In a remarkable move, famed Star Wars creator and director George Lucas has sold his company -- and all of its properties -- for $4 billion to Walt Disney Company (DIS +0.32%).
The house that built Mickey Mouse will pay roughly half the purchase price in cash and issue approximately 40 million shares at closing for the rest.
"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," George Lucas, chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm, said in a company release. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers."
Lucas added, "I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I'm confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products."
I must admit, the move took me by surprise -- not so much because Disney wanted the franchise, but because Lucas has actually sold it.
Lucas has had numerous opportunities to sell, but never pulled the trigger. Instead, he used his earnings to buy his film back from a major studio more than 30 years ago. This allowed him to maintain control of the franchise. Lucas repeatedly told the press that he would do whatever it took to maintain his control.
He made no effort to hide his disgust and distrust of Hollywood studios. During an interview with 60 Minutes, he even indicated that he had it set up so that no one could touch the Star Wars properties when he passed away. From now until the end of time, fans and investors alike will wonder: Why did Lucas decide to sell his prized company?
Of course, Disney investors should rejoice he did. The company made a smart -- if not brilliant -- decision in acquiring the Star Wars brand. This will usher in a whole new era of Star Wars films and provide Disney with billions in movie and merchandise revenue for years to come.
Disney and Star Wars already work well together. At Disney World, the company's largest
amusement park, guests can walk through life-size Star Wars-themed environments before riding Star Tours, the first and only ride based on the two Star Wars trilogies.
Star Wars: Episode VII is expected to be released in 2015, followed by additional Star Wars films every two to three years.
By acquiring Pixar, Marvel and now Lucasfilm, Disney has positioned itself to become the most powerful corporation in Hollywood.
For existing Star Wars fans, this is the end of an era. It may be a new hope for some, particularly Disney and the lucky director who gets to replace Lucas for Episode VII. But Star Wars as we know it is over.