I can’t say I was all that surprised by the news a while ago that Disney was buying Lucasfilm. It’s not that I had any kind of insider info, of course, or that I’m all that savvy about the entertainment business. It just didn’t surprise me because it felt inevitable.
What did surprise me was seeing the reaction from people on the Internet, who acted like it came out of nowhere. Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in Disney parks over the last several years, but it’s seemed like Disney had already become de facto stewards of the Star Wars franchise. Disney buying Marvel was kind of a shocker. Disney buying Lucasfilm is like getting a wedding invitation from an inseparable couple who’ve been living together for over a decade.
Most bizarre were all the parody ideas and images that people kept tweeting or slapping together in Photoshop. Like Disneyfying quotes from the movies, or replacing Spaceship Earth at Epcot with the Death Star, or showing the Death Star with Mickey ears. They were bizarre because the people seemed completely unaware that these are all already officially licensed products. Do a Google Image search for Star Wars Weekends (which is an annual event at Hollywood Studios) and you’ll see that pretty much every possible variation on the theme of Disney + Star Wars has already been done. They have parades; and T-shirts with Darth Vader riding the carousel at the Magic Kingdom with the quote “This will be a day long remembered;” and Mickey ears that look like R2-D2’s head; and figures that mash-up Star Wars with Disney characters and the Muppets; and they sell it all near the Rock and Roller Coaster in a big warehouse they call the Darth Mall.
Sure, some of it borders on unfortunate. Even though I’ve been burned several times, I’m still just reverent enough of Star Wars that it bothers me to see a big dance party with Stormtroopers and Darth Vader. Especially when the music stops and Darth Vader says “Now witness the power of this fully operational dance floor.” But even that shows that Disney gets the tone right: mocking it as completely silly would feel off, but so would taking it too seriously.
The prime examples of it are absolutely great, though. The new Star Tours is a ton of fun, is filled with clever references, and makes the settings and designs from the prequels actually seem interesting. Plus, it feels even more fitting in the Star Wars universe than the original version of the ride did — you’re actually riding with C-3PO and R2-D2 on new adventures, instead of tagging along on the Death Star trench run and asteroid field with Pee-Wee Herman. (No offense to the original; after all, it was only his first flight).
And the Jedi Training Academy, a live show at Disneyland and Hollywood Studios, is fantastic. Kids are given padawan robes and a lightsaber, and they fight against Darth Vader himself. The kids love it, seeing Darth Vader and Stormtroopers showing up in Disneyland is always cool, and the Jedi trainer narrates the entire thing with a tone somewhere between Qui-gon Jinn and a Jungle Cruise skipper.
So what I’m saying is that Star Wars is in the best hands. I can all but guarantee that we won’t see anything like the Star Wars Christmas Special again, but it’s entirely possible we’ll see a better-animated equivalent to the Boba Fett short in the Christmas Special. And the rumors around the new movies — which were a complete surprise to me — make it sound as if they’re ignoring the “expanded universe” stuff in favor of a new story. I’m still not sure whether I can let myself get excited about Star Wars movies again, but I’m at least glad that we won’t have to see pheremone-spewing genius space admirals, or people carrying around sloths that have evolved to repel the Force.
When talking about hits and misses, Lucasfilm licensing has had a much worse track record than Disney. There have been a couple of stand-outs — both Genndy Tartakovsky’s and the more recent CG series of The Clone Wars are both excellent — but for the most part, it’s been pretty dire.
For years, the internet’s been full of people who go apoplectic at the sight of George Lucas in a “Han Shot First” T-shirt. They’ve convinced themselves that Lucas — nay, every artist — has an obligation to his fans, that the fans “own” Star Wars at least as much as he does. I think that’s complete and total BS, but in a sense, they’ve gotten their way. Whatever happens going forward won’t be a case of Lucas making only what he wants (or more accurately, what he believes kids want). It’ll be a bunch of Star Wars fans making the stuff they’ve always wanted to see.