Two weeks ago, it was announced that Disney will acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. I learned about the news when I heard my ABC7 iPhone app ping the headline. My immediate reaction was excitement, and then I went straight to the internet to learn what the exact details of the purchase was. I quickly discovered the two videos below featuring the two men at the core of the announcement. They pretty much said in the videos all I wanted to know about what led to this amazing announcement.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi.
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise.
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
The Muppet Christmas Carol theatrical trailer
The Muppet Christmas Carol debuts on high definition home video this coming Tuesday, and it's by far one of my favorite holiday movies and movie versions of Dickens' classic novel. There are two Blu-ray Disc editions coming out this week, the standard version and an exclusive Amazon edition that adds a DVD of the film with your purchase.
Now while doing my normal due diligence researching stuff about this new Blu-ray, I learned something new about the movie itself. I found discussion going on at the boards on Blu-ray.com that was ablaze many angry and upset posts from fans who wanted --- in fact, demanded! --- that Disney add back a scene to the movie that was cut from the film.
There was a scene cut from the film?! Apparently, there was, and it was news to me.
The scene in question involves the song "When Love Is Gone". It was included when director Brian Henson submitted his final cut of the film to Disney. But when Disney screened it, they apparently felt the scene, featuring young Ebenezer's fiancee singing a ballad as she ends their engagement, slowed the pacing of the story down quite a bit and worried that the youngest kids in the audience wouldn't enjoy it. So, Disney elected to cut it. And with the scene removed, that's how the film was shown when it first debuted in theatres at Christmas time in 1992.
However, when the movie was first released on home video a year later - on VHS and on Laserdisc - the "When Love Is Gone" scene was added back in! Years later when it debuted on DVD, "When Love Is Gone" continued to appear in the newest release. The only difference was that while the Laserdisc presented the film in its full widescreen glory, the VHS and DVD versions presented it in (that really awful, icky, waste of space) Pan & Scan (or Fullscreen) format. So for years, fans of the film grew up enjoying The Muppet Christmas Carol with "When Love Is Gone" in the movie, just as the director intended, without realizing they were watching essentially the extended Director's Cut of the film, not the actual, original theatrical cut.
But apparently, the same will not be the case when it debuts on Blu-ray this week.
The official discussion thread for The Muppet Christmas Carol on Blu-ray.com's forum board is filled with posts from fans who are livid that the upcoming Blu-ray release will feature just the original theatrical cut, with no inclusion whatsoever of the "When Love Is Gone" scene on the Blu-ray, not even as a deleted scene. And many of those upset fans have gone so far as to post email addresses and snail mail addresses of those to contact at Disney and let know their disappointment about the omission of the scene, even tho' Disney is technically accurate when it claims to be releasing the original theatrical cut.
Now, Disney and Muppet fan that I am, I don't actually own a copy on DVD. I passed on getting any of the DVD releases because I saw that "Fullscreen" notice on the back of both titles, and I am just not a fan of the Pan & Scan format. But I have seen the film several times over the years and even own a rare original CD copy of the soundtrack. And I was looking forward to finally owning it on Blu-ray. But I'll be honest, with all the brimstone and fire being spewed at Disney from rabid, admittedly uber-geeky, diehard fans online, I've pushed the pause button on buying it right away. I wondered, "Would I prefer the extended cut on Blu-ray or would I be fine with the theatrical cut on it (for now)?"
And of course, I couldn't think it through without watching the "missing" scene in question. So here it is.
So if everything I've read so far is true, this scene will be missing when you buy the Blu-ray Disc this Tuesday. Instead, those watching the original theatrical cut will apparently reach a jarring transition as that scene is edited out, perhaps someplace after the dialogue scene between young Ebenezer and Belle outdoors at the park. But again, it is the version that Disney first released when it went out to theatres.
Like I said, I have the soundtrack, so I'm very familiar with that song, having played it more times than I've actually watched the movie. And being the collector-type guy that I am, it probably goes without saying that I'd prefer to have the scene included, as a deleted scene at the very least. At this point, I haven't yet found a review of the new release online to offer anymore insight. But rest assured I'll be looking forward to reading those reviews. And maybe you will too.
Or not! :)
P.S. - While doing research for this blog, I came across a great video explaining the difference between Widescreen and Pan & Scan or Fullscreen format. I linked to it up above, but I felt it was too good a video not to force feed to you. Even as we adopt the widescreen format flatscreen TVs, I still read about folks annoyed by the black bars on the top and bottom or sides of movies they watch on DVD or Blu-ray. Here's why that happens, and why I absolutely love widescreen and understand and accept the black bars thing. Learn and enjoy!
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!