By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news that shook the business and entertainment worlds on Tuesday. In a move that seemed to come from out of nowhere, the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm, Ltd. for $4 billion, and has already announced its intention to produce a new ‘Star Wars’ movie for release in 2015. Readers of our web site may sense in this deal the glimmer of a new hope. With George Lucas finally out of the picture, could the franchise’s new owners eventually release a proper restoration of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy on Blu-ray, sans all the stupid edits and digital alterations that Lucas has imposed on the movies over the years? Unfortunately, the situation isn’t quite so simple.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, 20th Century Fox owns all distribution rights for the first movie (now known as ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’) across all media in perpetuity, and has theatrical, non-theatrical and home video rights for the five subsequent films through 2020. The purpose of Disney’s buy-out is primarily to produce new ‘Star Wars’ properties (starting with ‘Episode VII: Rise of the Binks’) that will be released fully under the Disney brand. If Disney wishes to do anything with the existing six movies, the company will need to work out a business arrangement with Fox.
Is there any good reason why Disney and Fox wouldn’t want to do that? Maybe, maybe not. Until now, the only obstacle to restoring the films’ original theatrical versions was George Lucas himself. The Fox studio had nothing to do with that decision, and may well welcome an opportunity to re-release the movies all over again.
On the other hand, reports are emerging that George Lucas completely bypassed Fox when he decided to sell Lucasfilm, and never even offered the franchise’s long-time distributor a shot at buying it. It’s possible that being cut out of the deal could engender some bad blood with Fox.
I’m also a little concerned that Disney has just as much a history of revisionism as Lucasfilm does. We may never see the original, uncensored version of ‘Fantasia’ again. The studio also censored some harmless gags in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ for home video, and won’t even acknowledge the existence of ‘Song of the South’ anymore. And that’s to say nothing of the constant digital recoloring and other “improvements” to its classic animated films. Given this sort of corporate mentality, will anyone at Disney understand the importance of restoring these movies as they were originally released?
Ultimately, I don’t know what Disney will do with the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. I’d like to remain optimistic for the prospects of a much-needed restoration effort, but I won’t hold my breath for it.