Star Wars: The Rights Unleashed

Let’s travel to the studio of Lucasfilms in the summer of 1977. George Lucas had just finished filming Star Wars: A New Hope. Struggling to find someone to take his film to theaters he turned to Paramount films to distribute to their large theater chains. Paramount was skeptical of the premise, at the time Paramount was skeptical of a futuristic fantasy sci-fi film. Similar films had been unsuccessful up until this point, so Paramount shot Lucas down. Struggling even more Lucas took the film to 20th-Century Fox. (Fox: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/tangled-rights-could-tie-up-384541) Fox was willing to take a leap on the film but required that Lucas sign over the rights to the film in perpetuity. Feeling this was his only chance to get the film out to the public Lucas signed over the rights to the first film. This, is where a series of issues have made the retail of the beloved saga a logistical nightmare.

Star Wars CastFast forward to 2012. Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion acquiring all of their work, except for the first 6 Star Wars films. Fox helped distribute the first 6 Star Wars films holding the physical distribution rights until 2020 (2020:http://www.slashfilm.com/20th-century-fox-still-owns-rights-to-first-six-star-wars-films-making-original-box-set-difficult/). They also still hold all rights for the first film.

In this new day and age digital distribution has taken the reins from the mighty TV and Film distribution companies by allowing people to select what they want to view and when they want to view it. So, when it came to the rights of the Star Wars films the original deal between Fox and Lucas had no way of knowing that their films would eventually hit the internet and be distributed through these new avenues. When Disney bought Lucas Films they also bought the digital distribution rights to the last 5 movies of the saga.

Walt Disney Star Wars LogoNotice how I said the last 5 movies? When Fox gained the rights to the first film they gained the entire intellectual property in perpetuity. So in order for a complete saga to be released Fox and Disney had to come to a deal that allows them to distribute the series together. On April 10th 2015 the two came to an agreement and have allowed for the distribution of the entire saga as a whole on digital distribution. The entire trailer brings about a giddy sense of wonder (at least for me).

So let’s talk about the future. In 2020 the last five films for the series will make their way back to Lucasfilm (aka Disney). By this point Disney is planning to have not only the next three films in the saga distributed, but they are also planning to have the the first three branch off stories done as well (http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-03-07/how-disney-bought-lucasfilm-and-its-plans-for-star-wars#p2). Adding another six movies to the lore of the Star Wars universe should bring about a new era of merchandising and dedicated fans.

But, in order for the entire twelve-film box set to be released, a deal between Disney and 20th Century would have to be reached. Disney wishes to capitalize on the full girth of their newly acquired property but no box set would be complete without the original film. Fox on the other hand knows that they hold the key to a powerhouse of distribution revenue. Only time will tell how these two giants will work out their issues, but one thing is certain, they people want a complete box set.

Thomas Winkelman

One thought on “Star Wars: The Rights Unleashed

  1. Honestly, I’m not as excited about the new Star Wars films. Please don’t shoot! However, I wouldn’t mind getting a piece of those distribution rights. I wonder how long it will take for one of those giants to fold and get what they’re asking for. I wonder if this will change how deals are made based on the advancement of technology. Who knows what channel content will be viewed through in another 40 or so years.

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