Today, George Lucas sold Star Wars.
In retrospect, it feels inevitable. The real story of Star Wars for a long time now has been the story of a business enterprise (Lucasfilm, to be more precise). It has been the saga of merchandising rights, of toy lunch boxes, of animated spin-offs, of poorly-conceived prequels. So of course the end of this chapter would be its sale for a staggering amount of money ($4 Billion, if you’re counting). Has one story ever made an artist as rich as Star Wars has made George Lucas?
I don’t know how to feel about this news. While Star Wars has transformed into an enormous, sprawling franchise, we still care about it. I know I do. That’s because, at its core, there is a great story there. A young warrior, an impossible quest, a charming rogue, a beautiful woman, a wise teacher and a fallen hero turned villain, set in a universe that was unique and inspiring. Star Wars has been THE mythology for our times – it’s as omnipresent in our culture as the Labours of Hercules or the Trojan War were for the Ancient Greeks and Romans. We care about Star Wars because, at a certain point, we’d begun to think it was ours.
Today is a reminder that it isn’t. Hell, perhaps it never will be, given how determined the copyright lobby (led by Star Wars‘ new owners, Disney) are to prevent proven money-makers ever entering the public domain. Star Wars is a commodity to be bought and sold, and now we’re guaranteed new films to ensure the money keeps rolling in.
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine Disney could commodify the saga any more than George Lucas already has. How many more animated parodies or toy lines could they possibly create? The sale does open up a door that I thought would have remained shut until Lucas passed on – other filmmakers will have a chance to play in the Star Wars sandbox. A glance at Disney’s stewardship of Marvel, who have operated with relative independence and have been increasingly open to collaborating with exciting talent (Joss Whedon, Kenneth Brannagh, Shane Black, Edgar Wright, to name a few directors on Marvel’s books) suggest this might not be a bad thing.
And there will be no shortage of filmmakers ready to raise their hand to make a Star Wars film. It will remain to be seen whether they have a worthy story to tell. Is there anything more to be said in the saga of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader? Would they be brave enough to use the universe they’ve been given to try something daring and new?
The sale of Star Wars is a stark reminder of how art today, and especially blockbuster filmmaking, has become about certified franchises and continuing revenue streams. In that sense, it feels like we’ve never been further away from sharing stories over a campfire. And yet part of me can’t help but hope that, by freeing Star Wars from the clutches of its creatively-waning creator, the possibilities for exciting storytelling in this world built on lightsabers, cooky eastern religions, planet-destroying space stations and unapologetic heroism have never been greater. Despite all the times I’ve sworn off Star Wars, I know I’ll be eagerly watching what happens next. Which is, of course, what the money-men are counting on.