Rev up the iconic fanfare, because Disney has officially completed their acquisition of 21st Century Fox. While the main perks of the deal benefit the Marvel Cinematic Universe way more than Star Wars, there are some Star Wars-related tidbits that are tied to the deal itself that are worth discussing here – and one thing that definitely won’t happen.
Let’s start by clearing up a big misconception right off the bat: no, we are not getting the original theatrical trilogy. For those of you unaware, there has been a long-running fan conspiracy that Lucasfilm are set to release remastered, unaltered versions of the first three Star Wars movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) before George Lucas went back to edit them any day now for more than two decades. In spite of that hope becoming more and more of a pipe dream since Lucas released the initial versions of the Star Wars Special Editions and their plethora of changes (some controversial, some deemed unnecessary, and a few actually praised), the belief that Lucasfilm are waiting for the right time to release the unaltered versions of the movies has persisted, and has gained new life with Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and Fox alike.
The thing is, ownership of Lucasfilm and Fox are not what what’s keeping the old versions of the movies from seeing the light of day in an official capacity; George Lucas himself is. And he’s repeatedly stated that he wants those changes to stay put. When he threw fans a bone in the early 2000s with DVD versions of the original versions, it turned out to be not what fans were hoping for when it was really just the LaserDisc version of the movies ported over to DVD, without any actual remastering of the visual or audio quality put into place. That alone should indicate what his position on his old versions of the movies are – in spite of the preference of the fans, he feels that the revision of Return of the Jedi that has Darth Vader shout “No!” and a celebration of the Emperor’s death across the galaxy far, far away instead of just on Endor is the definitive version of the film. Unless he suddenly changes his mind (and, sure, he’s flip-flopped plenty of times before, but this is one subject he’s remained steadfast on for over twenty years), we’re not going to get official remastered versions of the original cuts of those films anytime soon, if ever.
Evidence has surfaced suggesting that Lucasfilm have internally decided to remaster the original, unaltered prints – from of footage that made it to the theater to footage included as deleted scenes on the DVD and Blu-Ray versions and some footage that has still not seen the light of day – but it appears to be for their use only. It appears that this played a role in how they were able to integrate unused footage of Red and Gold Leaders into the final battle sequence of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or how they were able to include a slightly different take of Princess Leia’s plea for help in The Last Jedi to suit the shot that Rian Johnson filmed with Mark Hamill and Jimmy Vee. But don’t expect the unedited clips that were actually featured in the original trilogy movies to see the light of day.
The plus side is that, if you know where to look, Lucasfilm has seemingly agreed to turn a blind eye toward fans creating their own remasters of the original movies as long as they’re not sold for profit. Technically, distributing that kind of stuff is not legal, but it appears that Lucasfilm are not going to feed you to their Rancors if you burn these versions onto the Blu-ray discs that you’ve purchased. Just to be clear, we’re not encouraging that you do kind of thing and we respect Lucas’s own wishes… But if you want to see high-quality versions of the original Star Wars trilogy as it appeared to audiences in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with some visual effects mistakes from the old versions fixed without anything else being changed, then they are out there.
Now that that’s cleared up, one of the biggest things that Lucasfilm get out their new parent company buying out their old distributor is access to the theatrical, home video, television, and digital distribution rights to the original and prequel trilogy movies. As part of the terms and conditions behind the making of A New Hope, Fox was to retain all distribution rights to that movie forever. However, Lucasfilm would be able to retain the television and digital rights for every Star Wars movie made after that, while Fox would keep the theatrical and home video rights for the other five movies made under their watch.
The initial agreement was that the likes of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith would have all of the remaining rights transferred to Disney in May 2020 – but now, thanks to this deal, they’re getting all of them 14 months early, along with all rights to A New Hope, which was never on the table. This is an absolute Godsend to Lucasfilm at a time when Disney is trying to launch a service like Disney+, and they want a large library of content available at launch. There are currently some issues to iron out with Turner on that front, but negotiations should be comparatively easier now that Fox is under their roof. (Even if they won’t be available at launch, there should still be plenty of Star Wars content on Disney+ from launch onward.)
One thing that I would personally hope for, but can only guess about for now, is the possibility that we may get the iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare reinstated to the original trilogy and prequel trilogy films. The fanfare was always going to be attached to A New Hope due to the aforementioned agreement that Fox had with Lucasfilm, but the other five movies have had their fanfares replaced with an abbreviated version of one of the credits fanfares that John Williams came up with for The Empire Strikes Back. With that in mind, the sequel trilogy films, along with the two Star Wars spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, will not get the fanfare, as Fox had no part in their production. If Lucasfilm decide to use Fox’s resources to make a new movie, perhaps the fanfare could be on the cards once more.
As I’ve said at the beginning of this piece, this deal matters a lot more for the Marvel franchise than it does for Star Wars, as it gives Disney the rights to make Fantastic Four, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Deadpool, and X-Force films and television shows, along with the rights to develop properties associated with the characters of any of the aforementioned intellectual properties. While Fox will still complete and release their latest X-Men offerings – Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants – as planned, those movies are almost certainly the end of the line for the continuity started in 2000 by Fox and director Bryan Singer. It’s really the end of an era.
Disney has revealed that future Marvel movies will all be made with involvement from Marvel Studios (aside from Sony’s animated and live-action Spider-Man spin-offs, though the main series of Spider-Man films will continue to be co-produced by Marvel Studios), and as such, it’s expected that the characters will be completely rebooted in order to fit into the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Currently, Ryan Reynolds is the only actor expected to cross over from Fox’s slate to Disney’s, reprising his role as the lead of the Deadpool franchise (which is still going to be R-rated), while everyone else will be recast. Either way, don’t expect any major announcements about Marvel’s acquired licenses from Fox until either the San Diego Comic Con or Disney D23 this Summer.
So things are definitely more exciting on the front of Disney’s most-popular brand compared to their second-most-popular brand when it comes to things gained out of the Fox acquisition. Nonetheless, the marriage between Disney and Fox will bring about quite a bit of change aside from great gains for both Marvel and Star Wars. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds, because nobody could imagine this back in 2012, when Disney’s first Marvel film – The Avengers – hit theaters and their acquisition of Lucasfilm was announced. For the times, they are a-changin’…