Star Wars was bought by Disney?!
That was pretty much my first reaction to hearing the news that, yes, my beloved Star Wars franchise had been bought by none other than Disney. I was crushed. All I could think about were cutsey-fied versions of Stormtroopers, countless Ewok scenes, and blasters that never really hurt anyone, but gave them ice cream headaches instead.
Heart heavy, I called my friends of 30+ years, with whom I’d seen the very first films in the theater, to commiserate. To my surprise (and initial outrage), they were actually pleased by this development. Almost giddy.
“How could you!?” I replied. …but then they explained their position, and it all started to become very clear.
You see, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Star Wars didn’t stink on ice. It was cool, it was legend – it was central to the ethos of an entire generation. The classic cowboy swagger of Han Solo mixed with the (then) new, stunning visual effects made for films that were instantly addictive. And, I have to hand it to George Lucas – as much as I’d like to take a light saber to his face – he knew what he was dealing with from the start. He knew that the real power of Star Wars wasn’t how great the movies were – it was the multi-dimensional power of the franchise that he could leverage. And leverage it he did. He was the first to place priority on attaining rights to toys and merchandising above all else. He was the first to market films and their products in the aggressive way that he did. In fact, he focused so hard on all the elements of the franchise other than the films that, soon, he seemed to lose sight of the films themselves.
By 1999, when the first film of the most recent trilogy reared its ugly head, it became very clear that the Star Wars we fell in love with in 1977 was as distant of a memory as Alderaan. (…see, that’s Princess Leia’s planet that was destroyed by Grand Moff Tarkin in the first film…um, never mind.) George Lucas had taken the Star Wars I loved and turned it into a slick, mostly for little kids, money-making monster. Beautiful hand-painted landscapes and Jim Henson’s Muppets were replaced by awkward computer-generated nightmares. Sexy, cool characters like Han Solo and Princess Leia were replaced by wooden teen models. A brief comparison…
In short, what my friends made me realize was that – Star Wars is so much more than a series of films – it’s a brand that exists in our hearts and minds. Star Wars is an excellent reminder that brands are living, changing things – and sometimes the change is not for the better. My friends made me realize that, for us, George Lucas had long ago changed that brand – betrayed it, in our minds – and made it something we almost resent. This powerful brand had been in trouble for quite some time…
“…so, what’s the harm in Disney stepping in?”, they asked. After all, Disney has also purchased Marvel and other cool, iconic brands – maybe they’ll do right by them, as well. And, for the first time, I saw the possibility of a New Hope. Maybe, just maybe, my beloved Star Wars brand is like Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi – dying in his son’s arms, but finally released from the Dark Side to start a journey to a new, brighter afterlife! …or maybe it’s just going to turn into this –