Tangled Rights Could Tie Up Ultimate 'Star Wars' Box Set (Analysis)

"Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace"
© 2012 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) battle Sith Lord Darth Maul.

Disney's $4 billion deal for Lucasfilm does not include the right to release the original 'Star Wars' -- unless a new deal can be forged with Fox.

It appears that George Lucas did not give the studio that has distributed the Star Wars films since 1977 a shot at buying his company. But Fox isn't out of the Star Wars game just yet -- which raises the question: What are the prospects for the ultimate Star Wars box set?

Disney will own and release future films in the Star Wars series (as for potential Indiana Jones films, Paramount retains some distribution rights and future movies will only be made if both Paramount and Disney agree on terms). Lucas apparently has sketched out plans for three more Star Wars films -- he always envisioned making nine -- with Episode Seven set for release in 2015. But Fox owns distribution rights to the original Star Wars, No. 4 in the series, in perpetuity in all media worldwide. And as for the five subsequent movies, Fox has theatrical, nontheatrical and home video rights worldwide through May 2020.

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While the rights on those five films eventually will revert to Disney, that "in perpetuity" pact for the first film appears to be an obstacle to Disney releasing a complete set -- unless a deal can be made.

According to a longtime Lucas associate, the filmmaker always wanted to keep his films together. “Now it seems like he can't have a total package of the story because one of the movies is with Fox, unless they can make some kind of deal [with Disney] to release nine of them,” this person says. 

Disney and Fox did not respond to a request for comment. But a Fox insider tells THR that as for Disney's blockbuster deal to purchase Lucas' company, "we certainly would have liked a crack at it but i get the play."

Fox plans to proceed with plans to re-release the supposedly much-improved 3D versions of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith in fall 2013. The re-release of Episode I -- The Phantom Menace turned in only a fair performance earlier this year, grossing a total of $102.8 million worldwide. Fox receives only a relatively low - six percent - distribution fee to release those films.

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Lucas’s decision to sell his company to Disney--not Fox--makes sense: Disney has the theme parks, merchandising and licensing operations to take full advantage of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones characters. "Disney is the perfect place,” says the Lucas associate. ”At Fox they just make movies. Fox doesn't have theme parks and huge brands. This is a good fit."

So despite Lucas’s wish to keep the films together, the allure of the Disney parks in particular may have been too strong. The filmmaker has long been known for demanding exceptionally tough deals. But one of the few instances in which he felt he wasn’t tough enough involved a deal in the late 1980s with Disney to make characters from Star Wars and Indiana Jones the first non-Disney properties at the parks-- for $1 million a year, in perpetuity.