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Disney adds Star Wars to its galaxy

Oct. 31: Adding another marquee pop-culture property to its roster, Walt Disney Co. has agreed to pay $4.05 billion to acquire the company that controls the blockbuster Star Wars franchise — allowing Disney to exploit the brand through film, television, consumer products and theme parks.

With the purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd., Disney plans to churn out new Star Wars movies every two or three years beginning in 2015 with Star Wars Episode 7, Disney chief executive Bob Iger said in conference call with analysts late yesterday. The acquisition surprised rival studios, especially 20th Century Fox, which has released all of the live-action Star Wars movies since the 1977 original. Executives at Fox and other studios said they were not even offered a chance to bid for Lucasfilm, the San Francisco company founded and owned by filmmaker George Lucas.

But it's unlikely anyone else would have paid more than Disney, which can make use of Star Wars characters throughout its sprawling media and consumer empire, analysts said.

Disney already has Star Wars-related attractions at four theme parks. “No other company is as well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity as Disney is,” said RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank.

The acquisition is another high-stakes gamble for Iger. Since taking the helm in 2005, he has transformed Disney from a company that developed and produced its intellectual property in-house to one that spends billions to buy popular characters. The Burbank company purchased Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion and Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion.So far, the deals are paying off. Although Iger was criticized by some for overspending, the acquisitions have generated billions of dollars in revenue through such mega-hits as Cars and The Avengers.

The studio's track record outside of Pixar and Marvel has been mixed, marred by such box-office flops as John Carter and Mars Needs Moms. “Nobody, not even George Lucas, can just go out and create another Star Wars,’” Wunderlich Securities media analyst Matthew Harrigan said. “By the time Bob retires, I think people will be confident they're going to see more consistent performance from Disney's movie studio.” Iger said that although Disney is also getting Lucasfilms’ well-regarded special effects and sound units, the deal was all about acquiring the Star Wars property.

 
 
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