The Star Wars Dissection: Interview with IGN Comics Editor on Disney/Lucasfilm Deal: Lessons Learned from Disney/Marvel?

 

Hello everyone, it’s Andrew Halliday returning with a special edition of The Star Wars Dissection.  On October 30, 2012, Disney announced that it would be acquiring Lucasfilm, along with all of its subsidiaries and products, for a sum of $4.05 billion.  At the same time, they announced that they would begin the production of Star Wars Episode VII, the first installment in a new trilogy of films, set to be released in 2015.  This made many Star Wars Expanded Universe fans nervous about the continuity of novels and comics.  How would this new parent company handle Star Wars?  If a new film trilogy were set anywhere in the lifetime of The Big Three (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia), might the Expanded Universe material be relegated to an Alternate Universe or be rendered wholly non-canon?  Fans have no idea what to expect, in terms of continuity, or in terms of future publications of Expanded Universe materials.

But maybe we should have some idea of what to expect.  After all, another major company owning dozens of popular franchises, Marvel Comics, was purchased by Disney back in 2009.  Maybe there are lessons to be learned from how Disney’s acquisition of Marvel affected the movies, comics, and other associated media; how the fans and press reacted; what they predicted; and what predictions came true.

To explore this line of thought further, I sat down* with Joey Esposito, Comics Editor over at IGN.com and host of the podcast IGN Assemble.  Joey is a big fan of Star Wars and comics, and had some interesting perspectives on Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, and based on his knowledge of comics and publication, made some preliminary predictions on the future of Star Wars.

*The interview was done by e-mail, but I imagine we were both sitting at the time.

EUCantina (EUC):  In August 2009, it was reported that The Walt Disney Company was purchasing Marvel Entertainment for approximately four billion dollars worth of cash and shares.  This acquisition included all Marvel properties, including comic books, movies, and video games.  What was the reaction among the comics press (including IGN staff)?

Joey Esposito (JE): I wasn’t with IGN at the time of the Marvel/Disney deal, but I was still covering comics elsewhere. At the time I was the Comics Editor at CraveOnline, but the reaction was the same there as it was anywhere else, I would assume: anxious and exciting all at once. Anxious because in the wake of a deal like that, you never know what’s going to be affected. At the time I think a lot of the more jaded folks just assumed Disney would disrupt all of Marvel’s publishing plans, which I think we can see wasn’t the case at all. Disney knows how to respect the brands they buy, and let’s be honest, Marvel publishing can be looked at as a R&D branch of Disney’s investment in that company. And it was exciting because it gave the idea of legitimacy, I guess, to big superhero franchises in the movies. Even though there were obviously some huge successes in that space previously, Disney investing $4B into this thing was confirmation that the superhero movie thing wasn’t a fluke that would live for a decade or so and then die out. This was Disney confirming that they were in it for the long haul. We all knew what Disney was capable of doing, and they proved us right by building the Avengers franchise into what it is now.

EUC: Fear is rampant among the Star Wars fan community.  While many look forward to new movies, others of the most die-hard Expanded Universe fans fear that Star Wars Episode VII-IX and future licensed works will overwrite the continuity that currently exists, especially with respect to Star Wars novels, comics, and video games that take place after Return of the Jedi.  Can you tell me anything about the reaction among comic book fans to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel?  Were fans worried that their favourite franchises would change, possibly for the worse?

JE: Comic fans have this funny way of being concerned about events that never happened never happening. Continuity is such a ridiculous idea to me. As a diehard fan of Star Wars, I sincerely hope they ignore anything and everything Expanded Universe and do their own thing. We’ve already read these stories about post-ROTJ Luke, Leia, and Han, so why would you want to watch them repeat themselves on the big screen? I had a fan tell me on Twitter that they hope they keep the EU continuity intact or he would’ve “read all those books for nothing.” What exactly was the endgame there? To amass a timeline in your brain? What were you reading them for in the first place? Enjoyment. If you enjoyed those books, there’s no reason a fictional story in a fictional universe that doesn’t adhere to continuity should affect that enjoyment. I guess that sounds harsh, but the whole concept of judging a story because it doesn’t adhere to 20 years of glorified fan fiction is insane.

EUC:  With respect to comic books specifically, was there anything that drastically changed when Disney took over?

JE: In terms of Marvel? Nothing changed, at least from my perspective, aside from some Disney/Pixar properties that were getting the comic book treatment at BOOM! Studios reverting back to Marvel for publishing. I can’t speak for the internal situation, though.

EUC: Was there anything that you (or others in the fan community) predicted would likely change, but that remained the same?

JE: I think a lot of fans assumed we’d start seeing Mickey Mouse show up in Spider-Man or something, but that’s obviously ridiculous. There’s always the initial worry of a big corporation coming in and mucking things up, but I think Disney has consistently proven that they know how to care for the franchises they take under their wing to maximize their potential. This is unlikely to be related to Disney influence, but Marvel, from a comic book publishing standpoint, is better than they’ve ever been in terms of quality and trying new things to push the stagnant superhero formula forward. In my opinion.

EUC: Disney’s comic lines had been licensed with other companies throughout the decades.  Gladstone Publishing owned the Disney license in the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, Gemstone Publishing was the license-holder from 2003-2008, and BOOM! Studious published Disney comics from March 2009 onward, including the years after their acquisition of Marvel.  I understand that the rights to publish Disney comics have now reverted to Disney/Marvel, but it took several years.  A glance at the January 2013 solicitations shows that none of the Disney titles Marvel is publishing have been around long, numbering at issue 12 or lower.  Along a similar vein, several other companies, including 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Entertainment, hold the licenses to make movies based on Marvel franchises, some of which are slowly reverting back to Marvel/Disney.  Is that a fair breakdown?

