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Oh my gosh. You create the social equivalent of nuclear fusion when you combine the people who are obsessed with Star Wars and the people obsessed with Disney. The Walt Disney Company is apparently willing to take that risk. In a move that surprised industry observers, Disney announced yesterday it is buying Lucasfilm, the studio founded by George Lucas and home to the Star Wars franchise. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports there are already plans for a new "Star Wars" movie.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Disney will pay more than $4 billion in stock and cash for the studio founded and solely owned by George Lucas.
BOB IGER: George Lucas is a true visionary and an innovative epic storyteller, who has defined modern filmmaking with unforgettable characters and amazing stories.
DEL BARCO: Disney chief executive Bob Iger in a taped statement on the Disney website.
IGER: The Star Wars universe now has more than 17,000 characters inhabiting several thousand planets and spanning 20,000 years. And this gives Disney infinite inspiration and opportunities to continue the epic Star Wars saga.
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DEL BARCO: The saga continues with a new Star Wars movie - episode seven, for release in 2015. Iger also said Disney will expand the presence of the franchise at its theme parks and with even more merchandise, games, and TV.
BRIAN LOWRY: This certainly came out of the blue. And I think actually once they get past the modest shock of it, I think people who are fans of Star Wars should have a pretty good feeling about this.
DEL BARCO: Brian Lowry is a columnist and critic for Variety.
LOWRY: There was certainly no talk that Lucasfilm was eager to sell or had been shopping the assets. So this came as a kind of a wow moment for everybody. I think once you read about the deal, it made all the sense in the world. You know, George Lucas wasn't getting any younger, but he certainly wasn't in any position where he had to sell or there was any pressure to do this.
DEL BARCO: Lowry says Disney is making a shrewd investment, and he notes the company paid similar amounts to buy both Pixar and Marvel. That comic book imprint's characters grossed $1.5 billion for Disney through last summer's hit "The Avengers."
Disney will have to negotiate with Paramount to release future Indiana Jones sequels. But the Mouse House will put a roof over Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound. They created the distinctive look and sound of the Star Wars movies and have done similar work on a number of other films outside the Lucas empire. Disney will also get the mythical complex that houses Lucasfilm's operations: Skywalker Ranch in Northern California.
GEORGE LUCAS: I've been a big fan of Disney all my life.
DEL BARCO: George Lucas also taped a statement for the announcement. In it he explained that he's retiring to make more experimental films.
LUCAS: The match of what our two companies are is just perfect, because we're like a mini Disney. It'll give me a chance to go off and explore my own interests, at the same time feel completely confident that Disney will take good care of the franchise I've built.
DEL BARCO: Having said in the past he was disenchanted with the film industry, Lucas now says it's time for him to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. That includes Kathleen Kennedy, who he handpicked to replace him as president and who will continue under Disney. They've worked together for four decades on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.
LUCAS: The main reason I brought Kathy on is I needed somebody I trusted who could take that franchise and make it work the way I intended it to.
DEL BARCO: Lucas says they've already started working with writers for a new Star Wars trilogy, starting with the release of the next film in 2015.
LUCAS: We could go on making Star Wars for the next 100 years.
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DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.