A decade since George Lucas said “Star Wars” was finished on the big screen, a new trilogy under new ownership is destined for theaters after The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that it would buy Lucasfilm Ltd. from him for $4.05 billion.
The seventh movie, with a working title of “Episode 7,” is set for release in 2015. Episodes 8 and 9 will follow. The trilogy will continue the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia beyond “Return of the Jedi,” the third film released and the sixth in the saga. After that, Disney plans a new “Star Wars” movie every two or three years. Lucas will serve as creative consultant in the new movies.
“I’m doing this so that the films will have a longer life,” Lucas, the 68-year-old creator of the series and sole owner of Lucasfilm, said in an interview posted on YouTube. “I get to be a fan now … I sort of look forward to it. It’s a lot more fun actually, than actually having to go out into the mud and snow.”
The blockbuster deal announced Tuesday will see Disney pay half the acquisition price in cash and half in newly issued stock. The company expects it to add to earnings in 2015 and said that as an example of its earnings power, Lucasfilm made $550 million in operating income the year “Sith” came out. Along with the cash, Lucas will end up owning about 40 million Disney shares, which is about 2.2 percent of the 1.83 billion shares that will be in circulation when the transaction closes. Disney did not say when that would happen.
The deal includes Lucasfilm’s prized high-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise. Lucasfilm will continue to be headquartered in San Francisco’s Presidio park, and employees are to remain in their current locations. Disney has its headquarters in Burbank, Calif., near Los Angeles.
The deal brings Lucasfilm under the Disney banner with other brands including Pixar, the Muppets, Marvel, ESPN and ABC, all companies that Disney has acquired over the years. Coincidentally, Lucas created Pixar as a division of Lucasfilm to develop computerized filmmaking techniques before he sold it to Apple’s Steve Jobs, who later sold it to Disney.
To date, the “Star Wars” movies have grossed $4.4 billion, and even years after the last film, the franchise continues to make money from merchandising. Disney’s chief financial officer, Jay Rasulo, said that this year alone, “Star Wars” is on track to generate $215 million in licensing revenue. He added that, adjusting for inflation, the latest three releases in theaters would have generated $1.5 billion each at the box office today.
Disney plans to make movies, games and TV shows and expand on “Star Wars” theme park attractions that are already present in parks in Anaheim, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Paris and Tokyo.