Disney Presents: Star Wars Episode VII

What does Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm mean for the Star Wars franchise?

On Oct. 30, the Walt Disney Company announced that it had acquired Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in cash and stock. Named for its creator, George Lucas, Lucasfilm is the film and television production company that owns the rights to the massively popular Star Wars franchise, among other projects. The biggest family entertainment producer of the last century now owns one of the most popular film franchises of all time.

This buyout is just the latest in a string of high-profile acquisitions that Disney has made over the last several years. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar, the highly successful creator of the “Toy Story” trilogy, “Finding Nemo” and “Up,” for $7.4 billion. Three years later, in 2009, Disney acquired full ownership of Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion. Since then, Marvel’s film division alone has grossed over $3 billion with movies like “Captain America,” “Thor” and “The Avengers.”

Apparently, Disney is wasting no time in capitalizing on its latest acquisition. Along with the announcement of the buyout, Disney chairman Robert Iger also declared that Disney plans to release a new film in the Star Wars saga in 2015. “Star Wars: Episode VII” will be the first film in a new trilogy. Current Lucasfilm co-chair, Kathleen Kennedy, will become president of Lucasfilm within Disney and will be an executive producer of the franchise.

Immediately after the news of Disney’s acquisition broke, rumors of the new Star Wars film began to fly. Besides the release window of 2015, not much else has been officially stated. Lucas will act as a creative consultant on the new trilogy, but the writing and directing duties will be given to somebody else. The plot of the new films is also still shrouded in secrecy. Many fans have expressed their hopes in having a popular series of novels, the Thrawn Trilogy, adapted for the screen. The Thrawn Trilogy picks up five years after the conclusion of Episode VI. It is often credited with maintaining fan interest in the Star Wars universe during the 16-year gap between the first trilogy of films and the prequel trilogy. So far the only word on the subject is that Lucas has written original story treatments for the upcoming three films. Vulture reported that a studio insider informed that Michael Arndt, writer of “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” wrote a longer, 40-something-page story treatment for the film. Studio heads are reportedly so impressed that they’ve sent it to Steven Spielberg, Brad Bird (director of “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) and J.J. Abrams asking them to direct.

Another crucial question is whether or not the original cast will return. Both Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker respectively, have strayed away from live-action acting in favor of other careers. After struggling with a cocaine addiction and bipolar disorder, Fisher has made a successful career in writing novels. Hamill has since become one of the most prolific and popular voice actors working today, his most famous role being that of the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series.” Despite Han Solo being his platform to stardom, Harrison Ford infamously wanted his character to die in the final film and has since kept his distance from the franchise.

Yet all three actors have expressed their interest in returning to the series. Whether or not their characters actually are returning is still a mystery. Fisher and Hamill met with Lucas over the summer, when he revealed his intention of having a new trilogy of Star Wars films produced. He didn’t, however, reveal whether their characters would be involved in the new adventures.

As for Lucasfilm’s other non-Star Wars properties, Disney also now owns a stake in the Indiana Jones franchise. Unfortunately for Disney, Lucasfilm doesn’t own the rights to distribute Indiana Jones films. That right is owned by Paramount, which has released all four of the movies. Disney encountered a similar problem when it bought Marvel — Paramount also owned the distribution rights to “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3.” Disney bought those rights from Paramount for $115 million, and even then Paramount still got its 9 percent distribution fee and its logo in the credits of “The Avengers.” It’s likely, then, that Disney won’t want to pay up for the distribution rights to the Indiana Jones series, and will instead focus on Star Wars for the foreseeable future.

After the fallout from the often panned Star Wars prequel trilogy, many fans assumed the long-rumored sequel trilogy was all but dead. With Disney now picking up where Lucas left off, Star Wars’ notoriously vocal fans are split on whether this is a revitalization for Star Wars or a quick money-grab on a once-beloved franchise. Lucas said in a press release concerning the Disney buyout that “it’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.”

With the fate of the franchise on new shoulders, may the Force be with them.