Disney swallows Lucasfilm whole; smells of wet Wookiee; George does it to us Again.
News of Walt’s Conglomerate latching onto the face of Lucasfilm, secreting magic colored digestive jell to liquefy and digest the aging empire, went off like a two ton megatron bomb – shock waves racing round the globe, tremors undulating with love and hate, boiling like a pot of ‘now what happens’ curds and whey. The fact Miss Muffet got off her tuffet to soften the news with a tentative 2015 date for an all new Star Wars: Episode VII was either flavor tested in strategy meetings beforehand or hatched last-minute, intended to numb followers and frighten great spiders seething at the old man’s decision to run the ship onto the rocks of the magic kingdom and, with a $4 billion dollar paycheck, slip away to the rich old retired filmmakers home. Personally I’m writing from the gut right now, the acid eroding the lining of my narrowing throat passage, the sting sizzling wet steps in the cavern of my head anticipating the Alien’s dripping maul waiting in the darkness to rip the heart out of my chest. How? Why? What?? Selling Lucasfilm to Disney is like selling Apple to Microsoft and asking Bill to slip on a pair of New Balance sneakers to do his best rendition of Michael’s stage slide at the next great keynote speech. Gawd, that might be about as bad as this news, the very bad sort of news, like giving Kathleen Kennedy the keys to the farm and asking her to drive a tractor, dig a ditch, stack hay and do the real work only to watch as she gets paid the most to get everyone else to the dirty work. What would past George think, pre Star Wars Episode I and all those others, pre Young Indiana Jones Chronicles T.V., the George Lucas from the wastelands of Modesto California that followed his dreams to USC where Francis Ford Coppola took him under his wing, nurtured first George’s debut film failure THX-1138 and then helped him to his multi-award winning American Grafitti – that George – what would he think of all this posturing and side stepping?
The devil is in the details George. You know it as much as anyone. You know how wrong this is, how bad a decision. I understand you wanting to put on a parachute before plummeting like Nick Cage’s career, before crumbling beneath the weight of a career as conflicted as Tarantino’s from beginning to now, too old to navigate the yellow emergency exit slide and getting out of the game before you fly the plane into a mountain – again – but why go all the way? Why would you sell ALL technologies, ALL IPs, and ALL rights to EVERY property? Even Steve hung on in the end, stepping off but not out. It’s like turning your back on your children after you file for divorce, irreconcilable differences with yourself, opening up your books and handing over %100 of your fortunes to a stranger, walking out a free man but a poorer man and never looking back, no waves to your children – Star Wars and Indie, little Skywalker Sound and tiny Industrial Light & Magic, good luck on your own LucasArts and all the others – Daddy’s not your daddy any more, he’s not even Darth Vader. Don’t you realize that opening the doors this wide, hell tearing them off the hinges for the Disney legions to do whatever they want and get away with it is blasphemy? This means the potential for mistakes even greater than yours. At least they were your mistakes and you can take ownership of your blunders when you’ve done so much good before it all. Take Mel Gibson, yeah (I go out on a limb here), Gibson’s like the walking dead these days, a pariah even but he’s got decades of the goods to make it all make sense in the senseless Hollywoodland because it’s Hollywoodland sort of way.
So Disney gets it all – Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts, and the Indiana Jones franchise. There’s a video floating around of George and Kathleen talking about things, like people really are corporations and franchises live on the hot air of opportunity not in the blood, sweat and tears of the writers and directors doing the dirty work, not the suits and pencil pushers in the office chairs and expensive cars making decisions – when was the last time a decision showed up at 4 a.m. on set to get the shots to match the emotions to match the stars aging indifference and translate that to big screen fantastic? I can’t even begin to go there, not here. George tells us in that interview and others that he’s got plans for retirement, he’s got all sorts of things going on but George, none of that has anything to do with the stuff people love you for. For all intent and purposes you’re heading out into the desert of has-been with a land cruiser, without a lightsaber or a bolo whip or a USB cable. I suppose you’ll be doing really new stuff, not the stuff you’re talking about in interviews because the aforementioned studios and production companies have all the good stuff sewed up like a silk purse, but stuff you’re going to have to do from the outside looking in.
