Star Wars: A sale or a sell-out?

News of the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilms sparks fears for the future of Star Wars

New Statesman
Walt Disney Company President and CEO Bob Iger and Star Wars creator George Lucas attend the grand opening ceremonies for 'Star Tours - The Adventures Continue' at Disney's Hollywood Studios (Photo by Kent Phillips/Disney Parks via Getty Images)

To sell or not to sell? It’s a question faced by all cult classics at one point or another. Yet, Star Wars fans would have been forgiven for thinking that legal ownership of the cult franchise would stay firmly with its founder. "There will definitely be no Episodes VII-IX." George Lucas told Total Film magazine in 2008, repeating several of his statements that the Star Wars films had ended their hugely successful run.

Yet last night it was announced that Lucasfilm will be subsumed by Disney in a colossal $4.05bn (£2.5b) acquisition. Episode VII is now firmly in the pipeline, with a provisional release date of 2015, with more films to follow.

Few films can truly claim to inspire the obsessive cult following which Star Wars has engendered since its release in 1977. It is unsurprising, therefore that confirmation of the Disney deal has elicited such strong reactions.

“My heart sinks” commented the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw on the prospect of future films, echoing the sentiments of many sci-fi fans on forums across the web. Whilst the possibility of the original films being diluted by sub-standard sequels remains a fearful prospect, others are more optimistic:”I’m just thrilled they’re happening, and that Star Wars is returning to the big screen where it belongs” notes blogger Pablo Hidalgo.

As the twitter trending between these two camps continues to battle, the question as to whether Star Wars can maintain its cult following as an arm of the Disney conglomerate is being debated with increasing anxiety.

On a business level, the statistics tells a story in Disney favour. Their acquisitions-lead business plan has been so resoundingly successful over the past decade that their market cap has almost tripled to $90bn. The Walt Disney Company was listed as America’s largest media conglomerate in the 2012 Fortune 500 list.

Having honed a strategy for buying up the intellectual property of smaller film companies and turning them into vast profit-driving distributions, the future success of Star Wars looks fairly certain, from a financial perspective.

But, of course, business success and creative fulfilment are two very different ballgames, and it’s the latter which the legions of Star Wars fans feel almost obsessively possessive over.

Is it possible for a cult film to survive as part of an all-consuming media powerhouse? It seems we will have to wait until 2015 and Episode VII to discover whether this will be a new lease of life for a beloved film franchise, or merely the dissolution of sci-fi into standardisation.