May The Force Be With Us

George Lucas' bold decision to turn over "Star Wars" to Disney offers a new hope of saving – and extending – the franchise's legacy.

In “The Return of the Jedi,” Darth Vader goes from Dark Side bad guy to enlightened hero by giving up his life to save his son, Luke – a powerful scene in theaters, but one that doesn’t play quite as well on the 2011 Blu-ray version in which the former Anakin Skywalker screams, “No!” with his final heavy breath.

Fans can – and do – blame George Lucas for that insertion and other post-original-movie fiddling (Han shot first!), along with the three not-so-beloved prequels released between 1999 and 2005. But it’s time to put a moratorium on the Lucas bashing and give him credit for making a sacrifice worthy of his darkest creation: His bold (and lucrative) decision to turn over "Star Wars" to Disney offers a new hope of saving – and extending – the franchise's legacy.

Some embittered fans, no doubt, will see the $4.05 billion sale this week of Lucasfilm to the Mouse House as the biggest sellout yet by Lucas, who hasn’t been shy about milking “Star Wars” for big bucks over the years, via everything from action figures to altered movie rereleases. Many also likely fear that Disney’s plans to produce at least three sequels beginning in 2015 – 38 years after the Millennium Falcon first zigzagged into our cinematic consciousness – will further dilute the memories of the classic original three films.

But we’re choosing to see opportunity in Lucas’ surprise and risky move. Strong new films could allay the collective angst spurred by Episodes I to III. Weak new entries could blow what remains of our collective “Star Wars” faith to smithereens in Death Star fashion.

Recent non-“Star Wars” fantasy movie triumphs offer some reason for optimism. Christopher Nolan reimagined and revitalized the Batman movies two decades after Tim Burton’s initially edgy take rescued the comic book hero from the campy reputation imprinted by the 1960s TV incarnation. The “Harry Potter” flicks benefited from changes in directors as the series matured and grew darker.

This is not your grandfather’s Disney. In the post-“Beauty and the Beast” and Pixar era, Disney has forged a solid track record in its faithful, yet forward-looking reinterpretations of everything from “The Muppets” to “The Avengers.” The key, as we saw with the big-screen rebirth of Jim Henson’s and Stan Lee’s babies, is putting the material in strong creative forces who grew up with the characters and are determined to use new storytelling technology to recapture the spirit of the originals. As Lucas aptly put it in a news release issued by Disney Tuesday, “It’s now time for me to pass ‘Star Wars’ on to a new generation of filmmakers.”

Lucas deserves kudos for releasing his Vader-like death grip and putting what could be his final redemption largely in the hands of others, as he assumes more of a Yoda-like role. The “Star Wars” series exerts a strong hold on fans, who have come to feel a partial ownership of the films and characters. It’s time to give the fans – younger filmmakers, among them – a chance to use The Force in a bid to succeed where many believe Lucas failed in later efforts.

The results, hopefully, won’t leave us screaming, “No!”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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