Disney CEO Bob Iger released his autobiography “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years As CEO Of The Walt Disney Company” yesterday and in it he also very candidly talks about how George Lucas reacted when he first saw The Force Awakens. And while it’s nothing we haven’t guessed before, it’s still a very interesting read! So click through for all the relevant passages from the book!
Update: one more passage from Iger’s book added about the fact that Lucas initially didn’t even want to attend the Force Awakens premiere! Scroll to the end of the article for the new quote from Iger’s book!
Bob Iger doesn’t try to put anything in a favorable light here, he very openly talks about George Lucas’ feelings and reaction when he first saw The Force Awakens. Iger also talks about what happened earlier in the process and that Lucas was under the impression Disney would use his ideas, until he learned otherwise. But read for yourself.
Bob Iger on buying the outlines for the sequel movies from George Lucas:
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.
So Bob apparently loved the outline enough to buy it, but also made it clear to George that Disney could either use nothing or just selected elements from it.
Bob Iger on the question of creative control over the movies:
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.
So, it seems that while George was willing to sell Lucasfilm, he also hoped to regain (some) creative control at least, instead Disney convinced him to become a consultant at their request instead. Under no obligation.
Bob Iger on the moment George learned the new movie would not follow his outline:
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.
So, George was upset and he was disappointed. This puts the “White Slavers” comment George made in an interview in 2015 in a somewhat new light, it is likely George still felt somewhat betrayed, but at least disappointed and upset. He must have felt disrespected perhaps, at that time.
Also, Iger is right when he says that he should have handled it better, not revealing to Lucas sooner that they would not use his stories after all was a mistake, even if Lucasfilm was no longer his company, he was still the creator of Star Wars.
Bob Iger on George Lucas’ reaction to The Force Awakens when he first saw it:
Just prior to the global release, Kathy 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.
In light of all the previous incidents it’s no surprise that George was disappointed by The Force Awakens.
In my opinion many (hardcore) fans share George’s sentiment. There was nothing new. The movies also didn’t break any new ground on the technical front, they were just “more of the same” when we talk about modern day blockbusters.
On the other hand you can also understand Iger and Disney, the prequels, while successful, had not really set the world on fire at the box office, the movies following The Phantom Menace had somewhat underperformed and, most importantly, fan reaction had been quite negative, at least by a very loud vocal group of fans.
That being said it is my opinion (and it’s just an opinion, not “fact”), that Disney drew all the wrong conclusions from the prequel fan reaction. Fans were not disappointed because of the overall story or the new designs and new settings, most fans who have a problem with the prequels criticize the dialogue, the acting and some minor plot points, but not the overall story or setting and scope.
Also, to say that Lucas didn’t understand the pressure of making a new Star Wars movie is perhaps not the wisest thing Iger writes here. If anyone understands the pressure then most certainly Lucas, who had made six Star Wars movies before, and who had suffered serious health problems during the Original Trilogy because of the immense pressure.
So Disney decided to play it safe by basically remaking A New Hope and looking back I would say Iger is not entirely wrong, Force Awakens made a lot of money and is still a movie liked by most fans, the movie is highly entertaining.
However, all the issues of the sequels have their origin in Force Awakens. The undoing of anything the OT achieved, the undoing of most (maybe all) character arcs for the original characters. The copycat plot structure. The much too similar designs.
Toy sales declined precipitously after The Force Awakens for a reason. Whereas Revenge of the Sith managed to make about as much money off the toys as The Phantom Menace, only The Force Awakens toy sales reached the same heights, and not even that when you adjust the numbers for inflation, then The Force Awakens toys made about 2/3 of the money Phantom Menace toys brought in.
However, George certainly eventually learned to accept Disney’s direction, he is used as a consultant by Lucasfilm. If George was genuinly angry or still disappointed he could have always said “no” when asked for advice, which he didn’t. Also, rumors say George Lucas is much more involved with The Rise of Skywalker.
But the question remains if maybe on occasion George Lucas regrets selling Lucasfilm. However, Lucas would most likely not have made new movies or live action tv shows. He’s not getting any younger and he was quite disillusioned after the prequels, because of the fan reaction, some of whom now want George back, which is somewhat ironic, in my opinion. But that ship has sailed. Star Wars is a Disney property and we can only hope that even though Iger still thinks The Force Awakens accomplished what they set out to do, that both Disney and Lucasfilm learned the right lessons from the fan reaction this time – and that future movies will be all new, all fresh and maybe even break some new ground when we talk about the moviemaking process. Something George always put emphasis on. It would be in his spirit.
Update – Bob Iger on George Lucas and his initial unwillingness to attend the Force Awakens premiere:
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, Melody Hobson, convonced 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 film 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.
This sounds as id no actual non-disparagemen clause was included and instead both made a gentlemen’s agreement. I wonder if Bob Iger felt that George hurt the letter of his non-disparagement gentlemen’s agreement when he made the “White Slavers” comment in December 2015. But it’s obvious now why George will probably never talk publicly about his true feelings about the Disney Star Wars movies. But it seems George came really close to breaking that gentlemen’s agreement back in 2015 when the disappointment was still fresh.
It also makes you wonder if George appears at certain events, like the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, because of a contractual obligation and if his heart is really in it. At least he gets paid handsomely, the deal made him a very, very rich man, after all.
How do you see things now after reading the passages from Bob Iger’s book? Kudos to him for being so open about it all. He must have known that many fans would use it to feel justified in their criticism of the sequels.
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