Throwing a little cold water on the Disney Star Wars deal
Published: November 2, 2012 at 11:08 AM
Disney got complete control to an intellectual property (the Star Wars franchise) whose theme park rights Disney already owned. That's it. Now, owning Star Wars gives Disney considerable flexibility it didn't have a week ago, when it was merely licensing Star Wars from LucasFilm. For example, Disney no longer has to pay additional licensing fees to bring new Star Wars-themed attractions to its parks. That should make it easier for Disney to bring Star Tours to its theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Disney's only two theme park resorts without a Star Wars attraction.
What about Disney's other parks, including those at Walt Disney World and Disneyland? Fans have dreamed of seeing Disney build a full Star Wars-themed lands in one or more of these parks. (And you can count me among those.) But I find it hard to believe that Disney buying Star Wars would be itself clear the decks for this concept to fly.
Let's break it down. LucasFilm = George Lucas. So if you believe that Disney buying Star Wars is all that was needed to bring us Star Wars Land, you're essentially arguing that Disney was ready to proceed, but Lucas was standing in the way. Maybe he didn't like the proposed land's creative direction. Maybe he was afraid of over-saturation. (Hold on… Gimme a second to stop laughing… OK. I'm good. Let's proceed.) Maybe he wanted more money. Whatever the reason, I find it hard to believe that Lucas would veto Disney building a Star Wars land - then turn around and sell the whole franchise to Disney.
Not owning the Star Wars franchise wasn't keeping Disney from developing a Star Wars land. Whatever factors kept Disney from going in that direction before remain in play now.
So let's get to the good news for theme park and Star Wars fans. With ownership of the Star Wars franchise, Disney can change the rules of this game. By investing in a new Star Wars trilogy - one that Lucas will not write, direct or produce - Disney has opportunity to rekindle some of the passion for Star Wars that the prequel triology lost. Plus, Disney has an opportunity to help Star Wars connect with a new generation of fans who haven't seen original, first-run Star Wars films in theaters. Again, these are simply opportunities - not guarantees. But LucasFilm's track record with the prequels and subsequent TV projects suggests that it was stuck on a path where the company had been turning off fans even as it brought in a few new ones. Star Wars needed a shake-up to begin growing again. Disney's ownership provides that.
If Disney's successful with its new Star Wars films, the math behind building a Star Wars-themed land changes immensely. Demand for Star Wars will surge. New stories and characters will provide additional opportunities for Imagineers to recreate engaging physical and narrative spaces for the land. And did I mention that demand for Star Wars would surge?
Let's face it - this is a bottom-line call. It's all about the money Star Wars can make. If Disney can build a creative team that can build the fan base by faithfully curating the Star Wars canon while developing popular new Star Wars movies, Disney can set that creative team loose on building a Star Wars theme park land, too. But the movies will come first, and drive this process. With the first new Star Wars movie slated for 2015, I doubt we'll see any substantial action on new U.S.-based theme park rides before then. (Save, perhaps, a Star Tours upgrade to promote the new film.)
But there is one other piece of good news for theme park fans - one that will affect the parks right away. As the new owner of Star Wars, Disney now gets to cash the checks from all those other Star Wars licensing deals LucasFilm had going - Legos, video games, toys, etc. That provides Disney with an immediate source of fresh revenue, one that can fund projects throughout the company, including in the theme parks. So even if the LucasFilm deal doesn't lead to new Star Wars attractions in the parks right away, it might help clear the way for other improvements in the parks over the next few months and years. And that's definitely good news for theme park fans.