Mickey Mouse. Winnie the Pooh. Darth Vader?
The Walt Disney Co. is now the proud owner of a franchise many felt would never belong to anyone other than the George Lucas family as Star Wars — and all of Lucasfilm — was purchased by the media behemoth for $4 billion.
That means all the films, the toys, the games, the future and even Industrial Light & Magic will move over to Disney’s side of the entertainment board. But it also means something that Star Wars fans have been clamoring for a long time to get: a new Star Wars movie.
Disney plans to release the first of a new trilogy in 2015 based on a story that is still in early development. And that’s exactly what Lucas said he wanted to see when he decided to hand over the franchise that has made him rich many times over.
“it’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Lucas said in a statement. “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.”
Lucasfilm was founded in 1971 and is now based in San Francisco. Its subsidiaries include the visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic as well as the post-production sound design house Skywalker Sound. The deal also includes LucasArts which holds rights to a number of video and computer games, nearly all focusing on the Star Wars franchise.
It will also bring back Lucasfilm and Pixar under one umbrella for the first time since 1986 when Steve Jobs bought the company and turned it into a mega animation studio that rivaled Disney until Disney purchased it in 2006.
The $4 billion price tag, which includes both cash and stock (making Lucas himself a major shareholder in Disney), equals that of what Disney paid for Marvel in 2009. The most recent film “The Avengers” became the third highest-grossing film of all time with $623.3 million domestically and $891 million worldwide.
While $4 billion may sound like a lot of money, it’s money that Disney has. Before the purchase, Disney’s stock alone was worth $89.9 billion. In its most recent financial filings with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Disney had revenue of $31.5 billion over a nine-month period, turning a $4.4 billion profit.
Disney is already the largest media company in the world in terms of revenue, but how much bigger can the company get before it becomes too big? With its film, television, interactive, theme park and other holdings, it seems to be taking a different direction than other companies in recent years, including Viacom, which split its television and film divisions into separate companies.
Yet, the company continues to turn profits, especially on the film side. And that’s despite the major flop of “John Carter” earlier this year. And Marvel doesn’t appear to have suffered, especially with the success of “The Avengers,” and the high anticipation for the upcoming sequels for characters like Iron Man and Thor.
Kathleen Kennedy will become the head of Lucasfilm under Disney, a position that she was in line for even before the purchase. The company will maintain its headquarters in San Francisco.
And Lucas? He’ll consult on the next Star Wars trilogy, but according to Disney head Bob Iger, it’s Lucas’ “intention to retire.” Lucas turned 68 in May, and before the sale already had an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine.