by Jia Hao
- Introduction to Lucasfilm Ltd.
Lucasfilm Ltd., a film production company founded by George Lucas in 1971, is well-known for its creation of blockbusters and leadership in the visual and sound effects industry. The Star Wars series and the Indiana Jones series are its best-known films. George Lucas is the current chairman of Lucasfilm, and in July 2012, Kathleen Kennedy was announced as the Co-Chair of Lucasfilm, in preparation for George Lucas’s retirement (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Micheline Chau, the former President and Chief Operating Officer, retired in September 5, 2012 (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). On December 21, 2012 Lucasfilm was officially acquired by The Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.).
2. Divisions of Lucasfilm Ltd.
Lucasfilm Ltd. is made up of seven divisions: Lucasfilm, Lucas Digital (comprised with Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound), LucasArts, Luscas Licensing (comprised of Lucas Learning and LucasBooks), and Lucas Online (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucasfilm specializes in film and television production and promotion (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Their famous features include American Graffiti, the Star Wars film series, Indiana Jones series, the Star Wars TV series, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (TV), etc. (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is the leader in motion picture visual effects industry. It was established in 1975, aiming to serve the production of the first Star Wars film, and ended up producing visual effects for the entire entertainment industry (Industrial Light & Magic, n.d.). ILM “has been awarded 15 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, received 23 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards and was the recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 2004” (Industrial Light & Magic, n.d.). Skywalker Sound, on the other hand, focuses on sound effects and editing for the entertainment industry (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucas Licensing, formed in 1979, aims to license and merchandise for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other Lucasfilm projects (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.), and it became “one of the most successful film-based licensing programs in history” (Company History, para. 10). LucasArt, founded by George Lucas in 1982 as Lucasfilm Games, was a video game developer and publisher (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.), which has created Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Monkey Island games, etc. After Lucasfilm Ltd. was acquired by Disney, LucasArt was altered to be solely a game licensing company (Terdiman, 2013). Lucas Online, established in 1997, is responsible for the management of Lucasfilm’s online content and business (Lucas Online, n.d.).
- Lucasfilm’s Film Productions
Lucasfilm excels at producing science fiction and action genre films (e.g., Star Wars and Indiana Jones), and incorporating advanced visual effect technology into their films. Their famous piece Star Wars I: New Hope, released in 1977, was a gigantic hit among the entertainment industry and was the highest-grossing movie at the time it was released. The entire Star Wars series is the biggest and most phenomenal franchise ever accomplished by Lucasfilm, and the success of Star Wars makes it possible for Lucasfilm to work on other features and develop other divisions. Also, the groundbreaking technologies created by Lucasfilm was also aimed to serve the Star Wars’ world of fantasy, which had later become the icon of modern film technologies.
Analysis of Star Wars:
Star Wars is an epic space opera franchise. The entire series consists of two parts: the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. The original trilogy depicts the war between the Galaxy Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Luke Skywalker, belonging to the Rebel Alliance, is the main hero of the movies. His adventure of how he is called, trained, and honed in various wars runs through the original trilogy. The prequel trilogy tells the story of Anakin Skywalker, the father of Luke Skywalker, and how he was chosen to be a Jedi Knight and finally falls to the dark side, becoming an evil villain.
As a prominent piece of American popular culture, Star Wars has influenced an entire generation. The universe it depicts and the ideas it sells has inspired fierce discussions among viewers. It triggered thoughts about free market and government corruption, being counter hegemonic in the sense of challenging neoliberalism (Ward, 2013). Neoliberlism, according to David Harvey (2005), is “a theory of political economic practices that propose that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Ward, 2013, para. 7). This sounds so natural to us because the idea of free market has already embedded in our society and culture. However, George Lucas sees the existing inequality and potential dangers generated by neoliberalism, and he uses Star Wars to convey his critiques and concerns about such ideas (Ward, 2003). He believes that “free market infringes upon representative democracy” (Ward, 2013, para. 20). In Star Wars, imperialism defeats democracy, taking over the universe. People suffer from government corruptions and social inequalities. What privatization has brought to the society, whose interests it sacrifices and whose interests it serves to are clearly represented in the Star Wars world. As put by Ward (2013), “Lucasfilm is illustrating the ways free market ideology is poisonous to representative democracy” (para. 14).
