George Lucas
George Lucas

Walt Disney Co. has made a major purchase-- following its earlier acquisition of Pixar and Marvel Entertainment-- by scooping up George Lucas's Bay Area Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. This means that Disney and its theme parks will own many rights to Lucas's "Star Wars" franchise--in its myriad forms.

Kathleen Kennedy recently moved up to the Bay Area to take over running Lucasfilm as president, as Lucas had planned to step back from hands-on running of the sprawling empire which includes top VFX house Industrial Light & Magic, which Disney will retain. She will continue as president and report to studio chairman Alan Horn.

Lucas has given Disney a detailed treatment for a new trilogy of future 'Star Wars" films, the first of which ("Episode 7") is in development now for release in 2015. The valuation of this purchase is based on the future revenues of new "Star Wars" films--and all the licensing and merchandising, expanded theme park rides and so on. They plan a new "Star Wars" film every two to three years.

The last "Star Wars" film, "Revenge of the Sith," came out in 2005. In that year Lucasfilm generated $550 million in operating income. In a conference call, Disney chairman Bob Iger loved the idea of banking on an established popular brand, and compared the purchase to Marvel. There is even more opportunity for growth internationally for Disney than with Marvel, as Disney will take over the third parties that handle Lucasfilm consumer products overseas.

Disney reports that about a quarter of Lucasfilm's business is the film studio-based business, a quarter consumer products, games are less than 20% and the rest is other businesses, based on 2011 revenues. Disney will stick to their plan to release one to two Marvel films a year (and say they are pleased with where they are three years in), one Pixar animated film a year, one Disney animated film a year, and four to six live action films; "Star Wars" would take one of the annual live action tentpole slots.

The "Star Wars" films at Twentieth Century Fox and "Indiana Jones" at Paramount are somewhat encumbered, although Disney said this was less so than many of the Marvel encumbrances. Fox does not have future distribution rights to "Star Wars." Iger started talking to Lucas about a year and a half ago and once they decided to go forward with a sale, they negotiated to close the deal. Lucas will effectively retire, but he will serve as a consultant, especially on the development of the new trilogy. "'Star Wars' is one of the great entertainment brands of all time," said Iger. "We like 'Star Wars'' potential in TV as well."

Here's the Disney release.