Of Mouse and Man
Barely two weeks ago Disney stunned the nerd world with news of its acquisition of Lucasfilms, the creative benefit of which was almost immediately evident in the wave of Twitter jokes that followed. But that was mere prelude to this week’s post-lude announcement that Disney is planning to release three Star Wars films a year, meaning that they could potentially accomplish in a single calendar year what it took George Lucas more than half a decade to do with his prequels: ruin the childhoods of millions of loyal Star Wars fans.
What this $4 billion transaction really means in the larger scheme of things is that the universe of fantasy heroes is getting smaller. Characters from Disney, Marvel, The Muppets, Pixar, Power Rangers, Winnie the Pooh, and now Lucasfilms all used to live in different creative worlds separated by impenetrable dimensional barriers of lawyers. Now those worlds have collided like the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths to create a single unique copyright holder—the Anti-Monitor of creativity.
Here’s the problem, or as I like to think of it, the thing I’m going to whine about: any creative work you’ve ever loved, from novels to music to movies and art and yes, comic books, has essentially been the result of a creator’s (or creators’) unique vision: from Popeye to Peanuts, Madman to Mad Men, Citizen Kane to The Simpsons, The Hobbit to The Beatles (you get the idea)… and yes, even Mickey Mouse and Star Wars. Whether by accident (Popeye was a minor character in the Thimble Theater comic strip) or design (it’s hard to imagine Tolkien didn’t plan every tiny detail of LOTR with the laser-like focus of an insane person), they represent a clarity of vision completely undeterred by market forces, a cynical bottom line, and the incentive of the Employee-of-the-Month parking spot.
Someone will surely point out that the original visionary in the case of Star Wars gave us three unsatisfying prequels that were almost universally reviled, in addition to being responsible for Al Qaeda, Hurricane Katrina, and a rash of toddlers falling down wells. Fair enough. But now those beloved original assets belong to an entertainment powerhouse whose recent sci-fi efforts include Tron: Legacy, Mars Needs Moms, and John Carter. And if they’re going to try to churn out three Star Wars films a year, Jar Jar Binks is going to have lots of company.
Imagine growing up on a street where one kid has all the best toys, so he’s the boy you play with more than anyone else. Except he sucks at playing—he’s unimaginative and derivative and plays the same silly games every day. (He also wets himself.) So you eventually give up on those awesome toys, but luckily there’s a new kid on the block and he brought his own really cool stuff. And now you’re having fun again, except you’re a little sad that the toys you used to love became so ruined in your memory. So you and your new friend kill the little boy and bury him in the crawlspace under your house.
No! Of course you don’t do that! It’s illegal and frowned upon by polite society. But my larger, nearly coherent point is this: every comic book reader knows what happens when dimensional barriers begin to fall: things can go badly, from Spider-Man discovering Peter Parker is dead to Batman having to battle The Hulk (really?) to Superman fighting alongside the Nestlé Quik Bunny (really!). And the danger to our universe isn’t over, as entertainment conglomerates hungering for intellectual property will continue to gorge on creative entities, and in turn be consumed, like a Russian nesting doll to infinity (and beyond).
Some day a single vertically-integrated behemoth might own all your favorite stuff and it will be too big to kill and bury in the crawlspace under your house, even if your mom lets you stay up late to do it. When that happens, your only recourse will be to wait for someone new with really cool stuff to move into the neighborhood… or go make something awesome yourself. And wait to be absorbed.