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How Lucasfilm Really Works

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Lucasfilm is home to some of the biggest film properties in the industry and has been a cultural touchstone for more than four decades, but there's still some confusion about how the studio operates and its place within the Disney empire. Even those who fervently follow every update about the various Star Wars projects in development have questions about the bigger machine and all its moving parts.

George Lucas, who founded Lucasfilm way back in 1971, helped shepherd a new era for Hollywood with his productions, entertaining millions around the world with his escapist fantasy stories. In the years since, Lucasfilm has only continued to grow and is now in the business of producing annual tentpoles similar to what fellow Disney subsidiary Marvel does with their own cinematic universe. With everything happening at the studio, it's hard to keep track of it all, but that's where we come in to help. Allow us to explain how Lucasfilm works.

Lucasfilm Before and After Disney (This Page)

Page 2: Lucasfilm Film Rights & The Story Group

Page 3: Lucasfilm Power Structure & Filmmaking Process

Lucasfilm Before Disney

The irony in Lucas eventually selling his baby to the Mouse House, of course, is that he was once a maverick filmmaker looking to buck the traditional system. He was fiercely protective of his works and wanted (for better or worse) to maintain creative control over them. This is what prompted him to form Lucasfilm as an independent studio, meaning for every project he wanted to develop, Lucas needed to find a co-financier and/or distributor. That wasn't always easy to do, as evidenced by the difficulty he went through getting American Graffiti off the ground. Several studios passed on the coming-of-age tale before Lucas and Gary Kurtz went to Universal, who granted Lucas final cut. Graffiti received widespread critical acclaim and was profitable for Universal.

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Related: 15 Star Wars Storylines George Lucas Wants You to Forget

Studios rejecting Lucas only to regret their decisions in retrospect was something of a tradition during Lucasfilm's pre-Disney era. Universal turned down Star Wars (feeling the concept was somewhat strange), which paved the way for 20th Century Fox to take a bet on Lucas' space opera. Even after the record-shattering success of the galaxy far, far away, executives remained cautious of going into business with the filmmaker. Every major studio in Hollywood infamously passed on Raiders of the Lost Ark (citing budget concerns) before Paramount eventually accepted. Much like Star WarsRaiders launched a wildly popular film series that still resonates to this day.

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Lucasfilm continued making movies into the early 21st century (most notably with the Star Wars prequels and a fourth Indiana Jones installment), but their output essentially came to a halt after that wave of films. Their last pre-Disney film was Red Tails, which was released four years after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With Lucas looking towards retirement, he made one final decision that would change the entertainment industry forever.

How The Disney Deal Changed Lucasfilm

Possible discussions about Lucasfilm merging with Disney first took place between Lucas and Bob Iger in 2011, but it wasn't until October 2012 that a deal was officially announced. The Mouse House acquired Lucasfilm for the grand total of $4 billion (the same price they paid for Marvel back in 2009) and immediately announced that new Star Wars films would enter development. The terms of the arrangement saw Disney gain ownership of Star WarsIndiana Jones (a fifth movie is planned for 2020), and various other branches of Lucasfilm. This includes the animation department (which produces shows like Rebels), consumer products, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound (among others).

Related: How Lucasfilm Changed When George Lucas Left

Lucasfilm now operates as a subsidiary of Disney, and the last few years have seen the Star Wars franchise reach new heights. In addition to a string of highly-successful films (which have combined to gross $4 billion at the worldwide box office), the galaxy far, far away has a presence across various mediums, including television, novels, comics, and video games. Disney also has plans to open the Galaxy's Edge theme park at their Florida and California locations in 2019. Star Wars has always been omnipresent in pop culture, but many would consider this to be the Golden Age for the franchise, and there's no telling where it'd be right now if Disney never made the deal. Under the Mouse House umbrella, Lucasfilm functions similar to fellow subsidiaries Marvel Studios and Pixar, having the freedom to do what they want with limited (if any) interference.

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Disney Doesn't Have All of Lucasfilm Film Rights (Yet)

Key Release Dates
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
  • Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
  • Indiana Jones 5 (2021) release date: Jul 09, 2021
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