Monday Morning Critic – The Pros and Cons of Disney’s Purchase of Lucasfilm & Star Wars, Kelly’s Heroes

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

Much has been made this week about Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm from George Lucas himself for a princely sum of $4 billion dollars. It’ s a brilliant move by Lucas, who’s looking to get out of the filmmaking business, as he avoids next year’s increase in the capital gains tax by making the sale in 2012. On a sale that big he’s avoiding more in taxes than it probably cost to make Cloud Atlas and then some; 15% on the final gain is a ton of cash but not paying 20% in 2013 is a bit better for the creator of Star Wars. He’d been looking to get out for some time by his own admission and Disney loves acquiring franchises; it makes sense on a fiscal basis for them.

If you think about it Star War and the rest of the Lucasfilm properties (which includes Indiana Jones, by the way) will benefit the most by being under Disney than they would anywhere else. They’re one of the few that have the capital to buy it from George Lucas as well as one of the few that have the marketing arm to relaunch the franchise into the stratosphere. You can’t throw this under a Fox Searchlight banner and make small films about gay Stormtroopers patrolling the Tatooine moisture farms. Star Wars is an event film and needs the people behind some of the biggest event films of the past 50 years.

It’s a match made in heaven as Lucas says adieu to Skywalker and the gang to move into philanthropy while others take a stab at his legendary characters and stories. And it inspired a lot of debate on whether or not this is a good thing. I’m firmly in the camp that this is going to be a bad thing but I decided to do a little writing experiment. As always my buddy Nick the Stand Up threw down a challenge of trying to figure the good AND bad of the Disney deal to buy Lucasfilm. Thus this week’s column:


The Pros and Cons of Disney’s Purchase of Lucasfilm & Star Wars

Pro – More Star Wars films

Disney has stated that they’re going to star to get some new films in the franchise into production to reboot the franchise. There is something to be said about more Star Wars as opposed to merely going back and watching the original trilogy every now and again. I would be lying if I said that the nine year old inside of me wasn’t excited because there’s going to be a new Star Wars film in a couple years.

It was that same level of excitement for the prequels; it’s like the ending of the film Fanboys in which they’re all super excited because it’s Star Wars and not because it looks like it’ll be a good film. The phrase “New Star Wars films” is a big one.

Con – More Star Wars films … like the prequels

If the prequels have taught us anything it’s that perhaps there aren’t any new stories to tell in that particular universe. There’s already a set mythology, part of which has been pissed on already by George Lucas in the form of the “prequels,” and moving beyond the first three films is a daunting task. There have been books and an entire new universe created by the books that have been published en masse over the years but books and cinema are two very different mediums.

The downside is potentially we could find out there’s nothing potentially new or creative to do with the universe. The idea has to be considered that there were three great films in the franchise, with a complete story to be told in them, and that everything else is superfluous at best. What if all that’s been mined out of George Lucas’s vision was completed in three films and everything is an attempt at reinventing the wheel?

Pro – Disney has let Marvel Studios and Pixar have a high level of autonomy

Disney has a history involving the two other movie studios under their three studio roof have a high degree of autonomy. Granted Disney does sign off on the big decisions, as it’s their bottom line (and cash) but Marvel and Pixar have both been nearly left alone for the big decisions. Marvel essentially created an entire universe of films to build towards an Avengers film; that kind of big thinking you normally wouldn’t expect from Disney.

Potentially Lucasfilm could be a third independent studio in the Disney family alongside their two other quasi-independent hit-makers. Marvel has been left alone for the most part and Pixar is to CGI what Disney used to be about hand drawn animation. If Pixar didn’t have autonomy they wouldn’t have been able to make a film like Up, for example, and the case is there that Lucasfilm could be left alone to make Star Wars Episode 7: Jar Jar Binks Gets Kicked In the Groin for 90 Straight Minutes.

Con – Disney isn’t dealing with a functioning, independent studio in Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm was powered by George Lucas, who had his hands on everything. There’s a reason why everything happened and that even those who were considered “directors” of films made by that studio were just considered figureheads as Lucas was the real creative force. This is a studio that was run by one man and now that man is essentially out of the picture; you notice that they didn’t announce Lucas staying on in any capacity with Lucasfilm.

