George Lucas Sells Bay Area Film Empire to Disney for $4.05B
San Francisco and Marin County-based Lucasfilm is about to become The Walt Disney Company's newest property.
On Tuesday Disney announced that it had reached a deal with George Lucas, Lucasfilm's sole owner, worth more than four billion dollars. Star Wars fans can expect a new movie in the saga as a result of the deal, due for release in 2015.
The deal includes all of Lucasfilm including its portfolio of content - most notably the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises - and all of Lucasfilm's entertainment technology businesses. This includes lhe sound design studio Skywalker Sound and the special effects house Industrial Light and Magic. Disney CEO Bob Iger says the plan for now is to let ILM remain as-is, continuing to provide special effects to other studios.
"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," said George Lucas in a statement. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Iger says he and Lucas began discussing the buyout about a year and a half ago, as Lucas was working on a succession plan for retirement. Lucas will stay on as a consultant, and Lucasfilm co-chair Kathleen Kennedy will become president of Lucasfilm under Walt Disney Studios.
Disney already owns a major studio in the Bay Area: Emeryville-based Pixar, which it acquired in 2006. Early indications are that Lucasfilm and its staff will remain where they are currently, even though Walt Disney Animation Studios is based in Burbank. The Bay Area is gaining more major players in the film industry, including Dreamworks Animation which recently expanded into Redwood City.
Mark Fishkin, founder of the Mill Valley Film Festival, expects Lucasfilm to remain just as strong as as Pixar.
"Pixar has remained to be a vital part of the community. Lucasfilm has always been a vital member of this community. And I think there's no reason that those things would change. This is, after all, George Lucas's legacy and of great importance to him."
But Ted Hope, executive director of the San Francisco Film Festival, has some concerns about conglomerates buying up independent companies like Lucasfilm.
"George Lucas has represented creativity, ambition, independence and success. And I beg, you know, the gods of cinema, for it not to be the last chapter, but hopefully the beginning of a new saga, a new hope."
Disney's relationship with Lucasfilm goes back to "Star Tours", a motion-simulator ride at four Disney theme parks around the world. "Star Tours" recently got remodeled in Florida and California. Going forward, Disney executives see almost limitless possibilities for their newly acquired property: more international consumer products, a higher presence on Disney's TV networks, increased presence at theme parks and more Star Wars movies to come. The plan is to release a new movie every two or three years after the 2015 release of Episode Seven.
Iger says Lucasfilm fits perfectly with Disney's portfolio, alongside Marvel and Pixar, and it's ripe for the expansion of digital technology into entertainment. During a conference call with investors executives were bullish on the future prospects of Disney/Lucas based on how successful the Marvel and Pixar acquisitions have been in the past. Unlike the Marvel deal, Lucasfilm has no lingering film distribution deals with other studios. And with more than 17,000 characters in the Star Wars universe, the opportunities for new projects are vast.
"This is one of the great entertainment properties of all time," Iger said on the conference call. "And it's just fantastic for us to have the opportunity to... buy it, run it and then grow it."