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Kathleen Kennedy, current co-chair of Lucasfilm, will become its president, reporting to Walt Disney Studios chair Alan Horn. Disney is paying about half the purchase price in cash and will issue 40 million shares of stock, the company said in a statement Tuesday.
Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars features, with the franchise’s creator and Lucasfilm founder George Lucas, 68, serving as creative consultant. There are plans to release a new Star Wars film every two or three years.
“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said Lucas, chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm, in a statement. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment and consumer products.”
The deal comes on the heels of Disney’s 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion and its 2006 purchase of Pixar Animation Studios, two potent entertainment brands that appeal to families. The Disney board has approved the Lucasfilm acquisition, but it is subject to antitrust scrutiny by the U.S. government.
While Lucas and Disney have had a long relationship, it has been most visible at the company’s theme parks, where Star Tours and other attractions have been popular for more than two decades.
However, the Stars Wars movies have been distributed through 20th Century Fox, which will now be cut out of future Star Wars and other related business. (Although Fox already has been set to release 3D versions of the past Star Wars movies, it is unclear whether that relationship will be affected by the sale. The acquisition also raises questions about the future of Stars Wars: The Clone Wars, a highly popular series on Cartoon Network, which is owned by a Disney competitor, Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner.)
Disney also is acquiring Lucasfilm’s hugely profitable consumer products and merchandising businesses, which should be a good fit for the buyer.
“Lucasfilm reflects the extraordinary passion, vision and storytelling of its founder, George Lucas,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney’s unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value.”
In a call with investors, Iger said the first new Star Wars movie is targeted for 2015 and that the company planned for another movie every two to three years after that. Disney releases eight to 10 pictures per year, including one from Pixar and one or two from Marvel Studios. The plan is for a Star Wars movie in one of those tentpole slots.
Iger told investors that Star Wars is a perfect property for TV, particularly for the company’s young-male-skewing network Disney XD, and plans to expand the franchise’s presence in its theme parks.
In addition, while Star Wars merchandise has been big business for decades, that business mostly has been domestic, Iger said. Using Marvel as a model, Disney plans to grow international marketing of Star Wars products by increasing the brand’s presence in their stores, with more toys and with other products.
In June, Kennedy was named co-chair of Lucasfilm alongside Lucas, whose said then that his role at the company would be phased out. The producer and seven-time Oscar nominee is a frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator whose credits include E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), The Sixth Sense (1999) and Nov. 16 release Lincoln.
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