He’s a “creative consultant” on the new films but he’s not the sole voice anymore dictating the films anymore. Someone can overrule George Lucas and he can be cut out of the process as well. It’s probably not going to happen but George Lucas doesn’t have the power to control what happens anymore, either. There may be people in charge of Lucasfilm as a part of Disney but the Mouse House has the final weight of things. That matters.

Pro – New blood gets to tackle the universe

When the news was announced, and the shock wore off, the one thing people wanted to do is figure out which geek director would be tackling the franchise first. Everyone wanted Joss Whedon, when he isn’t going full retard, amongst others as successors to Lucas. And the universe has been in George Lucas’s purview for so long that new blood, especially those who are fans of the universe to a significant degree, would be tackling the holy franchise of holy franchises.

There’s a hope that the next director of the franchise will be someone who’s talented and understands the universe, ala Whedon, or even someone with an insane amount of talent like Rian Johnson. This could be a career-maker and a pop culture experience in the right hands.

Con – New blood is going to tackle the universe … but it may not be everyone’s first choice. Or fifth, for the matter.

As much as we want to see the geek directors take on Star Wars you can almost guarantee that Marvel Studios isn’t letting Joss Whedon anywhere near Star Wars. Why? Because he has a billion dollar franchise to handle already and he’s already shaken them down for money once for the Avengers sequel. That’s why it took them longer than normal to formally announce that Whedon was coming back; actors always sign for more than one film and directors don’t. He probably looked at the first week box office between domestic and international box office grosses and had something resembling the conversation below with Marvel Studios and Disney.

It famously occurred on Entourage and there’s a reason why franchises lose directors more often than they lose actors. Actors always get more films contractually and directors get one shot; it’s easier to replace a director than it is a lead actor if something isn’t working. Sony wasn’t happy with The Amazing Spider-Man and there was talk Marc Webb would be replaced. You don’t hear that about a lead actor in a franchise, only secondary actors. Thus Whedon had the proper amount of leverage and used it this summer, which was the proper thing to do. If they close the deal this summer, right around Avengers, then he has insane amounts of leverage. But Disney isn’t letting him tackle two massive franchises and potentially damage both because he’s overextended.

All the “geek” names being mentioned, like Rian Johnson, are just that: fantasies. It reminds me of the cast that Quentin Tarantino wanted for Inglourious Basterds and the one he actually got. The former wound up being similar to The Expendables and the latter made for a significantly better film. The fanboys all want Whedon, amongst others, but that ship probably sailed right after everyone came out to see The Avengers.

Pro – A big time producer will be there to shepherd a big budget, tentpole film

When it comes to big time franchises Disney doesn’t screw around. When you’re writing a check that will add up to somewhere in the $300 million range when all is said and done ( $150-200 million on production and the rest split between marketing, publicity and advertising) you’re not bringing in amateurs or first timers. Everyone involved in this is going to have success building a franchise level film from the ground up.

If Disney is going to do a proper launch of Star Wars then they’re going to roll out the red carpet and bring in the best they have. The one thing they do well when they go big is that they don’t skimp when it comes to the good and the welfare. You will see the best of Disney come out for this is that the best of Disney’s vaunted production qualities will be out for this.

Con – Michael Bay and/or Jerry Bruckheimer could be shepherding a new Star Wars franchise into existence, including remakes of the original films

We can all laugh and joke about Michael Bay and Star Wars but don’t for a second think that he’s not on Disney’s short list to pull this together. Bruckheimer as well; both of them may be a lot of things but both are experienced hands at mega-franchises. If you have $200 million to throw at a film he’s one of the guys you can be safe knowing that you’re not going to lose a dime. Bay as well; he turned a ‘80s cartoon series that was only created to sell toys into a billion dollar franchise that’s at three films and counting. And still sells a crap ton of toys to boot.

