Guest Post: Magic Empire (Bernardo Villela)

October 31, 2012

Editor’s Note: I was a combination of sick and moving last night, and I wasn’t able to get a piece out. Bernardo did get this one to me, although I was passed out when I received it. So to be clear, this is the entry for 10/30/2012. Enjoy! And thanks to Bernardo for saving the day again!

So, here I am again, subbing in for Tanner (or another preferred version of your name) on what turns out to be a very fortuitous day because as we may have heard Disney has bought Lucasfilm. Now, as much as I like the products both offer it’s not an easy piece to write at the same time; I run the risk of either coming off as a sycophantical apologist or a defensive douche. I will do my darndest to avoid both, and to explain why I think this is an amazing on so many levels.

As Disney has admitted, and most of us freely acknowledge, the big coup in the deal is the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Everything else is a bonus, but the bonuses are plentiful too.

Why does Disney taking on Star Wars, not only the ones that already exist, but developing a new trilogy makes sense?

My first example would be to point you towards Marvel. It was only in 2009 when that deal took place. As I have indicated on my blog, I’m kind of a born-again comic fan, but also somewhat limited in scope. I can’t go full boar like I do with films but I’ve gotten back into it, and that has coincided with the rise of the Marvel product on screen. For the most part, the films that lead up to The Avengers and The Avengers itself have won praise both from diehard fans and have brought new fans into the fold. What’s the one glaring thing that’s missing from the series of films? Disney.

I get that the character combinations are jokes, and here’s the potentially defensive douche portion of this piece, but if there’s one thing Disney does well it is respect its brands as I’ve seen many allude to, including Kevin Carr. Where Disney has struggled in recent years is in developing live-action tentpoles for Disney Pictures, which was underscored but the departure of Rich Ross after John Carter flopped epically.

However, in spite of mixed reviews Brave was another Pixar hit, the Animation Studios are still kicking; ESPN may be more entertainment than journalism now, the 30 for 30 series not withstanding, but it’s still a ratings leader; and from what I can tell ABC is doing OK, at least they’re not killing off all their pilots early (:::Cough:: NBC:::Cough::).

And while there may be cross-promotion on occasion on the Disney family of entertainment brands, you don’t see Mickey splashed all over everything all the time. Star Wars is Star Wars. Disney knows that and knows that’s why it’s popular. If the Marvel films are an indicator, they will bring in people who can continue the series in a way that’s generally agreeable to most. So just because you can get a shirt with Huey, Lewey and Dewey fighting Vader in Orlando, does not mean you’ll see them in Episode 7. Merchandise and films are different things.

If that doesn’t convince you, did you like The Muppets? Was the new film not what virtually anyone who had any level of affection for them wanted to see? I grant that the tough Muppet film is the next one. They can’t play the nostalgia card anymore, but what a titanically awesome comeback.

Let us also not forget that a lot of the complaints that many of us may have (I have fewer than most as I illustrate here) are about the prequels, the handling of the the franchise in general and on video usually go right back to Lucas. These decisions are all in Disney’s court now.

The analogy I like to use to illustrate my Disney fandom is that of being a sports fan. If you’re a fan of a team (you can transport this to any institution you want if you bear with me) you love what the team is, stands for and does. That does not, however, prevent the passionate and honest fan from pointing out mistakes or things we disagree with.

Disney’s practice of vaulting classics is just good business. It’s annoying to me as a consumer, but I get it. It increases demand. If you think it annoying to have to buy a film you love in a limited time, try dealing with Disney resellers on Amazon when it’s OOP – it hurts your bottom line a lot more. Not to mention that I, and many other fans, join groups, follow twitter accounts and sign petitions to get certain titles, which have never seen the light of day since VHS, released.Those are two quick, easy ways to indicate how Disney can perturb even the most devoted fan.

However, when you look at the home video marketing of the Marvel films, they have yet to institute vaulting, and they created a box set for The Avengers. What does that mean for Star Wars? My guess is original theatrical cuts on Blu-Ray as opposed to the Lucas-ified edits I didn’t want to touch.

This would be a huge deal for me as my Star Wars journey is a different one; having only really started with the prequels and then watching the originals for the first time in 2005.

So now there’s a new trilogy on the horizon; one that has been rumored for years, but the predictably mixed reactions, a great many of those who felt mysteriously violated in some way, made it feel natural that Lucas to be reticent to return to the director’s chair. So now that goes ahead, and as someone who fell in love with in the latter trilogy, that is something I hoped for an never thought I’d see.

With a new trilogy of Star Wars when you consider merchandise, global box office and home video should make the deal worth it by itself. However, that’s not the only property involved you also have ILM, an effects company that was not only a pioneer but continues to be one of the best in the game; Skywalker Sound, a state-of-the-art post production sound studio used by many films; Lucasarts, Lucas’ gaming division, and the Indiana Jones series.

Speaking in unscientific terms about a kajillion people go to Disney Theme Parks annually where there are Star Wars themed rides. So this should’ve been a no-brainer and foreseen. George Lucas’ deals for rights and merchandising were historic and unprecedented. He had the means to retire long ago, but only recently has it started to seem like a real possibility. Now it can happen. The torch has been passed.

The technical end is a huge bonus for Disney and makes the deal work even better. The only uncertainty is Indiana Jones, again this is an oft-licensed character so that helps in terms of revenue, but my reservations are about the state of the series. Part four was a long way in coming there were disagreements about plot points and script drafts that were apparent. I was getting the sense tangibly and intangibly that Spielberg wasn’t going to prioritize a 5th film. He has, as always, so many options, keeps himself busy with so many projects that he needn’t go back there yet again. Lucas seemed to need to go there more, but if he’s out of the game maybe, just maybe Spielberg isn’t as interested in either continuing it or rebooting it. So a lot of that has to do with the precarious state the franchise was in to start with. Do I expect Disney to do something with Jones? Is water wet?

In conclusion, it’s obviously a windfall for both sides financially. Disney’s investment, I suspect will net it similar returns to the Marvel deal. I think that was fairly obvious to most. Aesthetics are the only sticking point and I would really love to see what else happens a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…


Bernardo is the writer/editor of The Movie Rat. Most recently, Bernardo formed a new production company (Miller-Villela Productions, LLC) where they have many projects in the works, and is currently in pre-production on the original horror feature All Hallows’ Eve. You can read a more verbose version of his bio there if you’re so inclined.

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