Star Wars Would Be Pretty Much The Same If George Lucas Didn't Sell To Disney
Star Wars now falls under Disney's massive empire, but how different would things have been if George Lucas never sold Lucasfilm? The maverick filmmaker forever changed the industry during his career in several ways, and he saved one of his biggest surprises for last. In 2012, Disney shocked the entertainment world by purchasing Lucasfilm for the grand total of $4 billion, adding the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises to their embarrassment of riches. Work immediately began on a new Star Wars movie slate, which would alternate between installments of a sequel trilogy and standalone spinoffs.
So far, the Star Wars renaissance has gone quite well, all things considered. While it's true The Last Jedi divided audiences with its polarizing creative choices and Solo flamed out as a box office bomb, the galaxy far, far away has experienced plenty of success over the past few years. The four modern Star Wars movies to date all received positive reviews from critics and collectively grossed about $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office. That figure does not include ancillary revenue sources, like home media sales and tie-in merchandise. Kathleen Kennedy will oversee Star Wars for the next few years, but how would things have gone if Lucas was still in charge? We attempt to breakdown what this alternate reality might look like.
- This Page: The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy
- Page 2: George Lucas' Expanded Universe
- Page 3: Would Lucas Be Better Than Disney?
The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy Still Gets Made
In a 2005 interview, Lucas famously stated there is no Episode VII of Star Wars and the story he wanted to tell was complete with the release of Revenge of the Sith (a sentiment he would repeat). However, his actions seem to indicate otherwise. According to Lucas' son Jett, he spent about a year before the Lucasfilm sale developing a sequel trilogy, which would have continued the saga. It's worth noting that Lucas and Disney CEO Bob Iger had initial discussions about a merger in May 2011, and the sale became official in October 2012. Theoretically, Lucas may not have started working on treatments until he knew a deal was in place.
At the same time, Lucas seemed interested in continuing the saga and felt he had a worthwhile narrative. It's plausible, then, that if Disney passed on the opportunity, Lucas would have gone to a different studio. If word got out that George Lucas had a new Star Wars trilogy in mind, executives would be lining up for the distribution rights. Maybe Lucas goes back to 20th Century Fox, which released the first six films in the series. It's hard to envision a scenario where all of Hollywood lets Star Wars 7 sit on a desk unmade. Even when they get mixed reviews, the movies are extremely popular and frequently do well at the box office. Episode VII, of course, is currently the highest-grossing film of all-time domestically.
The Sequels Combine Prequel/Original Trilogy Ideas
Disney tossed out Lucas' sequel concepts to go their own route (he would later criticize The Force Awakens for being a "retro movie"), but when Lucas was in charge of the studio, he maintained creative freedom over his projects. Especially if he doesn't sell, his ideas likely make it to the big screen. Over the past few years, a handful of details about Lucas' trilogy have been revealed, such as a focus on teenage protagonists (think Anakin and Padmé in The Phantom Menace), Leia developing her Force powers, and creatures that "feed on the Force." While the entire story arc is unknown, the plan also called for Luke Skywalker to die in Episode IX, not Episode VIII (as what happened in our world). It is worth mentioning Last Jedi did borrow some of Lucas' aspects.
In terms of filmmaking style, Lucas was always interested in pushing the envelope with new technology. Attack of the Clones was the first theatrically released movie to be shot on digital, and it was projected in that format in some locations. The prequels, rather infamously, also made extensive use of CGI, creating entire environments and locations inside the computer (sometimes, to the actors' chagrin). Granted, Lucas probably wouldn't have been directing all of the new movies (more on that in a bit), but with him calling the shots, Star Wars likely follows down this trajectory and tries to establish new techniques. At the very least, the whole "return to practical effects" angle from early Force Awakens marketing is nixed. Lucas was more interested in pursuing fresh ideas, rather than digging up the past.