And don’t for a second think that Disney hasn’t already had talks of remaking Star Wars, Return of the Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back either. You can figure the same with Indiana Jones, too, but probably to a lesser extent. The backlash would be large but don’t for a second think that the same people who complain wouldn’t be there opening night, either. Disney spent a lot of money for all of this franchise and is already planning out new films. Remaking the originals for a “new audience” has to be on the table and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it; Disney holds all the cards.

George Lucas didn’t remake the originals because he kept tinkering with them; Disney can (and might) decide to start fresh with new actors, etc. Imagine Michael Bay teaming up with Shia LaBeouf as Luke Skywalker, Josh Duhamel as Han Solo and a Victoria’s Secret Model as Leia. We can laugh but that’s now a distinct possibility as opposed to a ludicrous one. That would be the Twilight kids in the same roles … and that is technically something that could happen too. We laugh loudly at that but think of it like this; they’re coming off one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history. The fact that could mean something to Disney should properly scare you and now there’s nothing George Lucas could do from having sparkly Jedi.

Pro – Han shoots first

The original trilogy, something George Lucas always thought of as a work print, now has a shot at getting released properly. Disney probably figures they could make a sizable amount by people like me who have not bought a Star Wars film on DVD since the original DVDs because they aren’t the originals in their proper format. There’s probably an easy eight to nine figures in revenue from the original films, cleaned up on Blu-Ray, in the format they were in the very first time they graced theatres.

Imagine they clean up the original films but don’t change anything to them like Lucas did; there’s probably 2-3 million people who would buy that disc set without a problem. I certainly would and for one night I’d love to see the original films back on the big screen. And I’m not the only one. There are two generations of people who never had that experience. It’s kind of insane when you think about.

Most of my younger cousins only know the prequels and the originals from DVD. I remember watching the Empire with a couple of them and even in their relative youth discussed how it would be cool to see the “old” trilogy in a movie theatre. I wouldn’t be shocked if they released the films back into theatres for a week before as well. The original trilogy, without anything George Lucas added in or changed, is something that could be insanely profitable.

Con – Mickey Mouse shoots first

The downside to Disney owning everything Lucasfilm is that now they can spread their marketing powers with Mickey, et al, into the Star Wars universe. Imagine Mickey Skywalker wielding a light saber against Darth Donald the Duck, the fate of the universe in the balance. That could happen. Heck there’s tons of money in a Mickey Mouse themed lightsaber for the kids at Christmas, too. George Lucas may have had no problem with Seth MacFarlane riffing on his franchise but he’s no longer the man with the final say. Lucas may have whored out the franchise to seemingly unfathomable levels but the Mouse House puts KISS to shame in that department.

Now I leave it up to my readers. What do you think? Sound off below with some intelligence on your thoughts on this.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Kelly’s Heroes

What happens when you plan a heist during World War II? You get a film like Kelly’s Heroes with a ridiculously awesome cast for the period.

Kelly (Clint Eastwood) is a first rate soldier who happens to hear about some Nazi gold being available for the taking if you have a couple of tanks and a crackpot crew. So he decides to steal it but needs to assemble a crew: thus comes Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carol O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod and Telly Savalis to his side to steal some Nazi gold. What follows is essentially a heist film with a World War II setting, including Sutherland as a hippie.

Yeah, that’s right: The Man With No Name went out and got Archie Bunker, Murray from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kojak and Jack Bauer’s hippie dad to go steal some Nazi gold.

14,000 bars of Nazi gold, to be exact, and the problem is that it’s 30 miles behind enemy lines. Thus they have to figure a way to get it and get out without anyone knowing the wiser. Throw in an actual war happening around them and you have an interesting juxtaposition of a heist film within the war genre, meshed with some comedy to round it out. It’s a solid film, if overly long, but worth a viewing on a slow afternoon.


What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Skyfall – James Bond is back … and this Javier Bardem is the newest villain de jour.

See It – It’s BOND, after all, and the film has been doing gangbusters overseas.

Lincoln (Limited Release) – Stephen Spielberg’s Abe Lincoln biopic.

See It – It is Spielberg, after all, and he’s never had a really awful film. This film does scream “I want another Oscar for the collection, gimme gimme” unfortunately but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt so far. It’s an Oscar contender and as such will be on most people’s Top 10 lists.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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