It’s supposed to be passing Star Wars (SW) on to new generations of filmmakers so it can live on beyond george, which is a great Hallmark card moment passed out at the farewell luncheon, but then what? Trouble starts right away, the fact that you didn’t really square things away, you didn’t prepare the departure or really, to be honest, leave a living, breathing fighting sensibility behind, you left a millionaire producer celebrated for getting other people to do the hard work. Not like Apple. Not like Steve. See, Steve got it right for a long time so when he punched out it was like sure, of course the Apple is going to keep on keeping on, going, because once you make the world’s best Swiss clock it’s like that Millennium clock that’s ticking on and on to the break of dawn. But Steve didn’t jump ship like this, like when he got fired first then came back and showed them all, he didn’t walk away and leave it all bare and broken and worn out like Lucasfilm is and was when you turned the lights out and walked away from your legacy. Someone has to say it so I’m saying it. Maybe people are going to say this is a good thing, things will go ahead and get better, but leaving the keys in the boardroom is like saying go forth and make babies where I used to make babies but don’t cry for me Argentina. Disney is going to do what Disney do and that’s rapid fire injection molded mass production until Lucasfilm and family doesn’t look at all like it did, nothing at all what it once was – one of the grandest inspirations a young filmmaker could dream of, a production company making dreams and dreamers, touching hearts, minds and souls everywhere. Maybe it got heavy, maybe you’re right and maybe you just forgot.
Lets face it, the HMS Lucasfilm boat is floating down the rose-colored waters of the Magic Kingdom and it’s a one way passage headed for an inevitable typhoon of change like hurricane Sandy and we know how the Bounty held up so who knows with all those imperial walkers onboard. If you’re thinking about Pixar floating around there in the shark’s belly, how it continues to dominate the market of animated features unhindered by Disney, the difference is simple – Disney can’t do what Pixar does so they have to stand around and watch, help out but stay out-of-the-way, get their name on the marquee and do whatever it is they do – but that ain’t Lucasfilm. Yes, change is inevitable and while in a lot of ways it’s more than welcome, hell anything to resuscitate the dying, but Lucasfilm is unprepared for a takeover of such epic proportions and subsequently we’ll see it stripped down, wearied out, reconstituted and reconfigured. Maybe the name will stick around in some places but it’s going to be a lot smaller, a lot less Lucasfilm and a lot more Disney.
The fact that Lucasfilm is no more, priced to sell, sold, is a shameful reality, it’s selling out, literally and figuratively, letting people down. It’s the death of integrity that wounds the soul, not turning the keys over to new young hopefuls to blaze new trails, it’s turning it over to the very thing that’s always been wrong with people with money-making movies a product, the commoditization and homogenization process, the cookie-cutter, carbon copy scratch pad jello mold demographic shopping and test audience endings. Remove the heart and a machine can do the beating but remove the soul and you’ve got nothing. To suggest that one of the world’s largest homogenizers is going to devour its competition and allow it to go on it’s belly, unscathed, undigested – even a little bit – is hopefully optimistic but blindly idealistic. We’re not talking Pixar, not even Disney can screw them up, because Lucasfilm does’t have that kind of steely resolve – that soul missing thing again. In an industry of sharks and deep waters, killer whales and meals, the predator with the sharpest teeth doing the biting always prevails, because there is no room for sheriff Brody at a Disneyland filled with mayor Vaugns.
The right thing is not always the easy thing but the outcome is almost always better because of it. Lucas could have made it right but he chose easy instead of maybe, certainty instead of possibility, forgetting you can’t buy insurance for risky business. The right thing would have been the hardest thing, no certainty at all but for the possibility of more than one outcome – including more failure. Threats make efforts worthwhile as they pay off while you’re living it, breathing it, not at some unknowable end because you won’t be there anyway. It’s where Lucasfilm came from not where it is going, better to burn up in success then fade away in the shadow of assurances watching someone else drive your car. Lucas could have turned the keys over to the real next generation of filmmakers, the nobodies yet, the bartenders and soup servers, the elbows creased from dreaming guys and girls make believing, every single soul who knows you come up alone before you get to help others like others helped you – by not paying others for your mistakes.
Thank you for ranting for those of us who are still too shocked to put it all into words!!
Well, there’s not a lot I can on this that you haven’t already covered, Rory. Boy, when you write from the gut, you really go all out, eh? While I’m perhaps a little more delighted by the news of Disney’s acquisition than you obviously are, I too am saddened by the apparent death of one of the last true independent players (with incredible success) in Hollywood. Love him or hate him, at least Lucas could play “outside the ring”, if you will, and for that I guess we owe him some thanks. Now, though, I expect to see Vader’s visage appear on every Disney promotional piece from now until 2015 at least, when all hell is going to break loose when Episode 7 comes out.
