Disney, 'Star Wars' are out-of-this-world match

George Lucas and the Disney family

George Lucas and the Disney family (October 31, 2012)

Those "Star Wars" nerds are a persnickety bunch.

They castigated George Lucas for little tweaks to his original films before special-edition DVD releases. A light saber's glow was deemed too pink, a newly computer-generated Yoda was widely panned, and adding blinks to the hollow stares of Ewoks was considered blasphemy.

"Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" Lucas told The New York Times earlier this year.

If anybody can handle the rabid fanboy, it's Disney, where dealing with extreme aficionados is as routine as cleaning the toilets in Cinderella Castle.

That's just one reason why the Walt Disney Co. purchase this week of Lucasfilm for $4 billion makes all the sense in a fantasy-inspired world.

I can't help but think that this was the deal Disney was looking for when it announced last year that it licensed James Cameron's "Avatar" for a new, $500 million land inside Animal Kingdom.

"Avatar" may have been visually stunning in the moment, but when the theme-park land and the film sequel open in 2015, will anyone care?

I can't remember a single line of dialogue or even the names of the huge blue people in "Avatar."

But "Star Wars" trivia comes as easily to me — only a very casual fan of the series — as the very hummable chorus of "It's a Small World."

"May the Force be with you," Han Solo told a young Luke Skywalker.

To transform Avatar into the mega-franchise Disney is after with all the trappings of spin-off potential and endless consumer products, it might take something even stronger than the Force.

It will be a whole lot easier to sprinkle a little pixie dust on an already wildly successful "Star Wars" and watch the money roll in.

Disney says it plans to release three more "Star Wars" films, with Lucas as a creative consultant and his No. 2, Kathleen Kennedy, as the producer.

In the eyes of the nerds and some film critics, Disney couldn't possibly foul up the series more than Lucas already did with his prequels that went off the rails with the grating Jar Jar Binks.

Sure, there's an outside chance the movies could go the way of "John Carter," a rare example where the Disney marketing machine broke down and the film flopped so hard the top studio executive was fired.

At least "Avatar" can boast that it beat "Titanic" to become the highest-grossing film.

But "Star Wars" has two things an unproven "Avatar" franchise does not: a more than $20 billion empire of consumer products and a track record inside Disney parks.

The Star Tours attraction, a mainstay at Hollywood Studios, was renovated and reopened last year. The Jedi Training Academy live show also at Hollywood Studios is popular. And the Star Wars Weekends at Disney draw huge crowds, including a new generation of young kids who are latching on to the franchise.

It seems only logical that "Star Wars" would be a prime candidate for a full-fledged land inside a Disney park. The series' selection of recognizable and well-loved characters along with the distinctive scenery from the films would seem the perfect fit for an immersive experience to rival competitor Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Potter is still a fresher brand, but at least Disney has shown it can generate interest among kids in "Star Wars," which Lucas has said was always meant for children more than those prickly devotees who pick apart every last departure from the originals.

Maybe there is a scenario in which "Star Wars" is completely played out and "Avatar" becomes the superstar.

Maybe in a galaxy far, far away ...

bkassab@tribune.com or 407-420-5448

CHICAGO

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