A walk on the dark side

Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm is good business. But it could be bad news for 'Star Wars' fans

Last week, the voracious sarlacc that is the Walt Disney Company absorbed the juiciest morsel possible, acquiring Lucasfilm from founder and owner George Lucas for $4.05 billion in cash and stocks. This business-savvy manoeuvre, which makes Disney the dominant figure in Hollywood's family-friendly franchise landscape, has generated much discussion among fans and industry analysts, responses running the gamut from new hope to blackest despair.

In business terms, the decision was sound. Lucas, who had announced his retirement from the company's day-to-day routine, gets to have more money than Jabba the Hutt, which, to his credit, he plans to spend almost entirely on educational development. A semi-recluse at the best of times, he can now enjoy the dividends of what might be pop culture's most enduring home run.

Disney benefits even more. As part of the sale, it has received detailed treatments for a new trilogy of Star Wars films, a cash cow if ever there was one. Perhaps even more significant, given the nature of its business model, is the wealth of merchandising and theme park tie-ins. People will never get tired of Boba Fett action figures and the slickly produced Disney park experience has a new fictional universe to experiment with. Along with the purchase of Marvel, the Lucasfilm acquisition also fills a long-perceived gap in Disney's library of intellectual properties — a relative lack of material geared toward male audiences. Now, between The Avengers and several generations of Jedi knights, they have this covered.

The outlook becomes murky on the creative front. First, the positive. It's no secret that Lucas squandered a galaxy's worth of goodwill with the post-1999 cannibalisation of his beloved creation. The three prequels were almost uniformly awful and, adding insult to injury, he retroactively altered the original films for digital re-releases, mostly to their detriment. Now, the franchise can start over. A maelstrom of anticipation has already been whipped up over who the director for the upcoming series might be. Most appear certain that whoever is picked will do a better job than Lucas. Storytelling is the backbone of any successful project and Disney's newly appointed screenwriter for Episode VII — Oscar-winner Michael Arndt — has earned considerable praise for his stellar work on Toy Story 3.

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