In his new memoir The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Disney CEO Bob Iger talks about George Lucas’ feelings of betrayal when Disney didn’t use his outline for future Star Wars movies.
After Disney’s $4 billion buyout of Lucasfilm, Lucas was brought on board as a consultant.
Early on, Kathy [Kennedy] brought J.J. [Abrams] 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 [Horn, Disney’s film chief], 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.
During negotiations, Iger and Disney bought Lucas’ outline, but made sure to make clear that the company didn’t have to stick with them.
“[W]e 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.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lucas was clear he didn’t like the direction Disney was taking the series, but respected it enough to get out of their way.
“The issue was ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, ‘We want to make something for the fans.’ People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems – it’s not about spaceships. So they decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, ‘Fine.’
They weren’t that keen to have me involved anyway. But at the same time, I said if I get in there I’m just going to cause trouble. Because they’re not going to do what I want them to do. And I don’t have the control to do that anymore. All I would do is muck everything up. So I said, ‘Okay, I will go my way, and I’ll let them go their way.’”
Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy gave Lucas a private showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Lucas didn’t hold back his dislike of the movie.
“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.”
Lucas was criticizing the very thing Kennedy and Iger were attempting to do: echo the original movies.
“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.”
Though Lucas did praise Star Wars: The Last Jedi as being “beautifully made,” so I guess it really depends on whether or not you like Rian Johnson’s installment in the series, which intentionally separated itself from the earlier films.
P.S. I did.