The EU Would Remain (But Be Broken)
One of the more controversial decisions Lucasfilm made shortly after the Disney acquisition was to relabel the Expanded Universe as "Legends" and wipe the slate clean. While the studio's creatives haven't been shy about cherrypicking elements from Legends, this granted them the opportunity of a fresh start freed from decades of previously published materials. There was also a concentrated effort to have all corners of the franchise (movies, books, TV shows, etc.) unite under one cohesive canon. This initiative isn't just lip service, Lucasfilm actually committed to the idea, with novels that work as prequels to movies and characters from the animated shows popping up in films. The Lucasfilm story group works to maintain continuity between all mediums, serving as a sounding board for filmmakers and writers.
Fans were upset by this apparently blatant disregard for Star Wars history, but Lucas had a pretty nonchalant outlook on the whole thing himself. In an interview, he flat out states there are two separate Star Wars universe: his and the EU. They operate independently of another, with the effort to make it somewhat consistent. So odds are, Lucas would have neglected the events of the old books and comics if he was still producing movies. Any version of Episode VII would almost have to essentially be a hard reboot of the post-Return of the Jedi continuity in order to keep the films accessible to mainstream audiences. Even EU fanatics would have a hard time keeping up with everything. It's likely Lucas opts against unifying all of Star Wars as one canon, but the EU is essentially broken.
A Han Solo Movie Still Gets Made
Solo, despite being a rather entertaining heist film in the Star Wars universe, will forever be a black mark on the franchise's Disney era. It's the first series installment to lose money at the box office, after enduring one of the most tumultuous productions in recent memory. Lucasfilm and Disney deserve equal parts of the blame for how it all turned out, and some viewers wondered if all the trouble was worth it. Proposed sequels are unlikely to happen given Solo's poor commercial performance, and even the spinoff's biggest fans will admit it doesn't rank among the series' best. However, audiences were destined to get a Han Solo origin story one way or another.
The Star Wars anthologies stemmed from Lucas, who was interested in expanding the franchise beyond the confines of the episodic saga. In particular, he discussed "origin type stories" with Kennedy and was developing a Han film with veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan months before the Lucasfilm sale. It's clear Lucas was interested in delving into Solo's past, fleshing out elements like his fateful meeting with Chewbacca and winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. Of course, there might have been some changes, but considering Kasdan remained involved with the project from its inception, the Solo we got is probably close to what it might have been had Lucas stayed attached throughout as well. Of all Disney's Star Wars films, it's arguably the one he's had the most influence on - even directing part of a scene when he visited Ron Howard on set.
Star Wars TV Would Have (Still) Expanded
Star Wars, by virtue of A New Hope becoming a phenomenon in 1977, will predominantly be known as a film series to most people. However, the property has left its mark on the small screen as well. Lucas spearheaded the Clone Wars animated series, mentoring a young Dave Filoni as they worked to expand the lore and mythology. Lucasfilm's animation department became a key component of the studio in the following years, with Rebels launching post-Disney and now Resistance on the air. Lucas even contemplated making a younglings spinoff movie and series towards the end of Clone Wars' original run, but ultimately decided against it.
Lucas was also very interested in getting a live-action Star Wars TV show off the ground. Right after Revenge of the Sith premiered, there was talk of Star Wars: Underworld, which would be a deep-dive exploration of Coruscant's seedy underbelly during the earliest days of the Empire's reign. Despite there being no less than 50 scripts completed, Underworld never came to fruition primarily due to concerns about digital characters. With technology continuing to evolve, Lucas surely would have the needed resources today if he was still calling the shots. Underworld probably happens as Lucas revives his pet project. Frankly, this isn't too different from what's happening now, with Jon Favreau's The Mandalorian taking place in a presumably lawless corner of the universe, with our protagonist far from the eye of the New Republic. Perhaps Disney, after scrapping Underworld entirely after the sale, will look to borrow some concepts for the series, which debuts in 2019.
