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

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9 Comments on AAA Star Wars Games May Soon Be Long, Long Ago

sep

On October 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm

But in the meantime, I’ll settle for a single player Star Wars game that doesn’t suck.

+1

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

On October 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm

If this negatively affects Star Wars 1313 I will be royally pissed off to a degree that is hardly imaginable.

LTenhet

On October 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm

STALKER

They said, on another news site, that Star Wars 1313 will not be affected by this. Granted we can’t be sure, but there’s that.

David

On October 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Agreed about 1313, that looked pretty good, and I hope we still see more of that.

As far as the prequels go, personally I never minded them. I think the problem with the prequels had a lot more to do with casting then it did with the actual script.

Let’s face it. As much as Jar Jar annoyed people, all he did was fill in for 3PO in that movie. He can’t be the main comic relief if he’s apparently not built yet. Thus a new one was made. People over reacted.

As for the crappy romance? Agreed. It was dumb, and it still makes my ears bleed whenever I watch attack of the clones. But who are we kidding here, do you even remember empire strikes back? Yes yes it had the famous scene with vader proclaming his heritage to luke, but seriously, do you guys remember all the awkward scenes involving the han/leia romance? Han and Leia had better actors to play off the bad romance lines, while Anakin and Padme weren’t as good about it, and made it more obvious. Try this out next time you watch it. Replace Harrison and Carrie for Hayden and Natalie, and imagine how they would play out those scenes.

My opinion with Lucas is basically this. He’s great at building universes. Good grief, have you scene wookiepedia? That’s an insane amount of detail just in the movies, not to mention there wouldn’t be such a star wars following if he made a terrible story universe in the first place. That said, he’s terrible at writing love stories, but probably felt compleled to have one of some kind in the original trilogy because well that’s storytelling for you, and then in the prequels, if you’re going to tell a story about how anakin became vader, you kinda sorta have to include the part where he becomes luke’s father, for that famous empire strikes back scene to make sense, never mind the rest of the original trilogy.

So as far as the films go, now that George is playing consultant now? My hope is that if they still feel forced to do a romance story in between all the lightsabers, and x-wings, and force powers, and all that fun stuff, at least there’ll be a better chance whoever it is will be better at writing a romance then geroge is so that our ears aren’t bleeding when it comes up.

And please don’t screw up the extended universe while making it? That’s got it’s own issues to deal with, without the movies making things harder.

David

On October 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm

seen wookiepedia*

this is why I should proofread more. Heck I probably missed some other stupid typo, so apologies for any others I missed.

Kevin

On October 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I didn’t mind Force Unleashed II. I got it for something like 7 bucks on Steam and enjoyed the 15 minutes it took to beat the game.

Wait, you guys mean you got it at release? SUCKERS!

David

On October 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Man, force unleashed 2, what the heck was with that game. I’ve seen Mario Party games that lasted longer then it.

Axetwin

On October 31, 2012 at 1:26 am

Ross, I think in the grand scheme you are overreacting. You are mimicking the complaints from 10 years ago when Disney bought Marvel. The comic side of things has remained unchanged (despite Disney saying they were thinking about making the comics more kid friendly) and as for the movie side……well Im of the opinion that the mistakes that were made would have been made regardless of who was in charge. However, you cant deny that that movies have been getting better over the years.

On the movie side of things, Im not worried. On the video game side, well its not like we’ve had alot of games worthy of the SW title lately…….or at all this generation. Besides all they said was they were pulling back on the number of console titles. Fine, so we’ll see 1 title every few years. When paired with the proper development company, Disney can make good games.

In short, I dont think this buyout is going to be as bad as people think its going to be. Yeah, there will be changes, but I dont think many of those changes are going to be for the worse.