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Throwing a little cold water on the Disney Star Wars deal

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Published: November 2, 2012 at 11:08 AM

I hate to spoil everyone's party here, but Disney's Star Wars deal isn't going to bring major new attractions to Disney's U.S. theme parks anytime soon. That doesn't mean that the deal wasn't a great one for Disney. Or for the Star Wars franchise. But let's take a look at what happened, from the theme parks' perspective.

Star Wars

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.

Readers' Opinions

From Anon Mouse on November 2, 2012 at 11:59 AM
The impediment at Disney left a long time ago. That guy was Eisner.

http://disneyandmore.blogspot.com/2009/02/who-have-some-news-of-star-tours-2.html

"Eisner and Lucas relations were supposedly as bad as possible and we had to wait for the end of the Eisner's era and better relations between Lucas Film and Disney new CEO to have the project on the road again."

Iger can go far with Star Wars. So much has happened that Star Wars is merely a line item after the acquisition of Pixar and Marvel.

From Tom Rigg on November 2, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Robert, I'm going to call you to task on one point: Star Wars has seen nothing but growth in the TV sector. The first Clone Wars was wildly popular (earning both 2 Annies and 2 Emmy's). The current Clone Wars cartoon is in it's fifth season, which by any prime time cartoon's standard is a long run. And, I would say that you are seeing the biggest surge in new viewers of Star Wars because of the current animated series.

Now I will grant you that at least Disney is well trained in he art of netting young viewers and will probably only help the franchise with its vast marketing machine. I don't think that Lucas was hemorrhaging fans, but rather the fans that are coming on aren't at the age/point of being masters of their fan destiny and therefore are as well represented.

From robert morris on November 2, 2012 at 12:13 PM
@robert

Doesn't it change the business model for let's say a 250 million dollar expansion(estimate) for a DHS if now instead paying 10 percent(guess) of your revenue to an outside company its now kept in house.

From Anon Mouse on November 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM
In isolation, the question of whether Disney will want to move on a Star Wars Land is in doubt, but Disney is considering the ramifications of the competition in Orlando.

The rumors about a Cars Land in the Studios Park may be supplanted with rumors about a Star Wars Land. It really makes sense to consider such a possibility.

Look at how quickly they considered Avatar in Animal Kingdom. All they have to do is turn on a dime. The outlook changes immediately.

From James Rao on November 2, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Obviously by slamming $4.05B down on the table to become the sole proprietor of all things Star Wars, Disney has big plans for the franchise. It would be complete folly for these savvy, forward thinking business men and women to sit back and simply try to recoup their money from film, television, and licensing when paying customers have been clamoring for more Star Wars in the Disney parks for decades.

It will take a few years to see the finished product, but Star Wars Land is coming, mark my words.

(Programming note: the Clone Wars TV series - which is pretty darn good - will move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD for its fifth season).

From Terry O'Neal on November 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I'm guessing a lot of the fresh new revenue is going to replenish the 4 billion they dropped on the whole thing. Then we'll see bigger and better things.
From O T on November 2, 2012 at 12:56 PM
The only thing I know is that Disney had the Star Wars theme park licens for years and it did only one mediocer ride with one mediocer shop. The Star Wars weekends take the franchise down with stupis dance off's and meet and greats with "stars" that have 5 second of screen time and god knows why they are so popular.

Fair to say I'm not impressed and judging from the fact that Disney wasn't impressed with the lack of exitement of the reception of the Star Wars 2.0 ride by guests I don't think they are in a hurry to build something soon.
That doesn't mean I don't want them to build a awesome Star Wars land or whole park if it's going to be done the right way.

From James Rao on November 2, 2012 at 2:06 PM
Star Tours the Adventure Continues was VERY well received. It was even voted the best new attraction of 2011 on this site. Not sure where you are getting your info, O T.
From Dominick D on November 2, 2012 at 3:06 PM
Maybe after Episode VII we'll know for sure (or D23 2013).

O T, source please? If your talking about wait times, they're low because it's a high capacity ride, but it's very well recieved like Mr. Rao said.

From Kevin C on November 2, 2012 at 7:07 PM
It's great that they now have full ownership of a valuable intellectual property with endless potential.

The problem with Disney, in Orlando at least, is that they don't actually capitalize on that intellectual property.

When they're ready to do some serious investment and create 21st century ride experiences and themed lands like they've done in Anaheim and Tokyo, they've got incredible source material to choose from.

I went to Disney World for the first time in eight years last years and was so excited to see what was new and changed. The answer: very little, and much not for the better.

