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The truth behind the LucasFilm/Disney merger

March 13th, 2013 by Christopher Williams Comments

Last week an interesting report came out from Bloomberg Businessweek and to sum it up, pretty much everything we’ve heard is a lie. Well, not really a lie so much as what seems to be strategically placed rumors and slow leaks of information.

By now we are all familiar with just about every facet of the Star Wars Episode VII production saga. There was the big announcement that Disney purchased LucasFilm and planned on releasing a brand new Star Wars trilogy. There were the rumor leaks that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were interested in coming back for more films. Then it came out that even Han Solo despising Harrison Ford was considering stepping back into the role that he loathes talking about, but ultimately kick started his career. Disney told us the new movies would be based on all new original material. Michael Arndt of Little Miss Sunshine fame was announced as the writer, and soon word spread that Lawrence Kasdan, a man who co-handled the writing duties for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was on board to help write the new script as well.

All this information coming out in the months following Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm in October drove message boards and internet nerd news sites into a frenzy. We just couldn’t believe this was happening, and then to hear that Han, Luke and Leia were back along with Kasdan was something this nerd never thought he would see. It all came to a head when LucasFilm announced it had found it’s director, J.J. motherf***ing Abrams! Sure the lens flare jokes were all the rage, but who better to take the director’s chair than Abrams?

Well folks, it turns out that we were getting played, and getting played big time. Surely all these things we know to be true are certainly true, but the thing is, to the folks at LucasFilm, this was old news. It turns out that George Lucas himself had put many of these puzzle pieces together long before Disney even handed over a dollar. Lucas had become disillusioned with the film industry. He wanted out, he felt as though Star Wars was suffocating him. The question was, who would take over? Lucas had a previous relationship with Disney’s CEO Bob Iger that went all the way back to the Young Indiana Jones TV show, which Iger helped bring into the fold at ABC Television, a Disney owned network. Lucas saw how when Iger took over Disney, Iger purchased Pixar and Marvel, and then pretty much left them to their own creative devices. A move which has paid dividends for both Pixar and Marvel as both companies have gone on to make some of the most successful movies to date. Lucas knew that if he sold, he wouldn’t want a company tearing down everything he had worked so hard to achieve. Lucas knew that Disney would be the perfect home for his baby.

Lucas also knew that Disney wouldn’t be interested in a stagnant property, LucasFilm hasn’t really done much outside of the Clone Wars show. No, Lucas knew that in order to sell this baby, he would need to fatten it up, give Disney something to market. Then it hits him, how about Episodes 7,8 and 9! First thing he does is hiring Kathleen Kennnedy, one of the founders of Amblin Entertainment, to take over as president of LucasFilm. I think Lucas did this knowing that Disney would leave her in that position, after seeing the heads of Marvel and Pixar stay in place. Kennedy and Lucas go about hiring Arndt and bringing back Kasdan to work on the script, well before Disney was involved. Lucas even began talking and negotiating with Hamill, Fisher and Ford, saying “We had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison—or we were pretty much in final stages of negotiation. So I called them to say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on.’ …Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce that with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them.” This was all done before June 2012, when Lucas finally gives Iger the call. Here we are, gasping at the fact that Ford says he might be interested in returning as Han Solo, or that Fisher and Hamill are on board, and guess what? They were in place before Disney even got a call!

The two sides began negotiating over five months before a deal was in place, with the sly Lucas holding back on treatments he had worked up until he pretty much got everything he was looking for. Once the deal was in place, Lucas would still just let Iger and two suits at Disney look at those treatments, the carrot on the stick if you will. Iger says that even though LucasFilm was the creative driving force of the new movies, he still wanted Lucas to know that Disney had the final say. Seems to me like a bit of posturing on Iger’s part. Sure Disney has the final say, but are you really going to tell LucasFilm that they’re making Star Wars wrong?! As Lucas put it:  “Ultimately you have to say, ‘Look, I know what I’m doing. Buying my stories is part of what the deal is.’ I’ve worked at this for 40 years, and I’ve been pretty successful.”

Oh and the coup that was scoring J.J. Abrams? Yeah, Disney had nothing to do with that either. Kennedy gathered up Arndt and Kasdan to a meeting with Abrams at the Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica, CA and by the time they were done, not only was Abrams on board, but he ws chomping at the bit to get started.

So there it is folks. All along we have been thinking that Disney really understands the product and were put at ease when we heard rumor of the original three returning, Arndt and Kasdan writing and Abrams directing. Well, it turns out that Lucas had all his ducks in a row before Disney got involved and the one thing that happened after Disney took over, Abrams coming on board, was the work of the good people at LucasFilm. Lucas worked hard to build the hype machine that is Star Wars: Episode VII, and it all just fell right into Disney’s lap. I guess the good thing is that Disney understands the best way to get a really great and successful new Star Wars trilogy is to step back and let the pros handle the heavy lifting.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @AUDone44 and The Nerd @nerdfollowing. Be sure to check out the new podcast, The Empire Talks Back (@EmpireTalkBack, featuring co-host Christopher along with host Marc Savage and co-host Bash.

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Christopher is self-billed as the World's Coolest Nerd (meaning he wears glasses and is clumsy, but he never earned good marks in school). He loves all things Star Wars and superhero related such as comics, books, cartoons and movies. He's a husband and father who somehow manages to keep up with his pastimes since his day job mainly consists of sitting around a store with not much to do. He's very outspoken and wants to share his opinions with the world, or at least his fellow nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @AUDone44.