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Bob Iger: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars franchise was possibly the best investment Disney has ever done. Not only has it been lucrative for them thus far, but it looks like it will be that way for years to come. After The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters this December, which will conclude the Skywalker saga, many more Star Wars projects are still under way such as The Mandalorian, an untitled Kenobi and Cassian series, and two new trilogies developed by Rian Johnson and the Game of Thrones creators, Benioff and Weiss. Star Wars isn’t going away any time soon- as well as Bob Iger.

Bob recently released his autobiography, “The Ride of a Lifetime: LESSONS LEARNED FROM 15 YEARS AS CEO OF THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY.” In it, he openly discusses the difficult process of securing the massive acquisition deals of Pixar, Marvel, and of course, Lucasfilm. More importantly, Iger discusses George Lucas’ involvement in The Force Awakens. Apparently, not everything went as according to plan.

“At some point in the process, George told me that he had completed outlines for three new movies. He agreed to send us three copies of the outlines: one for me; one for Alan Braverman; and one for Alan Horn, who’d just been hired to run our studio. Alan Horn and I read George’s outlines and decided we needed to buy them, though we made clear in the purchase agreement that we would not be contractually obligated to adhere to the plot lines he’d laid out.

He knew that I was going to stand firm on the question of creative control, but it wasn’t an easy thing for him to accept. And so, he reluctantly agreed to be available to consult with us at our request. I promised that we would be open to his ideas (this was not a hard promise to make; of course, we would be open to George Lucas’s ideas), but like the outlines, we would be under no obligation.

Early on, Kathy brought J.J. and Michael Arndt up to Northern California to meet with George at his ranch and talk about their ideas for the film. George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren’t using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations.

The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan, and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded. I’d been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way, and I didn’t think I had now, but I could have handled it better. I should have prepared him for the meeting with J.J. and Michael and told him about our conversations, that we felt it was better to go in another direction. I could have talked through this with him and possibly avoided angering him by not surprising him. Now, in the first meeting with him about the future of Star Wars, George felt betrayed, and while this whole process would never have been easy for him, we’d gotten off to an unnecessarily rocky start.”

Bob Iger

Now keep this in mind, I think it’s important that we acknowledge that Kathy Kennedy and Pablo Hidalgo have both reiterated that once J.J. and Arndt began sculpting a script, George’s ideas evolved.

Unfortunately, Pablo has avoided the whole discussion of Lucas’ ideas of the trilogy, especially Episode IX. However, he does recognize that certain ideas originated from Lucas. For example, the trilogy having a female lead and Luke being in exile. These ideas did in fact come from Lucas’ version of the sequel trilogy, but all in all, his ideas evolved in the story we have today.

In other words, Kennedy, Abrams and Arndt went with a different approach to the saga that utilized Lucas’ same ideas but strayed from the story Lucas had originally intended. For example, according to Pablo, Lucas’ version of Episode VII would’ve featured Luke’s revitalization from his exile, but instead, it was decided to push Luke’s character arc to VIII in the development process. Don’t forget, Lucas also wanted the sequel trilogy to revolve around the Whills, midichlorians, and some form of a micro biotic world. As you can see, these ideas were quickly discarded in favor of a more character-based story line.  

“Just prior to the global release of The Force AwakensKathy screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. “There’s nothing new,” he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, “There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.” He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars. We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do. Looking back with the perspective of several years and a few more Star Wars films, I believe J.J. achieved the near-impossible, creating a perfect bridge between what had been and what was to come.”

Bob Iger

Overall, none of this is shocking. Lucas is known to be relatively open about a certain many things, but in the end, this does help eliminate some of the enigma regarding Lucas’ involvement and issues he had with The Force Awakens.

“Even though he had issues with the film, I thought it was important for George to be at The Force Awakens premiere. He didn’t want to come at first, but Kathy, with the help of George’s now-wife, Mellody Hobson, convinced him it was the right thing to do. Among the last things we negotiated before the deal closed was a non-disparagement clause. I asked George to agree that he wouldn’t publicly criticize any of the Star Wars films we made. When I brought it up with him, he said, “I’m going to be a big shareholder of the Walt Disney Company. Why would I disparage you or anything you do? You have to trust me.” I took him at his word.”

Bob Iger

Whether Lucas’ original ideas were properly executed or not, that is for each of us to personally decide. But just for the record, no matter how much we think Lucasfilm strayed from Lucas’ original vision for The Force Awakens, you can’t argue the popularity and love it received from both old and new fans alike. And in all honesty, isn’t this what Star Wars is all about- where fans of all generations can unite and experience the love they have for such a beloved franchise?  I believe so.

Start the discussion by clicking on the link to our Discourse forum below or select “forum” via the menu bar up top. May the Force be with you!

Joseph Forbush
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” — Yoda

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