How Did George Lucas Get So Rich Off A Film Nobody Wanted Anything To Do With?
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There is little point stating just how hugely successful Star Wars is. That's just something you know, like you know that dogs can't look up and that Leicester City won the Premier League.
It is in a way a perfect example of supply and demand, if it wasn't, Disney wouldn't have paid George Lucas $4 billion for the rights to the entire franchise.
People will always want to see a Star Wars movie, even after the crushing disappointment of the prequel trilogy, everyone longed for 'The Force Awakens' and the majority were happy with it. Yes, there were some who moaned it was 'A Newer Hope' but leave them to fester in their own misery, don't feed the trolls.
Once upon a time though, in the early 70s, that wasn't the case. George Lucas knew that the people would want Star Wars, but no-one around him wanted anything to do with the project.
At the time, Lucas had worked on the script for 'American Graffiti' and various studios had passed on it until it finally got made at Universal. During this period Lucas had been working on an untitled science fiction movie, with plans of it to be a saga in multiple installments. When Universal finally agreed to greenlight 'American Graffiti', Lucas had finished the script for 'Star Wars', Universal had the option to say yes to it, but they passed on it.
The story goes that Lucas had no interest in just giving the movie to the highest bidder, he wanted nothing to do with anyone who wouldn't give him full control of letting him make a sequel.
Tom Pollock, the former Universal Pictures chairman, was Lucas's attorney during this time and last year he spoke to Deadline about how it all went down.
"What he said was-and you have to remember that George has an innate suspicion of Hollywood studios-"the worst thing that can happen to me is that I couldn't make the sequel, or I couldn't do the rest of the series if the first one worked. So you have to make sure that I have the ability to do that." That part fell on me.
"So instead of taking more money or other things, he used the success of 'Graffiti' for that. I want to emphasize that none of this was because he knew that 'Star Wars' was going to be so successful. It was all about, "I don't want to not have the ability to make the movies I want to make," and have it get lost in what today is called development hell."
Fox said yes to 'Star Wars' and Lucas demanded to retain the rights to the sequel, and he was granted them.
Pollock stressed again that it wasn't about the money at this point: "It's important to remember that none of the original deal came out of money as those who know something about it might think. It came because George just wanted to be able to make the movies he wanted to make. So we closed the deal, and 'Star Wars' got made and it's a humongous hit; the biggest movie of all time, at the time."
When it came to making 'Empire', Lucas decided that LucasFilm would fund the production of it themselves, effectively reinvesting all the money 'A New Hope' made back into the franchise.
In return LucasFilm would be given ALL of the merchandising rights on the movie, "the deal that was offered to Fox was, you get distribution rights theatrically and video around the world for seven years, and we retain everything else. And, by the way, we want the merchandising back. Fox had started with the merchandising in that first year, or two, and did very well too. He wanted the merchandising back as of the time 'Empire' came out. That meant soundtrack albums, music publishing, television, all rights other than the rights we were granting to Fox under this deal."
This was great for Lucas and terrible for Fox. To get some scope of the Star Wars fever that was sweeping the planet, In 1978, more than 40 million 'Star Wars' figures flew off the shelves for gross sales of more than $100 million, according to THR. All of that more or less in Lucas's pocket.
Now, the entire franchise has brought retailers more than $32 billion in merchandising sales alone - and that number, according to both Lucasfilm and industry analysts at NPD Group, is increasing by at least $1.5 billion per year.
It's unknown how much LucasFilm got to keep of that but it's safe to assume it will be a heck of a lot, hell the six main Star Wars movies have made $4.5 billion alone, according to IMDb.
Since selling the franchise to Disney's Bob Iger in 2012 for $4 billion, it's estimated that Lucas is worth like $5.3 billion.
Effectively, the story of 'Star Wars' is about believing in your own craft, even if others doubt it, and trying to do that the best way you see fit.
Obviously the prequels trilogy suggest that maybe Lucas held onto his control of 'Star Wars' for too long and maybe tarnished the brand.
You'd be wrong though, 'The Phantom Menace' made a whopping $983 million at the Box Office.
Whether Lucas regrets selling his brainchild to Disney is open for debate but he must be proud of the legacy he's created, surely?
If not, maybe he should just count all his money, that's sure to put a smile on his face.
Words by Matthew Cooper
Lead Image Credit: PA
Topics: Star Wars