LOS ANGELES — A decade after George Lucas said “Star Wars” was finished on the big screen, a new trilogy under new ownership is destined for theaters after The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday it was buying Lucasfilm Ltd. from him for $4.05 billion.
The seventh movie, with a working title of “Episode 7,” is set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will follow. The trilogy will continue the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia beyond “Return of the Jedi,” the third film released and the sixth in the saga. After that, Disney plans a new “Star Wars” movie every two or three years. Lucas will serve as creative consultant in the new movies.
“I'm doing this so that the films will have a longer life,” Lucas, 68, creator of the series and sole owner of Lucasfilm, said in an interview posted on YouTube. “I get to be a fan now. … I sort of look forward to it.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger said Lucasfilm has developed an extensive storyline on the next trilogy, and Episode 7 is in early development. He said he talked with Lucas about buying the company a year and a half ago, but they didn't decide on a deal until recently as Lucas set in motion his retirement.
“The last ‘Star Wars' movie release was 2005's ‘Revenge of the Sith' — and we believe there's substantial pent-up demand,” Iger said.
The deal announced Tuesday will see Disney pay half the acquisition price in cash and half in newly issued stock. The company expects it to add to earnings in 2015 and said that as an example of its earnings power, Lucasfilm made $550 million in operating income the year “Sith” came out. Along with the cash, Lucas will end up owning about 40 million Disney shares, or about 2.2 percent of the 1.83 billion shares that will be in circulation when the transaction closes.
What is involved
The deal includes Lucasfilm's prized high-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise. Lucasfilm will continue to be based in San Francisco's Presidio park, and employees are to stay in their current locations. Disney is based in Burbank, Calif., near Los Angeles.
The deal brings Lucasfilm under the Disney banner with brands including Pixar, the Muppets, Marvel, ESPN and ABC, all of which Disney has acquired over the years. Lucas created Pixar as a division of Lucasfilm to develop computerized filmmaking techniques before he sold it to Apple's Steve Jobs, who later sold it to Disney.
Twitter went wild with the news as fans speculated on mashup titles for future movies, using hashtag “DisneyStarWars.” Among the amusing attempts were “When You Wish Upon a Death Star” and “Bambi Wan Kenobi.” “Star Wars,” “LucasArts,” “Disney” and “Indiana Jones” all were trending topics on Twitter late Tuesday afternoon.
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Lucas is tired of criticism
Die-hard fans had been vilifying George Lucas for years, convinced he had become a commercial sell-out and had compounded his sins by desecrating the heroic tale he originally sought to tell.
They railed against him for adding grating characters such as Jar Jar Binks to the prequel trilogy, which Lucas directed and which came out from 1999 to 2005. They attacked him for tinkering with the original trilogy that spanned 1977 to 1983, too. Revisions in special editions and home video releases — such as making the Ewoks blink and having a green-skinned alien named Greedo take the first shot at Han Solo in a famous bar scene — were treated as blasphemy.
The criticism grated on Lucas, who vowed never to make another “Star Wars” movie. “Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” Lucas told The New York Times this year.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the fourth film in another lucrative franchise, subjected Lucas to even more barbs when it came to the big screen in 2008. Fans of those films were outraged about an opening scene that featured Indiana Jones crawling into a lead-lined refrigerator to survive a nuclear bomb blast.
Lucas was fed up by the time he released “Red Tails,” a movie depicting the valor of African-American pilots during World War II, this year. He told the Times he was ready to retire from the business of making blockbusters and return to his roots as a student at University of Southern California's film school, where he once made a movie about clouds moving in a desert.