This just in: Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) has upgraded the next Star Wars movie before shooting even starts.
Disney's Lucasfilm division just removed screenwriter Michael Arndt from the Star Wars: Episode VII project, and the new names are enough to flood the film department at your local college in expectant drool.
Director J.J. Abrams will go beyond just directing and producing the film, throwing in his considerable screenwriting experience for good measure. Lawrence Kasdan steps up from a mere creative consultant to a fully credited writer.
If the gravity of these selections hasn't sunk in yet, here's why Star Wars fans should get excited about the news.
Abrams is an Emmy-nominated writer from his days of penning Lost and Fringe, two TV projects with definite touches of the fantastic. He has already rebooted the Star Trek film franchise to strong reviews. It's hard to find a writer more qualified for this particular job.
Except, you could just look at the guy right across the table. Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, widely seen as the best films in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, respectively.
Wait -- what about the silly ewoks?
Yes, Kasdan also penned the less impressive Return of the Jedi, but always said that he bent to Star Wars creator George Lucas' will. Don't blame the Ewoks on Kasdan, and he had nothing to do with Jar-Jar. And George Lucas only gets credit for dreaming up the characters (and some creative consulting) in Episode VII.
As a lifelong film buff in general and Star Wars aficionado in particular, I can only applaud Disney for making this move. This takes guts, but it's exactly the right thing to do.
Arndt is a brand-name writer in his own right, with an Oscar statue to his name. We're about to see his sci-fi chops next month, when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire makes its debut. Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF-A) is putting one of its most valuable franchises into Arndt's hands, albeit under a pseudonym and seemingly subordinated to novel author Suzanne Collins and Slumdog Millionaire scribe Simon Beaufoy.
But you know, Ardn't Oscar was for Little Miss Sunshine, and his next best-known work is Toy Story 3. Hardly the perfect setup for a Star Wars career, even if it's all high-quality work.
The Foolish takeaway
So yes, this is a big upgrade that moves the next Star Wars movie in exactly the right direction. It's true that Disney probably could slap the Star Wars name on the phone book and call it a script, and lines would still go around the block for the first midnight showings. The Phantom Menace still collected more than $1 billion in global ticket sales, despite terrible reviews. Even Episode III: Revenge of the Sith scored $850 million worldwide, after firmly establishing the shoddy quality of the prequel series.
But that's short-term thinking. Disney doesn't work that way.
Disney thrives on top-notch content. Invoke the inner kids and the fanboys in every viewer, and they'll flock to sequels, theme park rides, themed cruises, and plastic lunch boxes for years to come. Disney invested a cool $4 billion in Lucasfilm, and this creative change will most likely ensure that the third Star Wars trilogy pulls its billion-dollar weight at the box office -- and the park, and the toy story, and the ...
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