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Will Disney Destroy The Star Wars Universe?

Disney paying a cool $4 billion for Lucasfilm — which essentially means Mickey Mouse now owns Star Wars — is stupidly big news. Disney’s record with Marvel suggests it won’t automatically wreck a beloved cult property, but do we need more Star Wars movies anyway? And what does it mean for Star Wars gaming? Kotaku’s Mark Serrels and Lifehacker’s Angus Kidman debate the issue.

Main picture by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

ANGUS KIDMAN: My relationship with Star Wars is odd. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not really a fan. I didn’t even watch the movies until I was a teenager, and I don’t think any of them are great pieces of work. Not even A New Hope. But I’m strangely fascinated by the phenomena that is Star Wars. I enjoy checking out Wookiepedia. I love the fact that George Lucas is in denial about the Christmas Special. And Lucas’ continued tinkering with the movies and the outraged reaction that generates reminds me that obsessive fanboys exist in areas other than operating systems and mobile phones.

Given all that, I can’t claim to be waiting in eager anticipation for Episode 7. The movie industry is already stupidly dominated by sequels, and this is only going to make matters worse. That said, when it comes to making big dumb shiny sequels, Disney is the main player these days. So it could be a lot worse for the fans.

I was very struck by a comment doing the rounds on Twitter this morning: that at $4 billion, the entire Star Wars universe is worth only four Instagrams. So let’s ask a man more invested than I: Mark, do you think it’s a good deal?

MARK SERRELS: I’m torn on this. Part of me finds it strange that people are losing their minds about this deal, when perspective — courtesy of Hurricane Sandy — is being shoved down everyone’s throats. The other part is split further: one half says: ‘Oooh, another Star Wars movie’ with a ‘squee’, the other is cynical, jaded, and a little bit fearful of more damage to a respected brand.

Honestly, I think it may end up being a good thing. As Kanye West once rapped: ‘no one man should have all that power’. In the last 20 years or so George Lucas has made poor decision after poor decision, and really has dulled the impact the Star Wars universe could possibly have with new generations. You get the sense that fans, and the folks that grew up with Star Wars, have an infinitely broader respect for Star Wars than Lucas himself does.

In a strange sense Lucas is the only person who could flippantly mess up the Star Wars universe. His attitude is ‘it’s my creation, so I can do whatever I want’. At this stage I feel as though only an outside party could treat the franchise with the respect it deserves, so I’m actually quite confident that Disney will handle things well.

ANGUS KIDMAN: On reflection, part of me wishes that the whole thing died with Lucas. Something we haven’t learned with popular culture is that it isn’t permanent. Because audiences for everything are so fragmented these days, if you’re a big traditional media player (like Disney) the only way to get big numbers often seems to be to revive old franchises. But popular culture has a shelf life. I Love Lucy scored bigger numbers than any TV show being produced today will ever enjoy, but that doesn’t mean reviving it is a good idea. Rather than passing on stuff we liked to a new generation, we should let them find their own new thing.

It’s easy for me to say that, though; I didn’t just spend $4 billion. And while a lot of the headlines (and fanticipation/fan dread) are around Episode 7 — I imagine speculation will soon start on whether or not Kim Kardashian should be cast as Leia — Star Wars is a lot bigger than just the movies. There are all those toys, and all those games. It’s evident Disney is pretty good at flogging plastic toys, but does it have any respect in the gaming world?

MARK SERRELS: Well, that’s the thing. Back in the day Lucasfilm (and later, Lucasarts) had as good a reputation as any. Disney? Not so much, not in video games.

There was a time when a Lucasarts Star Wars game could be depended upon, but that time has truly come and gone and I think it will be interesting to see precisely how Lucasarts is handled from this point forward.

Lucasarts has put out a statement claiming that it’s “business as usual” for now, but that it’s excited for what’s coming next. At the moment Lucasarts has a massively big budget Star Wars game based on the world of Bounty Hunters, the Boba Fetts of the Star Wars universe. We’re talking about a game that has the future hopes of Star Wars games as a whole riding upon its shoulders. That game would be my first concern, but I suspect Disney will just allow those studios to run themselves, especially with regards to games that are already deep into production.

I’m interested in the future. Lucasarts has a number of incredible games licences, and I hold a little bit of hope that some might be revived — or possibly even transformed into cross media franchises. First on my list would be Grim Fandango!

But yeah, I’d imagine Disney’s first priority would be toys! And Star Wars.

What are your thoughts on the new Star Wars movie itself — good idea? Bad idea?

ANGUS KIDMAN: The notion that Star Wars was always supposed to be a nine-part sequence that just happened to begin with Part IV is a well-embedded notion in fandom. The problem with the way the sequence has been produced is that it is now literally going to be impossible for the cast from Episodes IV-VI to replay their roles. Even with performance capture suits, I can’t see that working for a 2015 release date. That means new actors, and I’m not sure dedicated fans will be any happier with recasting than they have been with endless digital tinkering.

Most big-ticket cult franchises that have been revived successfully in recent years have gone down the reboot path (I’m particularly thinking of Star Trek, which was one of Lucas’ own initial inspiration). A movie called Episode 7 clearly isn’t going down the reboot path, especially with Lucas still employed as a consultant.That said, maybe Disney will be brave and jump 600 years into the future, keeping the universe but giving us entirely fresh characters. That might be more interesting.

One current online push is for Joss Whedon to take over the movies as a director. Not gonna happen, I reckon. Disney has a healthy cash cow with the Avengers franchise, and that’s not going to get disrupted.

Ultimately, a big part of being a Star Wars fan (or a Star Wars fan observer) is arguing endlessly over minutae. With a new movie in the works — the first proper Star Wars movie of the Twitter/Facebook era — there will be plenty for people to obsess over. I’m not sure the movie will be any good, but it’s going to make for interesting times.

MARK SERRELS: The Star Wars universe is an incredible one. It’s rich, massive in scale and many aspects remain unfurrowed. Some of my favourite stories set in that universe exist outside of the traditional Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader arc, and I’d like to see something along those lines.

There’s no way Han Solo could be played by anyone other than Harrison Ford, and I’d be mightily pissed if they tried. But if Disney is smart enough to tell a story outside of those parameters, with the right creative minds, and builds something that stays true to the Star Wars mythology? Man, I would absolutely watch that movie. I would buy into it completely.

Star Wars was never really a character-driven franchise. It was spectacle-driven, image-driven, universe-driven. If they built on top of the foundation that already exists, and they do it correctly, I genuinely think we could be in for something interesting.