At this point, Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise is old news. Honestly, I’ve never seen an entire Star Wars movie, so as an average person, I’m really not qualified to have much of an opinion on this deal. On the other hand, as a Disney fan, this purchase means very much to me about the future of the company.
This is Disney’s strategy. Specifically, they want to buy up the top prospect titles of the past, present, and future. The company has actually come to be a lot like Google, which is now infamous for its swallowing growth among digital industries. Except, instead of buying mere startups, Disney has been out hunting for bargains with some of it’s own industry’s top names. Recall the Capital Cities/ABC purchase back in 1996, which since has brought into Disney’s realm titles like ESPN, the Lifetime Networks, and ABC Television (ABC Television, ABC News, ABC Family, etc.). This agreement helped reorganize The Disney Channel into one of the most profitable, highly watched stations among kids. Then, the next big deal came in 2006 when Disney bought Pixar from Steve Jobs, who had taken the group from Lucasfilm back in the 1980’s. More recently, we have seen Disney buying Marvel properties for movies and Avatar rights for the parks. And we can’t forget Disney’s purchase of Jim Henson’s muppets. In a way, the Lucasfilm acquisition is actually very similar to the history of Disney’s Muppet ordeal.
In the early days of Hollywood studios, the Muppets were king. Disney had plans for the characters to essentially control an entire section in the park, complete with restaurants, shops, The Muppet Movie Ride, stage shows, and other side attractions. The only remnant of that plan now is Muppet Vision 3D. With the death of Jim Henson, these plans were shuttered. On the other hand, Disney’s license to use the Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties of Lucasfilm in its parks has created a much stronger presence of those attractions at Hollywood Studios, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, and Disneyland’s Adventureland. Housing Star Tours, the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, and the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom attractions has allowed the host parks to sell merchandise themed around the Lucasfilm properties across the parks. On the other hand, Muppet Vision’s small, quiet presence doesn’t allow for it to have quite the dominant merchandising schemes in the gift shops. Anyway, the point of these observations is that Disney and Lucasfilm have had a growing relationship for years that is much different than Disney’s relationship with Marvel or The Muppets.
So, returning to Disney’s new strategy, we begin to wonder, “What’s the point?” How does buying up the top prospects really help Disney, and what does it mean for the future of the company? Under (soon-to-be-ex) The Walt Disney Company’s CEO Robert Iger, acquisitions have been the norm. Pixar came under Disney just after he took power. The more Disney acquires, the less originality there is, and that’s the bottom line. Even Iger himself has expressed his regret with the number of sequels and outside characters with which Disney has come to be associated. In an interview, he explained how watching a parade full of Pixar characters in Hong Kong Disneyland really made him think about the company’s original products. Thankfully, under the supervision of John Lasseter, we’ve seen the death of Disneytoon’s cheap sequels like Cinderella II, Bambi II, and Pochahontas II. Now Disney is trying to revive its originality with titles like Bolt, Wreck-it Ralph, and Tanlged. Now, with Iger on the way out, and sequels for The Avengers and Star Wars already in line, let’s hope Disney can maintain its originality. It would be a shame to see the Disney name become known only for distributing different properties, instead of the legendary movie magic the Bob Iger era has worked so hard to re-establish.
At the end of the day, the acquisition is still a cool thing. Lucasfilm once owned Ed Catmull’s computer division that went on to become Pixar, and now both properties are under Disney’s roof. It’s just clear proof of Disney’s Circle of Life.