JE: Mostly fair, but the BOOM! situation was a bit quicker from what I recall. Their Disney/Pixar books dropped off the radar pretty quickly after the acquisition, and they were in limbo for a while until those properties starting popping up in Marvel solicits in early 2011, and Disney properties in general a bit earlier than that – they published some TRON stuff late in 2010. As for the numbering thing, there is no Disney property at Marvel that would be high in numbering since everything they’ve done so far has been a limited series of 4 issues or so. The movie stuff is a little funkier. For example, Marvel has gotten Daredevil back because FOX failed to make a new movie in time to exercise their option. But I wouldn’t expect that to be a common occurrence, particularly with new hit Spider-Man and X-Men franchises in full swing.

EUC:  Dark Horse Comics currently owns the license to Star Wars comics.  I am not certain when the license is set to expire, but I understand these things typically last a few years and that normally the renewal of a license is a given.  You reported on IGN.com that Dark Horse president Mike Richardson made a press release, saying “Dark Horse and LucasFilm have a strong partnership which spans over 20 years, and has produced multiple characters and story lines which are now part of the Star Wars lore.  Star Wars will be with us for the near future.  Obviously, this deal changes the landscape, so we’ll all have to see what it means for the future.”  Do you believe the Star Wars comic license will revert to Disney/Marvel in a few years’ time?  Or do you think Disney will renew Dark Horse’s Star Wars (and Indiana Jones) licenses?

JE: In my opinion, the Lucasfilm comic books will end up at Marvel. I don’t think it will be immediate, but it wouldn’t make sense for Disney not to have all of their $4B investment under one umbrella.

EUC:  If the license does go to Disney/Marvel, what happens to the books currently being published?  As of the January 2013 solicitations, the only ongoing Star Wars title Dark Horse is publishing will be Star Wars Volume 3.  The remaining books are made up of miniseries, some of which are standalone (like the recently-concluded Darth Maul: Death Sentence, about which you spoke very positively), while others form the basis of ongoing-in-all-but-name meta-series (including Dawn of the Jedi, whose second arc will begin in late November 2012).  If Marvel takes over publishing, will all series be cancelled and new ones created?  Or do you think the series be picked up, as-is, with current numbering?

JE: I would expect the current books to wrap up and then whatever Marvel does to be something completely new. I would imagine they’d keep the continuity intact but start all-new stories that don’t tread on what was done before. I also don’t think they’d be as wide spread as Dark Horse’s line. Maybe an ongoing series and a spatter of mini-series throughout the year. But who knows, really? I think it’s almost certain that they wouldn’t be concerned with keeping numbering or anything like that. Numbering holds no weight for publishers anymore – unless it’s a #1, of course.

EUC: And what of the creative teams?  Would the authors and artists of Star Wars comics be replaced with those that work for Marvel?  While I think a Star Wars title written by Rick Remender or Brian Michael Bendis would be amazing, I certainly wouldn’t want to lose the talents of John Jackson Miller or John Ostrander/Jan Duursema.  Is there a risk of that?

JE: I’m not sure that’s something I can really speak to, but I think people like John Jackson Miller and John Ostrander and editor Randy Stradley have been instrumental voices in the expansion of the EU at Dark Horse, but the nature of the beast is that they are freelancers (or Dark Horse employees in the case of Stradley) and that Marvel has their own editorial staff and a whole stable of freelancers. Particularly if Marvel wants to distance their Star Wars output from that of Dark Horse, going with fresh blood might be a good way to go about it. But again, that’s more inside baseball than I can really speak to.

EUC:  Let’s shift to movies now.  Since the acquisition, Marvel Studios put out Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Marvel’s The Avengers (the latter was also distributed by Walt Disney Pictures).  I’ll be honest with you, the phrase “Disney bought Marvel, and then published Marvel’s The Avengers” is almost enough to make me believe this sale is nothing but good news, but others disagree.  When you first heard Disney acquired Marvel, what were your thoughts with respect to the future of Marvel movies?  Were your thoughts accurate?

JE: Movies-wise, I didn’t expect anything bad. As I said above, Disney is nothing if not respectful to the franchises they own and very aware of what makes them successful in the first place. With Disney’s backing and essentially letting Marvel  “do what they do” the recipe for success was obviously fruitful. Disney is savvy, they know what they are purchasing and why they are doing so.

EUC: On the other side of this debate, we need to look at Lucasfilm movies.  The last three movies published by Lucasfilm (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Red Tails) got mixed-to-negative reviews, and only Indiana Jones did well at the box office.  How do you think future Lucasfilm franchises will be handled under this new management?

JE: Again, same thing. Disney knows what they purchased and why. They said in the investor conference call that their purchas of Lucasfilm was based almost entirely on Star Wars, with things like Indiana Jones not even factoring into the equation. They’ve got huge plans for the franchise under the Disney banner, and I think we’ll be seeing them take the same care to that as they have Marvel.

EUC: Based on your experience with Disney’s acquisition of a major franchise, should I, as a fan of Star Wars (films and Expanded Universe), be joyful, worried, or somewhere in between?

JE: Joyful. How could anyone be anything but? Any range of Star Wars fan – those that love everything, those that hate the prequels and everyone in between – is going to benefit from this. Bottom line, we’re getting more Star Wars. But even if you’re jaded after the prequels (which I’m not, for the record, I love the prequels), the Disney acquisition is giving you the potential of today’s hottest filmmakers to work on the franchise you love. Be excited now. If it sucks or something, then be disappointed later.

EUC: Do you have any final thoughts on the subject?

JE: May the force be with you!

I want to thank Joey for talking to me this week about my two favorite franchises, Star Wars and Marvel Comics.  You can find him at www.ign.com/comics, on the podcast IGN Assemble, and on Twitter @joeyesposito.

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.