It’s not exactly privileged information that Star Wars creator George Lucas isn’t happy with the way Disney has handled the franchise. Shortly after the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, Lucas was already voicing his displeasure, saying the studio’s “retro” approach clashed with his vision for the films and comparing Disney to “white slavers” (for which he later apologized). But his objections began long before he saw the finished film, as Disney CEO Bob Iger has now revealed.
In his new memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company (on sale now), Iger relates Lucas’ troubled relationship with Disney and its plans for Star Wars. When the studio acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney also purchased Lucas’ story outlines for three new Star Wars films, “though,” Iger writes, “we made clear in the purchase agreement that we would not be contractually obligated to adhere to the plot lines he’d laid out.”
And adhere they did not; as Lucas has previously revealed, Disney discarded his stories, deciding to take the new films in a different direction. When he met with writers J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt to discuss The Force Awakens, Iger writes, “George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren’t using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded. I’d been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way, and I didn’t think I had now, but I could have handled it better.”
“George felt betrayed, and while this whole process would never have been easy for him, we’d gotten off to an unnecessarily rocky start,” Iger continues. And the situation did not improve much. Upon seeing the completed film, Lucas “didn’t hide his disappointment. ‘There’s nothing new,’ he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, ‘There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.’”
Iger adds that Lucas “wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars….We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do.”
Of course, Disney’s approach reaped massive rewards, with Force Awakens earning more than $2 billion worldwide. Lucas’ involvement in the new Star Wars films has been minimal, though Abrams, who directed Force Awakens and this December’s trilogy-closing The Rise of Skywalker, told IGN in April that he met with Lucas before writing the Skywalker script.