Did you hear? Disney just announced that it's buying "Star Wars" — I mean Lucasfilm — for $4.05 billion. That sounds like a lot, but people are already raising questions about whether the financial upside to owning one of the most famous entertainment franchises of all time is really there for the Mighty Mouse and Disney CEO Bob Iger.
We have two main lines of thinking. One is that, in the context of Disney and Iger's previous blockbuster acquisitions — Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006 and Marvel for $4 billion in 2009 — Lucasfilm, even if it comes with an influential special effects operation, looks curiously undervalued. I noted this in my post yesterday when I observed that Disney, in announcing the deal, tallied the all-time film grosses for "Star Wars" at $4.4 billion. That's just movies. Wouldn't that mean - when you take into account all the toys and games and just endless amounts of Star-Wars-y stuff - that the property is worth billions more?
George Lucas, who has seen the Star Wars franchise go from revered cultural touchstone to virtual punchline, may have accepted a lowball bid in an effort to wash his hands of the series altogether. But I doubt it. We won't know for sure until Disney reports LucasFilm's financials, but it seems to me that Lucas may have gotten the better deal here.
The other line of thinking is that there's no way that "Star Wars," an aging franchise with an aging fan base (people like me who still thrill to the John-Williams composed theme music every time we hear it), is worth $4 billion. The purchase price really represents a bargain, as George Lucas offloads the company he built at the highest possible valuation he can get for it right now, leaving Disney to figure out how to tap into the difference between $4 billion and $30 billion.
Who's right? The proof will probably surface when "Star Wars" Episode 7 hits screens in 2015. If it's a massive reboot, perhaps with a flashy name-brand director attached, Disney will be off and running, assuming it's a hit that draws in new, younger audiences. Such a result would suggest that Iger & Co. got Lucasfilm for a steal.
Otherwise, the future of the deal will a long, hard slog, with Disney using the "Star Wars" brand and its universe of characters and stories — the intellectual property — to add dimensions to Disney theme parks, gaming experiences, and possibly even television content.