I keep trying to imagine what a Star Wars movie would feel like if it opened with one of Disney's magic-castle logos instead of the rolling drum beats of the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It's hard to imagine, but it seems likely that it will happen, now that Disney has spent $4 billion to acquire Lucasfilm, including all rights to existing and future Star Wars movies. More to the point — will Star Wars still be Star Wars if George Lucas is out of the equation? Lots of questions are raised, and we'll have to wait a while to get all the answers, but here in New York it provides something diverting to think about rather than the lingering aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Here's what I'm curious about right now, based on yesterday's news.
Who will direct the next Star Wars movie?
It's common fan lore that David Lynch and even David Cronenberg were at one time considered to direct Return of the Jedi, a task that eventually fell to Richard Marquand. Since then, Lucas has not entrusted another director with the car keys, opting to drive the prequel trilogy to the finish line himself. Many fans no doubt feel that only Lucas knows what's best for the Star Wars universe, but those who have complained bitterly about midi-chlorians, Greedo shooting first, and Jar-Jar Binks might welcome a fresh take on the material. Movie geek speculation has run immediately, and understandably, to Christopher Nolan and David Fincher — but it's hard to imagine either of those very busy directors being interested. Only somewhat more plausible are commonly cited A-list possibilities like Brad Bird, J. J. Abrams, and James Cameron. Expert universe-builder Joss Whedon will likely be busy with another Disney-owned franchise, The Avengers. This might be a job, rather, for a relative unknown. No matter who takes the helm, Episode 7 will be action packed, largely family friendly, and probably quite expensive.
What will happen to ILM?
The studio said its intentions were to leave Industrial Light and Magic in place. That would give Disney a world-class visual-effects house among its filmmaking assets, and help guarantee a steady stream of work for the facility. Still, ILM staff may wonder exactly how committed their new studio bosses really will be to the VFX business, especially if they recall the aftermath of Disney's Dream Quest Images acquisition (recounted here
). For now, at least, ILM says business will continue as usual for all of its studio clients — and it really is hard to imagine a Star Wars
film without ILM's expertise.
Will the pre-special editions see the light of day?
As far as the existing Star Wars films go, they've been pretty much released to death on home video, culminating in last year's definitive Blu-ray release. What has not been seen is a decent high-definition version of the original trilogy before Lucas made changes — visual effects additions and enhancements, not to mention the "Episode IV" title that was tacked on the first film after its initial theatrical release. After the "special edition" versions were created, Lucas ignored fan demands that he revisit the original films, warts and all, and the unaltered trilogy was made available only as special DVD features that seemed to date back to 4×3 video masters from the laserdisc days. It's hard to tell whether the effort of going back to work on original elements just to restore Star Wars to its original 1977 release version would be justified by sales to hardcore fans, but with George Lucas in retirement, it could possibly happen. (Maybe we'll just see a new release of the original trilogy in 4K instead.)
What new realms can Disney carry Star Wars into?
And then there's the question of corporate synergy — where does the Star Wars saga fit into the Disney master plan? One indication is Lucas' own success spinning off the animated Clone Wars TV series, which was based on the timeline depicted in Episodes 1 through 3. Maybe following that lead, Disney CEO Robert Iger suggested that a new Star Wars series would be a good fit for the kid-oriented Disney DX TV channel. Anyway, if you were hoping for a grittier, more adult take on the material now that it's out of Lucas' domain, you'll be waiting a long time — the earning potential of future Star Wars attractions at Disney theme parks will help ensure that Disney gives the franchise all-ages appeal. For my part, I'd love to see some stories from the scrappy interplanetary rebellion against the evil galactic Empire that would crib some notes from the grimy pages of Game of Thrones, but it's probably not in the cards.
Who will become the next most successful indie filmmaker?
No matter what you thought of the Star Wars movies, George Lucas always held a special place in the moviemaking firmament as the single most ambitious, and financially flush, independent filmmaker in history. He built a multi-billion empire not just by being one of the most canny exploiters of merchandising rights, but also by holding doggedly to his vision in the face of detractors who complained about his highly political storylines, his unfussy directorial style, and his sometimes-tortured dialogue. (Even Harrison Ford, the biggest movie star to emerge from Star Wars, is said to have noted, "George, you can type this s— but you sure as hell can't say it.") And he pushed movie technology into the digital age by being one of the first to shoot with Sony's HDCAM format, and by making sure the prequels were among the first movies screened using digital projectors. If the technology wasn't fully baked then, it's partly due to his efforts that it's so much farther along now, with the transition to digital screenings mostly complete and the move to digital acquisition well underway. Some will sing his praises for helping move film closer to the graveyard of media formats, while others will curse his name. But nobody can deny that he was hugely influential. Was he, possibly, one of a kind? Let's hope not. With new media formats and new distribution methods coming online — webisodes, video on demand, 3D, and more — it will be interesting to see which big ideas will make the next new-media entrepreneur fantastically wealthy.