May The Mouse Be With You…

by Buzz on 30/10/2012

“Walt Disney Co. has agreed to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in a surprise deal that gives the media giant control of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.”

As I’ve posted elsewhere, I’m of highly mixed emotions about this.

First, it’s a smart move from a business angle, and second, with Disney at the helm there will be fewer chances for Lucas to continue mucking up his own creations.  Disney as a company has a better overall track record for developing good stories.[1]

On the down side, that puts the mouse, the force, and the mighty Marvel universe all in one pile.[2] Now, as much fun as the inevitable crossovers are going to be, it also means an awful lot of marketing clout and market share is going to be dominated by one company.  A company with a known objective of stretching copyright into eternity and, unlike Lucas who encouraged fan films, one with a notorious intolerance for others diddling with “their” characters.

I wonder what this will do not only to smaller producers & independent creators, but to Disney itself.  One thing’s for certain, if anybody wants to create a new media empire for themselves, they’d better steer as far away from Disney owned waters as possible.[3]

I’m a big fan of marketing guru Al Ries, and what he’s written on General Motors should serve as a cautionary tale[4] to the House of the Mouse.

General Motors flourished when it was several smaller companies sharing resources and certain mechanical design elements to lower costs.  Each member of the GM family — Dodge, Pontiac, Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, etc. — had a distinctive identity and market niche, each was responsible for its own sales and development.

The trouble for GM began when one brand (Dodge, if fingers must be pointed) began poaching the markets of other cars.  Dodge was once “the doctor’s car” and then “the little old lady car” because they were modestly priced, modestly equipped, and very reliable.  It was an automotive brand for older drivers of modest means.

But then Dodge began promoting a line over over-powered mid-size cars as “muscle cars” to young drivers, and soon the other GM companies were counter poaching, cutting into one another’s market shares.

That trend really hasn’t stopped.

Now Disney is poised to be the GM of sci-fi / fantasy.  They have a wide range of properties covering everything from funny animals to family friendly CGI to superheroes to (now) space opera.

There’s going to be a temptation to do crossovers featuring these characters, and truth be told, that’s not a bad idea if done in moderation.  The danger is that a few years down the line some Suit/s will think it’s a good idea to really start mixin’-n-mashin’ the distinctive brands together, and before you know it you end up with another bland, unappealing General Motors on your hands.

So here’s some free advice I offer to the House of Mouse…

[CAVEAT:  While I know people who are or once upon a time worked for the Mouse (meself inc.), I have had no conversations with them regarding Disney and Lucasfilms and the following opinions are wholly my own & formed this afternoon upon reading the L.A.Times article.]

Whatever it costs, get Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford to reprise their original roles in Star Wars VII:  This One Doesn’t Suck.  Pick up the story with them as mature adults now running the galaxy and — this is crucial — introduce their grandchildren.  Star Wars VIII:  Think Of Us As The James Bond Series For Your Generation will pick up the grandkids as young adults.

“You’re offering how much…..?”

Sponsor a contest in the sci-fi / fantasy / comics / fan-fic worlds for the best explanation in 25 words or less of how & why Darth Vader returns as an evil unrepentant villain in Star Wars VII+.  Give the winner/s a big wad o’cash but write the rules so that all entries are your property / all rights / etc., etc., and of course, etc.[5]

There have already been Lego and Family Guy versions of the Star Wars saga.  Yes, do a Disneyfied version of Star Wars.  You’ve already got the action figures on sale.  What I would suggest is keeping them available only as toys / T-shirts / merchandise with occasional video games.  Once every three years do a short theatrical cartoon that tells the Disneyfied version of the previous Star Wars film; run this before the new Star Wars feature as a “what happened previously” recap.

Along those lines, try to reign in all the possible Star Wars variants you might wanna do, but I will say this:  Steampunk Star Wars[6]

If you happen to have in your inventory an early-now-public-domain space opera series, and if in the original story the human hero from 19th century Earth thot he was on Mars, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for him to discover what he thot was contemporary Mars was really a distant planet long ago in a galaxy far, far away…[7]

Jes’ sayin’…

Finally…

Ewoks, no!

Wookies, SI!

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[1]  Yeah, there was a period in the 1970s and early 80s when they were suckalicious, but Ron Miller doesn’t work for them anymore.

[2]  Along with Pixar.

[3]  Star Wars and Star Trek are the Coke and Pepsi of space opera.  There may be room for a distant 3rd place space opera, just as RC Cola distantly trails the other two soft drink companies, but past that such genre fare will need to focus on increasingly tighter niche marketing.  This is not to say it can’t be done or that it wouldn’t be profitable financially or creatively for the people doing it, just that it’s not going to knock Wars or Trek outta da box.  All hail George, all hail Gene.

[4]  Tail?

[5]  But be a good sport & see that the winner/s get comped on all future Star Wars merch as well as a lifetime pass to Disney resorts.  Anyway, we know the final answer is going to be Undead Cyborg Zombie Darth Vader Possessed By Evil Spirit Of Emperor Palpatine Romping Around The Galaxy Creating Mischief And Recruiting New Dark Side Villains.

[6]  I’d start with a single film / mini-series re-making the original (i.e., Real) Star Wars with Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi up to the point where Bobba Fett trots onstage and Han gets rescued, then go off on a wholly different direction for all subsequent films / episodes.

[7]  It will certainly let you extend copyright on what would otherwise be public domain stories.

buzz@buzzdixon.com

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