When the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm in late 2012 and, in turn, were handed the keys to the Star Wars kingdom, a great disturbance in the force was felt by many. It was as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror and then suddenly went onto the internet to voice their concerns. With that acquisition, Star Wars had entered the great unknown. It had left the hands of creator George Lucas and was now under the umbrella of princesses, Pixar and an overabundance of pink. What did the future hold for a galaxy far, far away?
Over two-and-a-half years later, fanatical fears have been avoided. Simply put, Disney has been good for Star Wars. And it all began with a single but important decision.
Disney’s first major hire to head Lucasfilm was Kathleen Kennedy. Kennedy had close ties to Lucas, having worn a number of production hats with the Indiana Jones films. Not only that, she has a stellar Hollywood track record—producing blockbusters such as ET, Jurassic Park and pretty well any other Steven Spielberg film. Kennedy, in turn, has honored the Star Wars tradition by bringing on colleagues who adore the franchise. The Force Awakens is helmed by director JJ Abrams—a fan himself. The film is co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and penned Return of the Jedi. While Disney injected new blood into the Star Wars mythos, they made sure to bring in people who respected what came before and wanted to push the series into the future with those connections intact. In short, Disney has steered clear of Disney-fying Star Wars.
To Disney’s credit, they had offered the same care to another property they acquired; one that also had a long history and legion of rabid fans—Marvel. As with Star Wars, Disney put the right people at the helm. In 2007, Kevin Feige was hired as President of Marvel Studios, someone who had a successful track record producing Marvel comic book movies. He, in turn, hired comic book heavyweights Joe Quesada and Alex Alonso to chiefly roles. Disney let talented people who knew the Marvel world do their thing and the results have been impressive and lucrative.
Further, Disney infused Marvel with enough resources to interconnect the Marvel world through a number of media sources. Marvel was no longer only producing comic books and the odd movie. Since Disney, Marvel Studios has produced one to two movies a year. Disney has brought in talented people like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, and Anthony and Joe Russo to direct their films; people who respect not only the work done by comic writers in the past, but those who want to continue that epic tradition. Disney have also opened their doors to live-action television with Disney-owned ABC releasing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. Not stopping there, Daredevil has been a hit on Netflix, leading to more Netflix series in the future: Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders. Moreover, Marvel has expanded their roster of animated TV series with Guardians of the Galaxy to go along with Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.. Marvel fans may have been worried about the Disney’s acquisition at the outset, much like Star Wars fans, but mouse ears have not appeared on the side of Iron Man’s head.
Not yet, anyway.
What does this have to do with the future of Star Wars? Plenty. After the release of The Force Awakens this December, Star Wars will be boldly going into a new frontier—one in which we will see a new movie per year (at least for the foreseeable future). In the past, Lucas released each film of his trilogies three years apart. Lucasfilm under Disney will speed that up. Episode VII, VIII, and IX will be released two years apart with a standalone Star Wars film released between the new trilogy. Star Wars: Rogue One will be released in 2016 and it was recently announced a young Han Solo film will be released in 2018. A young Boba Fett film has also been talked about as another standalone film, further teasing fans. Never before has Star Wars deviated from Lucas’ tradition, but in this instance, change is good. There will be more Star Wars movies for fans to enjoy. And if they are anything like the quality of Marvel films, fans won’t be disappointed.
As for Star Wars and other media resources, that has begun to change too. With regards to television, the animated Star Wars Rebels is coming into its second season this fall, playing on Disney XD. While over the past years, with Star Wars Clone Wars, Star Wars has had a foothold in animation, under Disney XD, there is room for major expansion. Yet, perhaps Star Wars comics is where most of the change has come. With Star Wars comics now being produced by Marvel, it was announced that the entire expanded universe that came before (novels and comics) would no longer be a part of the Star Wars universe. Marvel comics were creating a single canon. This benefits fans, giving them a single bible to thumb through. The single canon idea has expanded into the release of novels as well, filling in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens—something fans are salivating for.
Disney has successfully expanded the Marvel brand into untapped areas as well. Marvel Live, a live action entertainment show, has been traversing North America this year. Much like Disney On Ice gives children and adults a chance to see their film heroes and heroines in the flesh, the same is happening to Marvel heroes in venues housing tens of thousands of fans. While the possibility of this happening to Star Wars may be a cringe-worthy idea for traditionalists, it is a sure-fire way to tie more children to the Star Wars brand. And Star Wars fans need to get comfortable with that—the brand will be ever expanding, reaching like Ursula’s tentacles into varied media and revenue sources.
Times have changed young padawan. This isn’t George Lucas’s Star Wars; it’s Disney’s. And surprisingly, that’s been good for Star Wars.