My biggest disappointment was Pixar Place. Coming off the high of Toy Story 3, I wanted so badly to see at least a street with theming and merchandise. There was a stand in front a brick wall, and a 90-minute wait for a Wii game with an incredible queue.

Star Tours 2 wasn't open as of yet, but I hear that's pretty good. Maybe it can be an anchor for a well-developed Star Wars land with awesome rides, not just awesome queues.

From 99.171.93.81 on November 2, 2012 at 10:58 PM
This may be sacrilegious to some, but I think that Star Wars needs to be rebooted from scratch. The original story went so far off onto the wrong path in the prequels, they need to get the whole series up to par of the original and Empire Strikes Back. How to do it is the big question, but I think it was a wrong decision to make Darth Vader Luke's father. He obviously was not his father in the original, but Lucas made the change when writing Empire, and lamely explained it in Jedi. Vader could still try to deceive Luke by claiming that he's his father, but in the end it should be proven false. That would solve all that silly darkness of the prequels.
From Jack Curley on November 2, 2012 at 11:49 PM
YOU GUYS!

Now, instead of Avatar, maybe they can build Endor in Animal Kingdom, and...

OK, that would still stink.

From Jonah Sirota on November 3, 2012 at 5:58 AM
Thank you, Robert. This is a well-reasoned, logical argument for what would be likely to go down. It makes sense that we're looking to post-2015 for a new Star Wars land to follow the release of episode 7. Avatar will be the likely preoccupation before that. I also agree that it is contingent on the success of the film. As for those that grumble about whether Disney can do a good job with the franchise, I would counter that Lucas himself wasn't the best steward of his own brand (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?). Disney has some very good recent examples of sheparding character brands forward without "Disnefying" them (in the Eisnerian sense): Muppets and Avengers are two. I am a little sad to think that this may delay further my hoped-for overhaul of EPCOT, because I think a Star Wars land at DHS makes the most sense, and with Universal breathing down their necks, Disney is going to do an immersive land of a big movie franchise (even if they will also be making Avatar World), before tackling future world at Epcot. Still, exciting times!
From Tim Biltcliff on November 3, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I believe the purchase may infuse more visitors if they add more Star Wars to parks. I think nostalgically some of us remember seeing those movies as kids and would love to instill that in our very young kids in a few years. I have a 2 year old and hope by the time he is 7 we can visit WDW and see more after he sees the new and old movies.
From 71.178.217.74 on November 3, 2012 at 5:41 PM
Given the HP success, Disney must be putting a SW land on the drawing board. But it will probably be years before we see anything, including just the plans.

Off topic a bit, but can the first thing Disney do as the new SW owners be to release the original trilogy in ORIGINAL form, hopefully on blu-ray? It would be really great to be able to own those on something other than worn out VHS.

Now that the supposed issues of Lucas's ego and/or his desire to cut his ex-wife out of the SW profits are now moot, this should be a no-brainer on the part of Disney.

From Don Neal on November 5, 2012 at 8:05 AM
A point that I feel was left out of your analysis Robert is the pace at which the theme park wars have increased to with announcements after announcements by Universal and the growth over the last few years with HP, the Fantasyland expansion, Sea World's Aquatica, LegoLand, and the like. Orlando has experienced an explosion of construction and new options. Never have tourists in the area had so much to choose from.

That point is not forgotten by Disney. Disney as a whole wasn't in need of another franchise to bolster income or generate revenue or new creative outlets. They already have a stable of great characters, tv series, movies, toys, etc. So what is the one area that Disney needed to gain a competitive advantage in...theme parks. Universal is putting the pressure on and Disney is trying to figure out how to respond.

Let's be clear about what movies mean...marketing opportunities. For what purpose? To sell products and to an extend experiences. Movies are limited in time as they eventually leave the theater and fall behind new releases in the dvd/blu-ray space. However, theme park attractions last 20 years or more drawing even more people to experience them time and time again with each visit including hotel, food, and souvenir purchases.

I am not saying Disney is or is not building a Star Wars land, but that to assume we won't see anything beyond character meet and greets or a new attraction in Asia is borderline absurd and I mean that as respectfully as possible.

This transaction didn't happen overnight. Disney has been working on plans for how they would implement and integrate this franchise across all of their entertainment platforms for some time. There have been things in the works for a while I am sure.

Having managed acquisitions before and being part of the due diligence processes leading up to them. They take a long time and all along the way the acquiring company is building their business and marketing plan for the new location or division. Thus why Disney was prepared to make an announcement about a new movie so quickly.

This is only the beginning....

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