(See more about this topic at: http://makingstarwars.tumblr.com/post/56366431753/star-wars-neoliberalism-lucasfilms-critique-of-free)
Although it is true that the Star Wars series holds many political implications and critiques of our human world, encouraging thoughts about wars, free trade, government corruption, etc. (Thornton, 1999), the film is still an oversimplification of reality, and is ideological in many ways. As a science fiction and war movie, the Star Wars series has a background of a far-away galaxy, which is far from the reality of human society like most of the science fiction movies are. The major conflict that exists in this fictional society is simplified as conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance or the Galaxy Republic and the separatist force. To solve the conflict, war is the only way, since negotiation will never work, just as Wright (2013) indicates that “Genre films address these conflicts and resolve them in a simplistic and reactionary way” (p.41). Advocating militancy is always the ideology in such films, and Star Wars is not an exception. Violence is a must, since the logic is that “if you’re not with me, then you are my enemy,” and you must be exterminated, suggested by Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Heroism and individualism permeate in the films, too. Luke, the main character in the films, is full of power and potential. He is always super smart, brave, attractive and lucky, etc., possessing ubiquitous power and qualities needed for triumph over all tough situations. He is doomed to assume the responsibility of saving the galaxy.
Another ideology conveyed in the film that sounds ridiculous to me is the emphasis of detachment (Brin, 2002). A qualified Jedi Knight, according to the film, is supposed to be independent of feelings. They should not fall in love or “get attached to things,” because one becomes vulnerable to temptation from dark power if he or she cannot “let things go” (Brin, 2002, para. 14). Such things are presented in the films as mom, girlfriend and wife, etc. It is understandable that a hero should stay rational, but is it necessary to advocate detachment? Is the movie trying to tell people that to be a hero they should not care about their families and love (Brin, 2002)?
It is also surprising to see that some of the good Jedi Knights use the Force power to control some of the “weak-minded,” pushing them to “believe or act in a desired way,” thus to gain convenience to get through some approaching troubles (Akin, n.d., “Jedi mind tricks,” para. 1). Despite the fact that mind-controlling is impossible, even if it is possible, is it morally acceptable? Is it the hidden message that if you are powerful enough you can control those who are not, and such behavior is justified if you have a seemingly just reason? Such a hegemonic ideology is dangerous if it is embedded in people’s minds.
(Definition: Hegemony, Ideology)
How much impact the spirits and values in films pose on the audiences is always a popular topic in the realm of media studies. An interesting thing is that Star Wars has actually inspired a religion to be built called Jediism. The followers are not just fans that merely dress like Jedi, presenting a Comic-Con. They are actually very serious and dedicated. They believe in the power of the Force, adhere to Jedi codes, do meditation exercises and other practices, etc. This should be a great manifestation of how the world depicted in popular media can affect the society at large.
- Production, Marketing and Management Strategies
Lucasfilm has been so successful in producing high-grossing movies and cultivating their movie fans of generations. Rather than creating movies, they actually have created an entire universe of fantasy. The operation of the company and the strategies they have employed all serve to build their virtual universe.
1. Developing Cutting Edge Technologies
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lucasfilm has revolutionized the entire film business. 3-D computer animations are first developed by Lucasfilm in 80s when Pixar was still its computer graphic department at that time. EditDroid, an editing program enables movies to be edited on a computer instead of via manually cutting and splicing actual films was also developed by Lucasfilm, which is the cornerstone of modern nonlinear editing. When George Lucas was not satisfied with how his movies sound, he let his company to develop THX movie and theater sound system which later became widely used in movie theaters. Not to mention visual effects, of which Lucasfilm has set the industry standard. The technology and techniques initiated by ILM were the foundations of modern film visual effects industry. Lucasfilm has always been standing on the most cutting-edge media technologies, providing audiences with experience that exceeds their expectations.
