It's big news for technology. It's big news for movies. It's big news for gaming. Disney's $4.05 billion acquisition of LucasFilm, announced on Tuesday, is big news all around. The announcement of Star Wars Episode VII headlined the deal, and George Lucas stated "For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next. It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Disney plans to release the next Star Wars film in 2015 and follow that up with sequels "every two or three years" after that, which could mean episodes VIII and IX, or a continuing series of films. Lucas will serve as a consultant on the films, while producer Kathleen Kennedy will become Lucasfilm's president and executive produce the new Star Wars films. Even if Lucas isn't directing or writing the new trilogy, his presence may still be strongly felt: Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the Lucasfilm purchase includes an "extensive and detailed treatment for the next three movies."
But Disney didn't pay $4 billion just for Star Wars. Acquiring Lucasfilm means acquiring Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, two huge names in the movie effects business. ILM regularly pushes the envelope with special effects for films like Transformers and its first in-house animated film Rango. Skywalker Sound has, in the last year, already contributed to two Disney films: The Avengers and Pixar's Brave. The acquisition also includes LucasArts, the interactive division currently developing a video game titled Star Wars 1313.
The Lucasfilm acquisition brings together two of the biggest names in film technology (Pixar and ILM) and two of the biggest names in fantasy entertainment (Marvel and Star Wars). Disney purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006 and Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Since those purchases, Pixar has released Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3; Marvel Studios has released Thor, Captain America and The Avengers. Granted, neither studio has been perfect--they've also released Cars 2 and Iron Man 2--but Disney's stewardship hasn't damaged the output of either studio, and Marvel's in-house productions have been far better than most of its collaborations with other studios (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, just to name a few).
Disney plans to focus more on social and mobile games for its new properties, which means big-budget projects like Star Wars 1313 may be licensed out to other game developers in the future. For now, LucasArts has said its projects are going ahead unchanged. The new Star Wars film will obviously be a blockbuster, good or bad. The way Disney handles the many other properties its just acquired will be far more interesting.
Will Industrial Light & Magic collaborate on CG films in the future? Will future Star Wars comics be published by Marvel? Possibly. Could Disney adapt some of LucasArts most beloved games, like Grim Fandango and Monkey Island, into animated films? Will Disney decide to re-release the original version of Star Wars on Blu-ray? That would be a quick way to buy the admiration of fans who love Star Wars Despecialized.
And what about Indiana Jones? Disney now owns an amazing array of media properties. Those properties may see sequels, remakes, and re-releases. Or crossovers--we wouldn't mind a Star Wars vs. Marvel game, come to think of it.
That stuff is all up in the air, of course. Out of everything Disney gets in its Lucasfilm purchase, Industrial Light & Magic is probably the most valuable. We expect to see some truly amazing digital effects in the next round of Marvel films, and hopefully Disney's management will put ILM to work on more Rangos and fewer Red Tails.