The Empire Strikes Back: Disney Purchases Star Wars

Disney Star Wars 2

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th November 2012.

On October 30, the Walt Disney Company announced that they would be acquiring Lucasfilm, home of the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas, creator of beloved characters such as Yoda, Darth Vader, C3PO and R2D2, as well as Jar Jar Binks, was apparently contemplating retirement and had four billion reasons to sell his company. The first reason was a dollar. The second reason was a dollar. And so on.

Come to think of it, when you want to retire in the Star Wars universe, don’t you just disappear into thin air like Yoda and Obi Wan? I guess it’s a bit hard to spend your retirement nest egg when you’re a smiling glowing ghost.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the internet went into hyperdrive with opinions, jokes and amusing pictures from fans worldwide. As I didn’t have the photoshop skills to add Mickey Mouse ears to a picture of Darth Vader (plus half of the planet had already done it) here’s my hilarious contribution to the twitterverse:

Peter Young @chipsareready

What would Disney possibly want with the Star Wars franchise? They already have the successful Black Hole property… #DisneyStarWars

For those of you who don’t speak Geek, I’m referring to Disney’s woeful 1979 Star Wars ripoff, The Black Hole, starring Anthony Perkins (Psycho) and Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy), and featuring the rather craptastic robot duo of V.I.N.C.E.N.T. and Old B.O.B., as well as the Vader-ish Maximilian.

In my head, Disney and Star Wars have been closely linked for years. Way back in the early 90’s, I lined up for hours to ride the Star Tours attraction at Disneyland. One of the first motion simulator rides, Star Tours offered space tourists a trip to the forest moon of Endor which inevitably goes awry when Imperial Star Destroyers attack. The ride has since been closed and replaced last year with a new attraction, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which incorporates high definition 3D graphics. Like all great intergalactic adventures, both the original and new Star Tours attractions end in the gift shop.

I don’t think Star Wars devotees have anything to worry about from the takeover by the (Disney) Empire. The Muppets have enjoyed a cinematic revival that satisfied long time fans under the House of Mouse. You also may have seen a small, low budget superhero flick called The Avengers earlier this year. And the name of the production company was…Marvel Studios, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company.

A new Star Wars movie, Episode VII, will be released in 2015. Screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) has been attached to the project with the director yet to be named. The rumour mill suggests that the storyline may involve characters from the original trilogy.

As a big Star Wars fan, I have no concerns with Disney producing further Star Wars instalments. It’s not as if Lucas was particularly successful with his woeful prequel trilogy. It would be hard for Disney to do any worse. As the Star Wars franchise passes from the control of one Empire to another, rest assured that one universal constant will remain. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together… It’s the pursuit of profit.


The future is now

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th January 2010.

The future has always fascinated cinema audiences. From the humble beginnings of the motion picture, fantastic depictions of life in the future have captivated moviegoers. Early sci-fi classics such as Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Voyage to the Moon) from 1902 and Metropolis from 1927 predicted, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, space travel, robots and skyscrapers.

Of course, the medium of film has been around long enough that many “future” movies are actually set in what is now our past. Let’s run through some films where the future is yesterday.

My first candidate is a bit of a cheat but the film, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was also made in 1984, was based on George Orwell’s 1949 novel. The book’s bleak depiction of a totalitarian society controlled by Big Brother hasn’t come to pass but some would argue that the development of technologies such as closed circuit television have increased the ability of governments to monitor their people. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I’ve seen it on TV’s 24 so it must be true.

John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) was set in 1998 and depicts New York City as a maximum security prison. Anyone who has visited the USA lately will note that it is actually harder to get into the country than leave, but for those who don’t like theatre, hot pretzels or Seinfeld, I suppose it can be considered a lockup.

1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes is set in 2001. This was the fifth and final of the sensational apes series and starred Roddy McDowell once again in a rubbery mask. I’m pretty sure that we haven’t yet been conquered by hairy creatures unless you count Movember.

Death Race 2000 is a Roger Corman cult classic from 1975. Starring Sylvester Stallone, it features a future where the American national pastime is watching the deadly Transcontinental Road Race. Criticised by critics for its gratuitous nudity and violence, the film accurately predicted the popularity of Wipeout and Japanese game shows.

The original X-men film from 2000 is actually set in this current year. Professor Charles Xavier leads his band of heroic mutants against Magneto’s evil crew in this Hollywood blockbuster. A quick look in the papers proves that mutants live amongst us today: Kevin Rudd with his inexplicable, unwavering popularity; Jennifer Hawkins with her freakish ability to convince people to buy Myer shares; and Britney with her special power to make sound without moving her lips.

2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 was released simultaneously as a film directed by Stanley Kubrick and a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Accurately depicting spacecraft moving through space silently, the movie also correctly predicted voice-print identification, flat screen monitors, chess playing computers and airline on-board entertainment units. Aspects of the film that did not eventuate by 2001 (or today) include suspended animation, space hotels, moon bases and artificial intelligence of computers, although I’m pretty sure HAL lives on in my troublesome iPhone. A similar vision of the “future” also appears in the 1984 sequel, 2010.

The film industry has been pretty hit or miss with its depiction of the future. However, some years to keep in mind, just in case they get it right, are 2012 (the tectonic plates will shift and life as we know it will end, unless you’re John Cusack) and 2015 (as depicted in Back To The Future II, we’ll all have flying cars and hover boards).