I won’t deny it, I’m excited to see where Disney takes this franchise (and what it does with all the technology it’s taken on board – ILM especially), even though I can understand some – some, not all – of the fanboy rantings about how Disney spells ruin for Star Wars. While I doubt Disney will truly screw it up, mainly because they know the vitriol coming their way if they do, at least one positive thing is going to come out of all this: more Star Wars movies.
Yeah, the gut sometimes eats me and sometimes I eat the gut, or the bar, er. Indeed, your delight shines through and there’s nothing wrong with that. The giddy movie geek in me is buried down there in all the criticism crying with a handful of ju-ju-bees, fingers glistening with buttery goodness, popcorn bib prefacing everything, eager to see the company pull from Lucas’ steady nose dive of last the quarter century. Nevertheless the cynic has me by the short hairs, keeping me on track – Kennedy is the anti-christ of independence, a proven bastion of corporatocracy, the multi-tentacled plutocracy that always chooses analytics and demographics over artful abandon, aiming for the sure thing away from filmmaking from the tenuous gut that produces real art, living, breathing art caught in the cracks of the chasm of Hollywood dying to get out, be different, change the ailing business model.
Sure, in a boardroom production meeting, suits and ties battling over the last cinnamon raisin scone and cafe ole between whether or not to green light a remake of One Day At A Time with Marky Mark and the funky bunch renamed The D*ck in Apartment D, you’re going to want Kennedy there keeping the pencil sharpeners in line and falling over themselves to reach another rung in the corporate ladder. But in a street fight, sleeves rolled up on a desert set, stuck between the super rich egos of dueling A-listers and you’re trying to get them to emote, not reimagine your perfect shot in an imperfect but artfully conscious passion project – I’m going to go with a young George Lucas or one-track minded twenty year old Tarantino, Mean Streets Marty S., elbow to elbow in fake blood and fisticuffs, owning the verisimilitude, making living truthfully under imaginary circumstances not only possible but a fist shaped reminder in the gut of audiences reminding them movies are more than CGI chicanery and the grotesque budgets of comic book movies.
As far as ruining Star Wars, Lucas has already done that to be brutally honest and in my opinion the only true rebirth will require lots of ashes. Sure, as you rightfully point out, maybe J.J Abrams or some pointy headed new kid on the block is going to grab the assets and shake them silly, figure out you can predate 70s cinema with 21st century nostalgia, restore former glory for the next generation. Maybe that person is going to resuscitate it like the mouth-to-mouth that brought Stark Trek back and made the last film in the franchise so damn good. But the realist in me, the guy that’s been around the block enough to believe the hyper reality of the Hollywood machine sees the ensuing studio type automaton appointed by Kennedy doing for STOS (Star Trek original series) what I think Rick Berman and Michael Piller did to Roddenberry by forcing him to revise his flawed but beautiful testosterone driven universe with TNG (Star Trek The Next Generation for the unvaccinated Star Trekker, in case you haven’t seen The Big Bang Theory) with the whole gender-neutral thing and “let’s fix all the stuff that was wrong with OS, namely that chauvinistic man-child bravado” effectively castrating the series.
But we’re not going to know until we know. I’m all ready for what’s going to happen because I can’t change it, and I am even more ready to write about it.
And I’m all ready to read your writing! Keep up the good work, my friend!
(PS: love me some TNG, and Voyager – never cared for Enterprise or DS9, though)
Thanks Rod – I always enjoy our exchanges and appreciate how we approach our difference of opinion without ever resorting to ‘you’re wrong’ no ‘you’re wrong’. It’s a great currency I enjoy spending with our time together.
The trouble with the selling was where it was going not what was going to happen once it got there. You can’t pretend to imagine you are helping people who don’t want it, don’t need it, or don’t want you in their house telling them how to clean their soup pans. By the time people figure out how bad this is they are going to wish for other bad tidings in their life. just sayin’
I keep reading the divide and it’s like the fanboy attack brigade on the one side and the ‘burn it down all all costs’ on the other and all I keep saying is that it’s not the selling that was bad it was the walking away that made this inexcusable.
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