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Star Wars Rights Explained: What Disney Does (And Doesn't) Own

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Star Wars has been a part of Disney's ever-expanding media empire for the past several years, but that's not the only company with their hands in the lucrative pie. Ever since Lucasfilm was acquired by the Mouse House in 2012, there have been questions about who owns what. For instance, Paramount still gets a cut of any future Indiana Jones films, despite Disney being the distributor. Film rights can be a complicated issue, and are rarely as simple as they appear to be at first glance.

The galaxy far, far away is no different, of course, and that's why we're here to help. In this space, we'll detail not only the theatrical and home distribution of the movies, but also the television rights - which have popped up in the news recently as Disney prepares to launch their own streaming service.

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Star Wars Movie Distribution

George Lucas was a maverick filmmaker who longed to work outside the studio system, so he independently produced his movies and looked for a distributor. Fox was the only studio willing to take a chance on Star Wars, a decision that handsomely paid off for several years. The first six installments of the live-action film series were released under their umbrella, raking copious amounts of cash via box office runs and home media releases, including multiple special edition releases on various platforms. Many people celebrated Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, but Fox was surely sad to see Star Wars go elsewhere.

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Related: How Lucasfilm Really Works

However, the transaction didn't immediately move over all Star Wars rights to Disney. While the Mouse House obviously owns everything post-merger (beginning with The Force Awakens), they still have to wait to get their hands on most of the pre-Disney catalog. Fox owns the rights to The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the entire prequel trilogy until May 2020. Because they were partners with Lucas on the seminal 1977 original, they will own A New Hope in perpetuity, which would make it somewhat difficult for Disney to release the inevitable "complete Skywalker saga" Blu-ray collection after Episode IX comes out. Of course, there's a development making plenty of headlines that will change all that in the near future.

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Disney, of course, is in the process of acquiring Fox's entertainment properties, after shareholders agreed to the groundbreaking merger. In the wake of this news, most of the discussion has been in regards to the integration of the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the deal has ramifications for Star Wars as well. With Disney buying Fox, it means they'll secure those precious New Hope rights and own all of the Star Wars movies. This may not exactly be what people had in mind when they said Disney and Fox needed to come to an agreement to settle the New Hope rights, but it'll get the job done.

What this doesn't do, however, is change anything concerning the much-theorized (but never official) release of the unaltered original trilogy on Blu-ray. That is Lucasfilm's call to make, and there are no signs to indicate they're going to change their stance on that matter. The 2011 versions (and all the alterations that came with them) are considered official franchise canon, and Kathleen Kennedy is of the mind to leave Lucas' films alone while she concentrates on building Star Wars' future. Perhaps one day this will change, but for now audiences will have to make do with what's available. Disney would happily rake in the revenue such a box set would bring in, though they're certainly in good shape with the new movies they're releasing.

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Page 2 of 2: Star Wars Movie TV Rights

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Key Release Dates
  • Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
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