An entertainment-industry earthquake rocked George Lucas' Bay Area empire as word spread Tuesday that the Star Wars creator was selling his suite of companies to Disney for $4 billion.
But the deal's aftershock was the news that the six-episode space franchise -- born in a cultural moment far, far away -- will live on. Star Wars: Episode VII is due in 2015, and an additional two Star Wars movies are scheduled for release every few years after that.
"This is a major acquisition," says Dave Karger, chief correspondent for movie ticket site Fandango. "Disney now has Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm. It puts Disney in an amazing position to be the leader in the tent-pole movies."
Fans of the franchise expressed shock and delight at the news, a mix of concern for the integrity of Star Wars characters and story lines along with elation that the saga would be extended.
"The reaction (in the fan community) is pretty mixed, but the possibilities are endless," says Consetta Parker, media consultant for the non-profit Rancho Obi-Wan Star Wars museum in Petaluma, Calif. Her dream is to see Harrison Ford revive his career-launching role as Han Solo.
Star Wars "is so much a part of our culture and who we are," she says. "People get protective about that, but I have to believe and be positive and feel this could be an amazing thing for everyone."
Lucas' intention to stay connected creatively with the new films is a source of hope for Eric Geller, social media director of fan sites TheForce.net and Rebelscum.com. "The extent to which this new Disney trilogy will flow depends on the initial involvement Lucas will have," he says.
Geller says many fans worry that Disney's corporate culture could be a liability for a series born from one man's idiosyncratic vision of the future. But he adds that Disney's power to revitalize a franchise with roots in the '70s shouldn't be dismissed.
"Maybe Disney will go whole hog and do a whole Star Wars park somewhere. That wouldn't be a bad thing to consider," he says. "You could parlay that into a hands-on experience a lot of people would enjoy."
Geller says that while many Star Wars fans are parent-age, a new trilogy allows that crowd "to take their young kids to a movie theater and show them a Star Wars movie, just like their mom and dad showed them."
Disney should be able to quickly recoup its investment by fully tapping the potential for more movies, theme park tie-ins and merchandise, says David Miller, analyst at investment research firm Caris. "If you look at how acquisitive Disney has been, it's all about content," he says. Lucasfilm "is one of the great entertainment franchises of all time."
But while fans may be thrilled with the news, some industry experts are keeping their enthusiasm on ice.
"At this price, what's really left to drain from this Star Wars franchise?" asks Peter Sealey, a marketing expert and former president of marketing and distribution at Columbia Pictures. "Will they have a Star Wars theme park and Broadway show? Probably. But I'm not convinced it has the cultural force it once did."
Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin was taken aback by the news. He says he understood Disney's desire to add another blue-chip property to its Pixar and Marvel brands, "but it's not a fresh property."
Maltin says Lucas' decision to sell now is puzzling, "unless he wants to fund more of his non-profit educational work. If that's the case, bully for him."
As for a new Star Wars movie, if the odds are against it, that wouldn't be anything new. "When the first movie came out, no one had faith in it. No one saw it coming. (But) now you have the exact opposite situation. Expectations and demands are so high, they have a lot to live up to."
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