AAA Star Wars Games May Soon Be Long, Long Ago
By now you’ve no doubt heard that the Death Star has blown up the news cycle’s planet Alderaan, so to speak, with the announcement earlier this afternoon that Disney is purchasing Lucasfim in its entirety for an astonishing 4.5 billion dollars. Of course, the state of the Star Wars film franchise isn’t the only thing at stake here. With the purchase of Lucasfilm, Disney now owns LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and LucasArts is of particular interest here at Game Front, as the division is responsible for pretty much any video game set in the Star Wars universe. So it is that with new management taking over George’s house, we’re dying to know what to expect. But as we found out while listening in on the investor call held earlier today to discuss the acquisition, it might be time to say goodbye to serious Star Wars games.
But the first order of business? A brand new Star Wars film set (Episode 7), one already scheduled for a 2015 release, and one that won’t be directed by George Lucas. You might be tempted to declare this the end of Star Wars, but that ship sailed the moment the word ‘midichlorians’ slipped out of George Lucas’ mind. The series has been a creative graveyard for more than a decade, and at this point the worst that could happen to it is for someone to do more of the same. But that doesn’t mean more of the same is an inevitability! Disney’s reputation as an evil, space-filling corporate empire is well deserved, but in recent years, particularly since Pixar’s John Lassiter took over as Disney’s Chief Creative Officer, the company has also shown surprising skill and, yes, even some care in managing their biggest franchise properties.
Exhibit A? The Marvel movie universe, which hasn’t always been perfect, but has been defined by extremely well-chosen actors and some rather great directors too. All of which is to say that it’s entirely possible Disney will hand Star Wars over to someone with the vision of Joss Whedon, which could very well result in the bad taste of Jar Jar Binks being washed from the collective pop culture mouth. And at least for now, it does look like they’re not approaching their new property the way Jabba the Hutt approaches Sunday brunch.
Disney confirmed that the Indiana Jones series was not factored into revenue projections for the new Lucasfilm division; Paramount still has distribution rights to future Indiana Jones movies, as well as rights to certain aspects of the franchise, and both are things Disney would like worked out in their favor. I am also willing to speculate that unlike Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films are singularly associated with a single actor, Harrison Ford. He’s almost 70, and is rumored to smoke a ton of weed, so it’s unlikely he has any interest in revisiting the character. Given his stature, even now, it’s logical to suspect Disney wants to wait until market testing assures them audiences would buy Indiana Jones portrayed by a different actor, so expect years to go by before we hear anything, if at all.
But there’s no such problem with Star Wars; 20th Century Fox owns distribution to the original trilogy, (and presumably the more recent one), but not to any future films. Which is why there will be new Star Wars films, and lots of them very soon. Disney management confirmed in the investor call that the new films will be cross-branded as Disney/Lucasfilm. Which means, of course, that the iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare won’t be part of any future Star Wars score. My guess? The new films’ music will begin with ‘When You Wish Upon A star’ instead.
Disney has a robust development plan that includes a new film “every two to three years”. How long this will continue wasn’t made clear in the call; for now, Disney is focused only on making a brand new trilogy to continue where the original left off. According to Disney management, the purchase of Lucasfilm came with what they referred to as “a pretty extensive and detailed treatment… a lazy treatment that we feel pretty good about” for what will be that trilogy, starting with Episode VII in 2015. That film, they confirmed, is already in early development, though they would not comment on plot, casting, or crew details. Given the quick turnaround time, they almost certainly have someone working on script and have begun talking to directors, but then again, whomever takes over the series won’t have the same freedom to just dick around that George Lucas did. We’ll probably hear nothing more about this until next year.
Incidentally, a very telling comment was offered in response to a question about their plans for the next few years. Disney intends to make “four to six” live action films every year, a total that includes one, maybe 2 Marvel films and at least one new Pixar film. Disney did say that the acquisition of the franchise hasn’t caused any previously greenlit films to be halted, but added that “we’d be better off as a company releasing a sequel to Star Wars, than we would with undetermined films.” Translation: no more John Carters.
But enough about all that, what about Star Wars-related games? You might think that film and merchandise are more important, but as it turns out, while Star Wars films and Star Wars merchandise account for a healthy 50% (25% each) of Lucasfilm revenues, their gaming division is no slouch, bringing in approximately 20% of the company’s revenue annually. Despite this, it looks like Disney intends to dial back AAA production.
“We’re likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console,” Disney management said during the call. “We think given the nature of these characters… they lend themselves quite nicely to the other platforms.” What this means isn’t entirely clear, but I would guess we can expect plenty of easy to play, interactive advertising experiences that are cheap to make, and far fewer costly, very risky projects like Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though again, it wasn’t clear. They could just be referring to games they intend to make in their own gaming studios, and not to anything they might license. EDIT: To be clear, this doesn’t appear to affect anything currently under production, only future approved titles – Ross.
Even so, I think we can expect a less adult, far less big-budgeted gaming universe for Star Wars, at least until Disney finds its footing. Though it’s worth noting that “we’re likely to focus” is not the same thing as “we are going to do this thing.” We will obviously be paying close attention to this.
A few other tidbits:
* Disney management confirmed that talks with Lucas began more than a year ago.
* They intend to focus more on international markets than on home video.
* They cited revenues from 3D releases several times, the obvious conclusion being that the next Star Wars film will be 3D.
* They confirmed that Lucas will be largely bowing out. “It’s his intent to retire,” Disney says, though he’ll be staying on as a creative consultant. From this point on, he’s George Roddenberry, one supposes.
All in all, a very weird day. And one with a lot of promise for people who once considered themselves Star Wars fans but couldn’t pretend to like truly terrible films. My hope? That Disney’s love of monetizing everything they can leads them to finally release the original cuts of the original trilogy films on Blu-ray. But in the meantime, I’ll settle for a single player Star Wars game that doesn’t suck.
Follow Ross on Twitter. @Rossalincoln