Disney buys Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion

We knew Mickey Mouse had a little Darth Vader in him.

The Walt Disney Co. announced its acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd., the production company behind the Star Wars franchise. Included in the deal is visual affects company Insudtrial Light & Magix, Skywalker Sound (a post-production sound house), LucasArts (computer and video game division), and Lucasfilm Animation, which produces Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which went into weekend syndication this fall via Trifecta Entertainment.

The deal also means the right to make more Star Wars movies – and it was also announced Tuesday Lucasfilm would be making a sequel to Return Of The Jedi with the working title of Episode 7 in 2015 – 32 years after Jedi was released. Two more sequels (tentatively titled Episode 8 and Episode 9) are also scheduled to be released. Founder George Lucas will not be directly involved in the production, but will serve as consultant.

Not included in the deal is existing Lucasfilm product, which is split among several studios, including the six Star Wars movies (News Corp. holds the rights through its 20th Century Fox movie unit), Indiana Jones (Viacom, through Paramount Pictures – though Disney now has the rights to produce future Indiana Jones films), and American Graffiti (owned by Comcast Corp. through Universal Studios.)

It is not immediately known if Disney will assume the rights to Clone Wars, which airs on Cartoon Network, which is rival to Disney Channel and Disney XD.

Kathleen Kennedy, who is currently co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will now become President of the firm and now report to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Below, George Lucas explains why he’s selling Lucasfilm:

News of the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm left many quite stunned as this thread on ToonZone attests.

Founded in 1971, Lucasfilm’s first movie was American Graffiti, followed by Star Wars (now known as Star Wars IV: A New Hope.). The mega-success of the film spawned The Empire Strikes Back and Jedi. In 1999, the first of three prequels were released: The Phantom Menace, followed by Attack Of The Clones, and Return Of The Sith. However, the prequels were critical disappointments compared to the other three films. Thus, it wasn’t surprising there was some mixed reaction about Star Wars coming out of retirement.

This is the second major attempt by Disney to corner the fanboy/fangirl market – in 2009, Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment, which includes the wildly successful Avengers franchise.

And yes, with a Disney purchase comes the obligatory talk of a possible TV show.

Lucasfilm now joins ABC and ESPN in the Disney Portfolio, and thus comes the inevitable cross-promotion. When Episode 7 comes out in 2015, don’t be surprised if Kelly Ripa is cast as Princess Lela. And Darth Vader? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… Chris Berman.