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Earlier this week, the entertainment world was abuzz with excitement following comments from Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher -- also known as Princess Leia.
The rumor mill
But first, here's some background for those of you who haven't been keeping track.
Star Wars rumors have been swirling since last November, when Disney (NYSE: DIS ) acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion and wasted no time announcing plans for a Star Wars: Episode VII movie, slated for release in 2015.
Shortly afterward, a "highly placed source" told Entertainment Weekly that Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were all "upbeat" about the prospects of reprising their respective roles as Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker.
Commence nerdy meltdowns:
Now fast-forward to this week.
When asked during an interview if she could confirm whether she would return to as Leia in the new sequel, Fisher simply replied, "Yes." Then she jokingly suggested Leia will be elderly, "in an intergalactic old folks' home, [and] just like she was before, only slower and less inclined to be up for the big battle."
Of course, Fisher's rep later quickly tried to douse the rumors, insisting she was only kidding about the role.
Meet your maker
Then George Lucas himself stepped out and matter-of-factly told Bloomberg Businessweek that Hamill, Fisher, and Ford are ready to suit up. Apparently, according to Lucas, all three were on board even before Disney's acquisition of his company:
We had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison -- or we were pretty much in the final stages of negotiation. Maybe I'm not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce that with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them. I won't say whether negotiations were successful or not.
It's OK, George. We forgive you.
But this is an investing site, right?
So who wins in this scenario? Arguably everyone.
Aside from the fact Fisher, Hamill, and Ford were almost certainly lured in part by massive paydays, it's safe to say Disney probably knows better than any other company the long-term value of stirring excitement for an iconic brand.
In fact, that's one big reason I recently offered Disney as a viable option for investors looking for stocks to hold for the next 50 years.
If that weren't enough, thanks to Disney's $4 billion acquisition in 2009 of comics powerhouse Marvel -- which boasts its own library of more than 9,000 characters -- the House of Mouse has a whole lot more entertaining it can do, even after pumping out blockbuster hits including Captain America, Iron Man sequels, and The Avengers.
Still not convinced? Don't forget Disney's $7.4 billion acquisition in 2006 of Pixar, which has since yielded massively popular movies, including Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, and Brave.
Going further still, as I noted two weeks ago, putting aside its chunky cinema revenue, Disney owes much of its relative stability to its parks and resorts and media network segments, including The Disney Channel and ABC Family, as well as an 80% stake in ESPN and 50% ownership of A&E Networks.
Finally, after audiences leave the theaters, Disney's also free to mop up the cash through merchandising opportunities with partners like Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS ) , which has historically enjoyed holding the licensing rights to create toys for both the Marvel and Star Wars brands. After all, according to NPD data, total retail sales of Star Wars products have topped $25 billion and the franchise has represented the top toy brand for boys during six of the past seven years. With this in mind, and considering the size of Disney's other acquisitions, it should come as no surprise that Hasbro has had to repeatedly squash Disney acquisition rumors as recently as November.
Alas, even without Hasbro tucked into its belt, there's still plenty to like about shares of Disney -- even as they trade hands at record highs. In the end, it's important to note that's simply what the stocks of truly great companies so often do.
More expert advice from The Motley Fool
It's easy to forget that Walt Disney is more than just the House of Mouse. True, Disney amusement parks around the world hosted more than 121 million guests in 2011. But from its vast catalog of characters to its monster collection of media networks, much of Disney's allure for investors lies in its diversity, and The Motley Fool's new premium research report lays out the case for investing in Disney today. This report includes the key items investors must watch as well as the opportunities and threats the company faces going forward. So don't miss out -- simply click here now to claim your copy today.