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Extra! Extra! Disney buys Lucasfilm!

October 30, 2012

Captain’s Log Stardate 2012.83…

 

The impossible has happened…

 

While the East Coast has been heroically weathering Hurricane Sandy*, a different type of storm has exploded across the internet with far more shock, surprise, and power than anyone might have predicted. If you’re able to read this, you’re probably already aware but for those who aren’t, LucasFilm has been bought by Disney for four billion dollars.

Now the reasons why this sale happened are quite clear. The relationship between Lucas and his fans has always been fairly tense, as anyone with a Han Shot First t-shirt will tell you. Yet, following the prequels this relationship continued to worsen and eventually reached a point of no return. Fans felt betrayed, and Mr. Lucas was flabbergasted that his vision that had made so many people happy was now the source of so much hatred. Hatred that came to be fairly personal as time went on.

Ultimately, he tired of trying with the Star Wars universe, and clearly his attempts to revive Indy were as equally ill-received serving to only amplify hatred of his tinkering. His decision was that it was time to step away from Star Wars, even though he had over fifty hour-length third draft scripts for a supposed television show, Lucas was done. He believes it was time to hand over the reins of Star Wars to younger filmmakers and turn his own attentions to making shorter more experimental films. Perhaps, he will even do what some have been calling for him to do since Episode I: retire and bask in the great things he gave the world as opposed to constantly fiddling with them.

Whatever Mr. Lucas goes on to do, I think it’s important to remember that if not for him we wouldn’t have all this reason to complain about his meddling in the first place. Hell, we probably also wouldn’t have the vast array of science fiction shows we have had over the past thirty or forty years (Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Battlestar Galactica were both released in 1978, hot on the heels of the original Star Wars). So for that, George Lucas really does deserve our thanks.

However, once he authorized the Expanded Universe it definitely stopped being his vision. That intervening period between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace saw a wealth of books, video games, comics, and all sorts of other nonsense that filled a place in the hearts of fans for when they wore out their VHS copies of the movies. The Expanded Universe is so large that they literally have a day, Star Wars Reads Day, that celebrates the concept of literacy by picking up one of the dozens upon dozens of Star Wars novels. Not to mention the experiences of games like TIE Fighter and X-Wing, that literally shaped several authors views of how space combat should work. The first MMORPG in the franchise Star Wars Galaxies gave vast freedom to the players turning Star Wars into something far far beyond the vision of a singular man.

All of this, and more, have given rise to the feeling of ownership that many Star Wars fans feel toward the franchise. While I don’t think anyone views themselves as a CEO or a VP, they all at least view themselves as shareholders. People who have a right to vote on what is to come.

Sadly though, you’re only a real shareholder now if you’re a Disney shareholder, and unless you’re the Lich-King Walt Disney himself you’re not going to derail the Star Wars movie slated for release in 2015.

While I’m not one to tell a Corellian the odds, I think it’s important to point something out to Disney: Star Wars fans aren’t like other fans, you have to be very careful around them. The Star Wars fandom was so powerful that it actually crushed a man’s spirit. Remember that to whoever you put behind the pen, and whoever you put behind the camera. They might not psychologically survive a savaging from the likes of Mr. Plinkett.

I’m reminded of Star Trek…the Star Trek, the reboot of the franchise that came out in 2009. During the Next Generation movies we saw a distinct move to create action in the Star Trek franchise, to make it turn into something fast paced and punch-y rather than the slow and cerebral show that it was. This horribly failed because the crew of the USS Enterprise-D was not the sort of crew that might go around punching people. Star Trek action was always best when it was tense and dramatic, like in Wrath of Khan when the ships fight in the nebula, or even better in Balance of Terror when Kirk and the Romulan Commander are trying to outwit each other. So, to make a more accessible Star Trek, Abrams stripped it all down to its base cultural reference points and then turned it into a fast-paced action movie. Now there were all the references that had filtered into people’s brains through osmosis but with none of the slow, lumbering thought and discussions that was the focus on Roddenberry’s vision.

However, wrapped up in this big reboot was something very very important. A lesson no doubt learned from the Star Wars prequels and Enterprise. They took a long time to explain that the original timeline still happens. The shows we know and love all still occurred, and this was just supplemental material. It still doesn’t feel like Star Trek, but it goes out of its way to not actively harm what the fanboys had come to think of as Star Trek.

Mr. Lucas, since he held to his vision, ran roughshod over the Expanded Universe that had come to mean so much to so many of his fans. That was the true horror of the prequels; the way it changed the Clone Wars, the way the timeline was compacted, the way it changed the concept of how Jedi knights should be trained. The prequels did active harm to their own universe to the point where there are some off-handed comments in the films themselves that don’t make much sense to me anymore.

And guess what?

The Expanded Universe hasn’t stopped. If anything it’s just tried its best to correct itself, and we’ve been gifted with some wonderful things because of it, The Clone Wars tv show leaps to mind. We’ve had wonderful games in the Knights of the Old Republic series, and the comics that deal with both the Old Republic era, and the new Second Empire era (set a century or so ABY). Furthermore, the Star Wars fan base likes the Expanded Universe way more than movies at this point. Stackpole is a more trusted name than Lucas.

What I’m saying is this: Star Wars fans have had their trust very badly abused by their own franchise. I don’t think they’re going to be appeased as easily as say, Star Trek fans will be. Their complaints about Abrams’ Action Trek will cease if they can get delivered a good cerebral sci-fi show, which I anticipate should happen what with the plans to bring Star Wars to television. At this point Star Wars fans either would like to be left alone, or just given a new era, maybe a new perspective on an era they’re already familiar with but ultimately leave the stuff they like alone. No matter what gets done, it will have to be done delicately, and with respect to the wealth of information out there. I’m not saying the screenwriters that write Star Wars VII be familiar with every entry on Wookieepedia but they should know what it is.

I also feel the need to remind Disney of something they should already be aware of since they bought Lucasfilm. Unlike other science fiction franchises, Star Wars really does propagate itself through families. If your parents liked Star Wars, chances are good you do too because it’s a movie they’re going to make you watch when you’re just the right age to be enchanted by it. Also, now that Leia can claim to be a “Disney Princess,” you know a lot of nerdy suburbanite mothers are going to be dressing their kids up as her as of tomorrow. Yet this is a double-edged sword, because that same love for Star Wars that gets handed down also can come with baggage like a dislike for the prequels.

In this new movie there’s a chance to create a really strong, well-developed Star Wars film. Three years for a CGI heavy film (as any Star Wars movie will undoubtedly be) is really a perfect time, but hopefully more time will be spent developing a good story and strong characters, rather than blue screen-matte paintings for them to stand in.

The important thing is though, I don’t think the Star Wars fandom has it in them for another series of films that starts off poorly. Even if the first film is really strong in terms of box office return, expect a major drop-off for the next film if the fan response is poor. Same for any television shows or tie-in products. Remember, Star Wars fans can be visceral.

 

 

*: If you want to donate to the American Red Cross please click here.

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