Lucas' Star Wars Would Have Moved Slower
Even Iger admits the Mouse House went too fast too soon when it came to making new Star Wars content. When Episode IX debuts next December, it will be the fifth franchise entry released in a four year span (2015-2019). Under Lucas, there were six Star Wars movies in 28 years (1977-2005, with a 16-year gap between trilogies). Both the originals and the prequels followed a pattern of one new movie every three years, as opposed to annual theatrical releases. This gave each installment the proper time to breathe, and there was a build-up of hype and anticipation for its arrival. It was special whenever there was a new Star Wars movie on the way, since it was something that didn't happen all of the time. Star Wars is always at its best when it's not there.
It's difficult to say for sure, but going by Lucas' career history, Star Wars doesn't rapidly move through an entire film slate in the blink of an eye (it feels like yesterday we were theorizing about The Force Awakens) and the filmmaker takes his time with the next trilogy. In keeping with his (in)famous mantra, "it's like poetry, it rhymes," it's realistic for there to be three-year gaps between Episode VII - IX. What makes this tricky to plot out is the existence of the spinoffs, which Lucas wanted to pursue. Perhaps they're just on the table until the sequel trilogy concludes. Throughout its history, Lucasfilm did produce annual releases (and sometimes had multiple movies in the same year), but they were always different properties. Star Wars never came out at this pace, and it may have caused early franchise fatigue. Disney learned this lesson the hard way, and are planing a slowdown after Episode IX - at least on the film side of things.
Would Lucas' Star Wars Have Been Better Than Disney's?
This is the million dollar question. Lucas knows that fans would have hated his sequel trilogy, essentially confessing it'd be extremely divisive. However, that's not too far from reactions to Last Jedi, which ranged from "brilliant subversion of expectations" to "franchise-ruining disaster." Whenever something as massive as Star Wars is involved, it's borderline impossible to please everybody, which is the main reason why Lucas stepped out of the spotlight. So, in either scenario, audiences are most likely getting a polarizing story; and in Lucas' case, he likely doesn't start things off with a feel-good dose of nostalgia a la J.J. Abrams, so the heated debates start earlier than they really did.
But, would that necessarily be better? In all honestly, it probably comes down to who directs the movies. It's generally agreed upon that the prequels toyed with some fascinating concepts, but the execution from Lucas was way off. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are the lowest rated live-action installments according to Rotten Tomatoes, implying critics weren't exactly enamored with what The Creator was doing. There's no denying Star Wars has benefitted from new directorial voices leaving their stamp on the material, whether it's Abrams' whiz-bang space opera, Gareth Edwards' gritty war drama, or Johnson's deconstruction of the mythology. If Lucas recruited other directors, like he did on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, perhaps they're able to translate his ideas into compelling films.
Though, there's no guarantee Lucas would be successful in that quest. He actually offered the Phantom Menace job to Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg, who obviously all passed. Lucas' contemporaries felt Star Wars was his baby, and the story was his alone to tell. That sentiment may have remained years later if Lucas was the force behind a sequel trilogy. And for any of his disciples, the notion of directing a Star Wars movie that's being produced by Lucas could prove to be too daunting of a task. Abrams was initially hesitant to make Force Awakens and needed convincing from Kennedy. He (and others) may have passed on it, leading Lucas to reluctantly sit in the director's chair once again.
From a story perspective, there are clear differences between Lucas' Star Wars and Disney's. However, the overall landscape of the franchise largely remains the same, with a sequel trilogy, spinoff movies (including a young Han movie with another actor playing the character), and a live-action TV show. Any studio would have been eager to jump on that, but Disney won out and are using their immense resources to expand everyone's favorite galaxy.
Knowing Star Wars fans and how they responded to the prequels, it's basically a lock there would have been some dissatisfaction with Lucas' new movies, probably with people criticizing Lucas for attempting to recapture his glory years when he should pass the torch to the next generation. As the old saying goes, nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. It's probably for the best Lucas is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations, allowing others the freedom to craft their own Star Wars stories without Lucas looming over them like a shadow. Yes, Lucas will always provide his thoughts on the latest Star Wars projects, but that's different than collaborating with him. With or without Lucas, Star Wars follows the same path.