Check out works of ILM:
2. Conglomeration, Integration and Commercialization
Started as a film production company in 1971, Lucasfilm has expanded tremendously since its success in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. As mentioned above, its division, Industrial Light & Magic, the biggest name of current visual effects industry, creates visual effects for a large number of Hollywood blockbusters. Its sound effects company, Skywalker Sound is also on the same track (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucasfilm has also stepped into other lucrative media fields for larger profit. The huge success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones leads the corporation to dig into the television industry, producing Star Wars and Indiana Jones TV shows, which has gained great popularity as well. They also established LucasArts (used to be named as Lucasfilm Games) to produce Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, as well as other popular elements like Monkey Island Series (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). The ancillary products of the films like Star Wars toys and books have brought Lucasfilm overwhelming benefits. Lucasfilm is also well-known for its strict control over its licensing business, and hanging onto the licensing rights has successfully keep their franchises their own for potential future merchandising profits. Lucasfilm surely has noticed the synergy effect of integration, making every effort to exploit the potential value of their successful products and to cross-promote their various business. However, it seems that Lucasfilm is sort of lingering on their existing brands, being more interested in exploiting their remaining value instead of moving forward to create a different one. They focus primarily on their Star Wars series, producing sequel and prequel, games, toys, etc., while they actually possess the ability to generate a new brand. Also, Lucasfilm seems to favor producing commercial films with fantastic visual effects and distinct characters. Such a phenomenon may correspond to Croteau’s (2003) idea that “integrated media conglomerates seeking the benefits of what industry insiders refer to as ‘synergy’ are likely to favor products that can best be exploited by other components of the conglomerate” (p. 44). From such an insight we can reasonably predict that Lucasfilm will keep focusing on producing blockbusters, especially after it was acquired by Disney.
3. Acquisition by Disney
Lucasfilm Ltd. was acquired by Disney in December, 2012, under a 4 billion dollar purchase. There are great opportunities for both parties associated with this acquisition. Lucasfilm will serve as a great resource for Disney, since its Star Wars series has an extensive audience and carries numerous ancillary products (Yu, n.d.). Disney, as the biggest media conglomeration, excels at media business marketing and branding (Yu, n.d.). Therefore, Disney will surely further expand the market of Lucasfilm’s products. As suggested by Nachman (2012), “Disney can further integrate the characters from Lucas’ worlds into their productions, parks, and merchandise. Lucasfilm can continue to leverage these brands down new avenues” (para. 6). Also according to Nachman (2012), “Though the Star Wars franchise constantly reinvents itself by utilizing new platforms (Lego video games, animated television series, conventions) to breathe new life, Disney’s ownership will help ensure we never see a ‘dry spell’ in Star Wars-related entertainment” (para. 11).
It is reasonable to believe that the acquisition will enable Lucasfilm to move further, but there is also a great likelihood that Lucasfilm’s products would become even more commercialized under its media giant parent, Mickey Mouse. The enduring production formula of conglomeration cross-promotion, big budget and super stars has been remodeling film culture into a slothful and fickle one (Yu, n.d.). In order to reach maximum profit and most extensive audiences, production companies prefer imitation rather than creation. They shift their eyes to every possible profit instead of story itself. A conservative and commercialization ideology is dominating film production, which may finally alter film into advertising (Yu, n.d.). Under such a circumstance, it is a real hardship for Lucasfilm not to follow such an ill trend. We are looking forward to see how Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise is moving on when new talents are taking over the universe.
Akin, J. (n.d.). The Star Wars films: Moral and spiritual issues. Retrieved from http://www.decentfilms.com/articles/starwarsissues
Brin, D. (2002). Commentary on Attack of the Clones: The Star Wars debate continues. Retrieved from http://www.davidbrin.com/starwars2.html
Company History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lucasfilm.com/inside/history/
Croteau, D. (2003). Media society: Industries, images, and audiences. Thousand Oaks,Calif: Pine Forge Press.
Industrial Light & Magic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lucasfilm.com/divisions/ilm/
Lucasfilm Ltd.. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lucasfilm_Ltd
Lucas Online. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lucas_Online
Nachman, B. (2012). Disney in depth: Disney to acquire Lucasfilm, an analysis from the Disney fan perspective. Retrieve from http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2012/11/01/disney-in-depth-disney-to-acquire-lucasfilm-an-analysis-from-the-disney-fan-perspective
Terdiman, D. (2013). Disney shuttering LucasArts, moving to licensed games model. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-57577786-235/disney-shuttering-lucasarts-moving-to-licensed-games-model/
Thornton, M. (1999). Star Wars revisited. Retrieved from http://mises.org/daily/277
Ward, J. (2003). Star Wars & neoliberalism: Lucasfilm’s critique of free market capitalism. Retrieved from http://makingstarwars.tumblr.com/post/56366431753/star-wars-neoliberalism-lucasfilms-critique-of-free
Wright, J. H. (2003). Genre films and the status quo. In B. K. Grant (Ed.), Film genre reader III (pp. 42-50). Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press.
Yu, S. (n.d.). “Big brand and role-based authorization,” the significance of acquisition. Retrieved from http://news.mtime.com/2012/10/31/1500359.html