When Film Studies began to be offered as part of undergraduate English in Oxford, sometime in the mid-Nineties, the purist dons would refer to the option as the “Mickey Mouse paper”. “How too hideously Disney” it was for them to have to teach Citizen Kane as part of a course on Modernism that also included Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses. “Disney” stood for everything trendy, commercial and mind-numbing that floated across the Atlantic towards the dreaming spires. Now it is Disney again — the multinational mass media corporation and everything it has come to stand for — that has divided the world into hope and despair about the fate of a cult-classic. Lucasfilm, the maker of Star Wars, has been bought by The Walt Disney Company for more than four billion dollars. It is a deal that promises a new series of Star Wars sequels, together with the various kinds of merchandise that had formed the ‘Expanded Universe’ of the original trilogies. The hopefuls say that the corruption of the pristine Star Wars universe had already begun with its creator, George Lucas, himself, and Disney might just be able to restore to it the delights and profits of classic storytelling. But the grim view fears a takeover of the galaxy far, far away by Mammon and the nerds. Both camps admit that somewhere not too far away from all this inter-galactic drama are large and expanding sums of money.
Certain kinds of fortune and certain kinds of fiction are doomed alike to uncontrollable expansion. They take on lives of their own that burgeon well beyond the lives of their original makers, opening up vistas of commercial and creative possibility that look like the realization of something truly fantastical. Science fiction and fantasy is a genre that spectacularly — and, to some, inexplicably — enacts, within its fictional worlds and in its relations to the market, such vistas of infinite possibility. So, the handing down of a legacy from one generation to the next is a crucial element in the plots of these films, stories and comic books, as well as being the way in which the making and commodification of these fantasies happen in actuality. Mr Lucas sees himself as remaining the creative consultant of the Star Wars films to be made by Disney. But he also describes how, for more than three decades, “one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next.”
Whom do cult objects belong to — as commodities and as cultural artefacts? And how are their endless mutations, their peculiar immortality, to be judged by those who produce and consume them? Unstoppable proliferation, the “Attack of the Clones”, is what fantasy, as a genre, both desires and dreads — as does the world of franchise. The fate of Star Wars remains suspended in the empire of possibilities, which glimmers into being when fictions and fortunes meet.