The Billion-Dollar Mashup: Disney Buys Lucasfilm

There is one thing that Disney does better than anyone: monetize intellectual property. It isn’t easy to build an empire on the back of a rodent (trust me, I’ve tried) but Walt pulled it off. Now, with its newest acquisition, Disney is ready to expand beyond its earthly properties.

As you know, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4B ($4.05B if you count the change under the sofa cushions). It gets the Star Wars (and the probably moribund Indiana Jones) franchises, as well as the movie companies LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound. The brilliant acquisition follows in the successful footsteps of Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, also for $4B in 2009, and Pixar for $7.4B in 2006.

Buying money-making machines — and integrating them into its own money-making machine — is a Disney specialty. First, obviously, there’s the movies. The original films can be endlessly recycled. Interestingly, Fox has distribution rights to the original film in perpetuity, and Disney can’t touch the other oldies until after May 2020. But Disney has already announced Star Wars: Episode VII, Drunk Ewoks Jello-Wrestle with Yoda. It will be coming soon (well, 2015). After that, who knows? George Lucas has treatments for three more films, but his romantic epic interstellar view is getting awfully creaky. New writers might have better luck with a new direction.

There’s also TV. Disney can jam Star Wars into the Disney XD network. What the heck, they could start a new all-Star Wars-all-the-time channel. There’s also merchandising. Lucasfilm will generate $215M this year in merchandising fees. And you thought lunch boxes were small potatoes. No one — and I mean no one — sells lunch boxes better than Disney. With Star Wars, they’ll collect merchandising fees until the end of time, or until Disney has all the money in the world, whichever comes first. Probably the latter.

Don’t forget theme parks. Disney already has Star Wars attractions in its parks, but clearly once you own the cow, the milk is much cheaper. This means that you and your kids will stand in even longer lines in Orlando in July. The sales of straw hats and cold sodas alone will surpass the $4B price tag.

Finally, there’s gaming. That includes gaming on consoles, as well as social and mobile gaming. Lucas has already licensed a Star Wars edition of Angry Birds (I am not making this up). I mean, seriously, Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber as the red bird, Princess Leia with hair buns as the pink bird, Obi-Wan Kenobi as the bomb bird… Well, like I say, for Disney it’s all about milking the cow. May the Monetizing Force be with you, Goofy.

The future of the franchise aside, Lucas seems to have turned away from the Dark Side in earnest, pledging the $4B to charity.