On Tuesday, Disney announced it was to buy Lucasfilm for a recession-defying $4 billion. Their CEO Mickey Mouse now owned George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise and the company’s next declaration was a bombshell: a new Star Wars trilogy was already in the pipeline, with Walt Disney’s Episode 7 due in 2015 and Episodes 8 and 9 following not far behind. Some people were quite angry. I’m still finding it hard to understand why; how badly can Disney damage a franchise already ruined?
Star Wars was George Lucas’ idea (well, one he stole from Akira Kurosawa and re-worked to include robots) but, let’s face it, he hasn’t done much good with it since 1983. Even the last two great Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, were written and directed by other people. When Lucas did return as writer/director in 1999, he took a much-loved franchise and punched the originality out of it. With The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and the majority of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas shat all over the Star Wars myth and treated his own property with the respect of someone who hated science fiction.
Since Return of the Jedi, far better men have produced far better works with the Star Wars label (video games like Knights of the Old Republic and multimedia ‘interquel’ Shadows of the Empire expanded the story while pleasing the fans). Moreover, better directors have brought us far better science fiction films on budgets that wouldn’t even cover one of the prequels’ catering bills. Take Duncan Jones, Neill Blomkamp or Shane Carruth, who made sci-fi classics Moon, District 9 and Primer (respectively) on about 10p, and pose as mouth-watering prospects for the Episode 7 director’s chair.
Imagine what other great modern directors could bring to the Star Wars series now Lucas has jumped ship. Darren Aronofsky, a man who makes pulp into art, was once ready to take on The Wolverine – is anyone else still waiting to see him bring his rock ‘n’ roll style to a big money blockbuster? Or Nicolas Winding Refn, who can seemingly adapt himself to any material (the trashier the better – perfect for Star Wars) and is already prepared to take on sci-fi with Logan’s Run? Think of the horde of Star Wars fanboys-turned-directors, a group that includes J.J. Abrams and Edgar Wright, all currently making Faustian pacts so that they might get to bring their fresh perspective to the new trilogy. You can bet Disney won’t choose any old filmmaker either as, for one thing, they really need to please the fans right now. Nor are they likely to trust McG with a property this big.
Disney’s official line that the Star Wars brand offers a “virtually limitless universe” of characters and stories of “infinite inspiration” is a comforting one. It hints at a new direction, a realisation that the old storyline is dry but that the universe still has so much to offer. Lucas, thinking he was giving his audience what they wanted, hamfistedly connected the Star Wars prequels to the original trilogy and in turn destroyed much of the mythology he’d already built. Now Lucas is out of the picture, we won’t have to see what Han, Luke and Chewbacca’s kids get up to in The Skywalkers: The Later Years! I don’t think we’d want to anyway. Audiences want something new and Disney claims – with its recent acquisition – that it’s going to give it to us. That’s more than George Lucas ever offered.