billboard pleading for the return of this content. While the announcement included the statement “Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU” that did not stop fans from decrying the move.
October 3, 2014 – The animated series “Star Wars Rebels” premiered as a one hour television film on the Disney Channel prior to it being moved to DisneyXD. The show lasted until March 5, 2018 and won two Saturn Awards for “Best Animated Series or Film on Television”. The series also garnered several Emmy Award nominations. The series received generally good reviews from fans and critics. However, some felt the show was too childish or borrowed too heavily from “The Clone Wars” series with returning characters like Ahsoka Turner, Captain Rex, and Hondo Ohnaka making appearances. The inclusion of Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Expanded Universe novels was a delight for fans. Also appearing in the series was Wedge Antilles, Saw Gerrera, Mon Mothma, Princess Leia Organa, Bail Organa, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, and Grand Moff Tarkin, which added to the nostalgia.
December 14, 2015 – “The Force Awakens” is officially premiered in Los Angeles, California. It was the first Star Wars live-action film since 2005 and Disney went “all in”. The film would have the widest release of a December movie to include 4134 theaters, a record 392 IMAX screens, and 146 D-Box locations. Advance ticket sales started two months prior, resulting in a number of ticket-selling websites crashing from the flood of traffic. VUE Cinemas (UK) sold 10,000 tickets in the first 90 minutes, a record for the theater. While IMAX never registered more than $1 million in pre-sales, “The Force Awakens” sold $6.5 million in just 24 hours. An 88-second teaser was viewed on YouTube more than 88 million times in the first 24 hours of release. The film is the highest-grossing film of 2015, the highest-grossing film in the franchise, the second highest-grossing film released by Walt Disney Studios, the highest-grossing film in North America, and the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time. When adjusted for inflation, it also stands as the tenth-highest-grossing film in cinematic history, with a worldwide gross of $2.103 billion. While the film crushed the box office, critics noted that the tone and various scenes of the film (particularly the final act) closely mirrored what happened in the first Star Wars film “A New Hope”, released in 1977.
December 16, 2016 – “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is released in theaters as the first “stand alone” movie of this new era. The film grossed over $532 million in the USA and was hailed for it’s grittier tone and more “Saving Private Ryan” type atmosphere in which the main characters were killed off. The idea for the movie was pitched in 2006 by visual effects supervisor John Knoll (also one of the creators of Photoshop software). The original script had the main characters surviving the film because the director assumed Disney would not allow the darker ending. The film underwent five weeks of reshoots in the summer of 2016, which led to large parts of the trailer not appearing in the film at all. Post-production wrapped on November 28th. Also notably missing was the traditional title crawl with director Gareth Edwards saying, “The idea is this film is supposed to be different than the saga films.” Fans adored the nostalgic moments throughout the film, including seeing Darth Vader slaughter rebel soldiers.
December 15, 2017 – With an estimated budget of $317 million, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is released in theaters. Directed by Rian Johnson, this film became the most heavily criticized Star Wars film since the “Prequel Trilogy” films were released. Despite achieving a 7.1 rating (out of 10) on IMDB out of 480,434 ratings and earning more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, the movie divided the fanbase further. Supporters praised it for being different and being visually brilliant. Critics decried the lack of consistency, plot holes, and poor use of various characters. The character of Rose Tico became particularly focused upon when her character stops Finn from sacrificing himself by throwing his ship into a laser-emitting battering ram. Her line of “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” seemed confusing at the time because Finn’s sacrifice was meant to save the people he loved. The detractors also had an issue with Admiral Holdo, the scene on Canto Blight, the failure of the heroes to execute their plan, Leia’s “Superman” powers, Snoke’s death, and the physics of the space chase scene. Fan-made petitions were launched to have the film removed from canon, have it remade, or to have director Rian Johnson admit the film was awful.
May 25, 2018 – “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is released in theaters. Coming out barely five months after “The Last Jedi”, the film was surrounded by rumor and controversy. It is the lowest grossing film of the franchise, scoring less than $400 million worldwide. Filming began in January of 2017, but the directors left the project citing “creative differences” with Lucasfilm leadership in June of the same year. The two directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, believed they were hired to write a comedy and had actors improvise their lines, going off-script shooting multiple takes for the same scene with the actors going word-for-word with the script, then shot multiple takes for their improv comedy style. However, Lucasfilm wanted them just to add comedic touches at times and stick to the script as much as possible. Ron Howard, director of “Willow” (another Lucasfilm project) stepped in to finish the remaining three-and-a-half weeks of shooting and five weeks of reshoots. It was estimated that 70% of the film was redone with Howard at the helm. With an inflated budget hitting $275 million, the film ended up costing Disney nearly $80 million, despite the positive reception from the fans that saw it.
June 5, 2018 – After “months of social media harassment”, Kelly Marie Tran, who played the aforementioned Rose Tico character, left social media. The harassment included sexist and racist comments, including the defacing of her character’s page on Wookieepedia. This was only two years after Daisy Ridley deleted her Instagram account after getting negative comments in regards to a post she made following the victims of gun violence. In 2017, the Star Wars actress said that social media was bad for mental health. Tran’s leaving of social media sparked articles claiming that “white males” are behind the attacks due to the “social justice warrior” spin on the new films. Director Rian Johnson tweeted out that they (and critics of the film) are “manbabies”, adding fuel to the fire. Twitter campaigns to boycott future Star Wars films began popping up.
July 19, 2018 – A crowded panel room at the San Diego Comic Con erupted into cheers as Dave Filoni announced that the popular show “The Clone Wars” would be returning to allow the series to be finished off properly after it was abruptly cancelled in 2013. The hashtag #CloneWarsSaved accompanied a trailer that declared “a war left unfinished…until now.” Filoni noted the constant, never-ending, support for the show and how hardly a week went by without him seeing a tag to save the beloved show. Lucasfilm executives have confirmed the show will air on the new Disney+ app, but not until February of 2020.
The future of Star Wars is, in this writer’s opinion, as murky as the original plan behind all of this. From the time I saw “The Force Awakens” in theaters it became clear that there wasn’t a lot of vision behind what they wanted to do with the franchise. The final film of the Skywalker saga is out in theaters in less than two months, but no one seems to know what to expect either now, in the past, or in the future. This trilogy’s story has been murky, at best, and with the news coming just two days ago that writers David Benioff and DB Weiss walked away from a new trilogy, no one seems to know what will happen next. What is Rian Johnson working on? Will JJ Abrams develop a stand-alone film? What will the Kenobi series be about? What other games are in development? What happened to Star Wars: Detours? Who will step up and face the quickly-growing-rabid fanbase? There is plenty of mystery swirling around this incredible franchise.
It’s been a wild seven years and Disney has certainly made their money back…and then some. The films alone have grossed nearly five billion dollars worldwide, with Episode IX guaranteed to add at least another billion dollars to the war chest. That’s just the movies alone, not to include the merchandise, blu-ray/DVD sales, apparel, impact on the Disney parks, and so on. I’m terrified and intrigued to see what the next seven years will bring.