In what was a startling announcement, Walt Disney Corporation (NYSE:DIS) will be acquiring Lucasfilm, the media powerhouse formerly owned by original founder and visionary George Lucas. The venerable Star Wars franchise will now be found amongst Disney's ever-expanding collection of intellectual property, joining Pixar, Marvel and other properties Disney has acquired. Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, has stated that its purchase of Lucasfilm has been valued at $4.05 billion.
This isn't the only shocker for Star Wars fans and veterans. Disney has announced that it will release a canonical continuation of the Star Wars saga, with the first new film to be released sometime in 2015 with at least two more to follow soon after. The new film trilogy will be officially known as Episode VII, VIII, and IX, taking on the similar naming conventions for the previous two trilogies.
Exact details on this new trilogy have been sparse, but we've been told that they will explore the adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia after the events in Return of the Jedi.
Many fans of the original Star Wars franchise have been particularly angered by this bit of news. Before Disney came into the picture, the legions of Star Wars loyalists had already expressed their disgust with "new" trilogy beginning with 1999's The Phantom Menace. More specifically, fans were put off by the more "kid-friendly" approach that the new trilogy took, as opposed to the more mature tone of the original trilogy.
Although this news may not sit well with the diehard Star Wars fans, shareholders of Disney are probably singing a very different tune. Since the early '90s, Disney has been keeping itself busy by making a series of high-profile corporate acquisitions. In 1993, Disney acquired Miramax Films, signaling the start of Disney bolstering and diversifying its media prowess. In 2006, Disney acquired Pixar, the studio known for making animated hit after hit. In 2009, Disney bought out Marvel Entertainment, gaining the rights to Marvel's many ongoing superhero film franchises such as Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and The Avengers. It's done wonders with the franchise, churning out a string of mega-hits, topped by The Avengers this year which brought in over $1.5 billion worldwide on a $220 million budget.
What's notable about Disney's recent acquisitions is the degree to which it is able to step back from unduly influencing the respective production philosophy of each. For many onlookers, the family-friendly image that Disney built its success upon did not quite sit well when combined with the ethos of the edgier and darker Marvel. However, Disney had the foresight to allow its respective acquisitions to continue cultivating their own productions without any interference in the creative process. Instead of sticking a director on the project that might cater specifically toward Disney's image, the production company tapped Joss Whedon for The Avengers and saw an ROI of well over 500%. We've seen a similar philosophy in Disney's approach to handling its Pixar acquisition.
If we take Disney's past practices into the Lucasfilm acquisition context, then we just might be looking at a recipe for success. Currently, the Walt Disney Company is trading at around $50 - a high it hadn't seen for years at a time. But now, ESPN is clicking, it's parks aren't throwing money away and it has an arsenal of production weapons to throw new blockbusters out for the foreseeable future. We can likely expect Disney to continue a positive upwards trend if it continues acquiring exciting franchises and continues to give its acquisitions the creative latitude it has given them in the past.
In addition to the rights to create future films in the Star Wars canon, Disney's purchase also includes the attached game studio LucasArts as well as the acclaimed special effects and design studio Industrial Light and Magic (which worked on the special effects for James Cameron's Avatar). In my opinion, Disney has hit a veritable jackpot. In terms of Industrial Light and Magic, we've already been assured by Iger that they would allow the studio to remain as it was and continue its work in high-profile projects and films as it had been.
Also, Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones franchise is included in the deal. There has been no official announcement for a Disney-backed venture as of yet, though speculation is rampant.
Despite the criticisms coming from sci-fi fans and critics, I think that this move by Disney will potentially create a new generation of Star Wars fans. As those who grew up watching the original 1979 trilogy settle down and have kids, the new Disney-backed Star Wars films will become more relevant when they are released. We've heard similar complaints when Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment, and yet we didn't see Donald Duck strapping himself into the Iron Man suit. Disney has a proven track record of seeking out the most appropriate assets to add to its holdings as well as knowing the best way to grow those assets.
Disclosure: I am long DIS.
Business relationship disclosure: This article was prepared for Freedonia Freelance by one of our analysts.