Twenty-two years ago, in the breakfast room at the Main House at Skywalker Ranch, I sat down to lunch with George Lucas and Bob Iger. Bob was then head of ABC, and George was pitching him on a new TV series called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. ”It’s an educational show, Bob,” I remember George saying. “Nobody will watch it.” I cringed. Not exactly the best way to sell a show. But Bob said, “I don’t care. I’ll take that chance.” True to his word, Bob Iger stuck with Young Indy for two seasons, through critical success and ratings failure. In the process he won George’s trust and forged a relationship that would pay huge dividends far in the future.
A decade or so before that, I met Kathleen Kennedy, a friend of George’s and an upstart young producer. In 1981, she brought two top secret Steven Spielberg projects to ILM (their first work ever on productions outside of Lucasfilm): Poltergeist and a script so hush hush it went by the code name “A Boy’s Life,” for fear that its real title, E.T., would give it all away. She was a precocious whirlwind, having only a year before been credited as “Mr. Spielberg’s associate” on Raiders of the Lost Ark — instantly likeable, and even back then, a force to be reckoned with.
In the intervening years, Kathleen, Bob, and I each followed different but intertwining paths. Kathleen went on to become one of the most successful and respected producers of our time, with films like Jurassic Park, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Lincoln to her credit. Bob became CEO and eventually chairman of the Walt Disney Company and took the company to soaring new heights. I was fortunate enough as head of Licensing at Lucasfilm to work with George on the re-launch of Star Wars in the early ‘90s, culminating in the prequels and The Clone Wars, to become the multi-generational phenomenon it is today. Our paths would cross many times in those years, with Kathleen most recently when she served as executive producer of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and with Bob as our presence in the Disney theme parks grew, through Star Wars Weekends, Jedi Training Academy, and now the fantastically re-imagined Star Tours attraction.
Today, George Lucas — the same force that brought us together in the first place — has brought us together once again in a much more profound way. He and Bob have signed an agreement for the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney and he has recruited Kathleen to run the company and oversee the making of a new slate of Star Wars films. Kathleen, in turn, has asked me to give up my recent semi-retirement and return to the company full-time to assist her in the heady task of managing the Star Wars franchise.
When Kathleen asked me if I would come back, it took me all of a nanosecond to say yes. Life at Lucasfilm had suddenly gotten vastly more interesting. I knew that we were in the midst of negotiating the Disney deal, and I believed that Disney would be the perfect home for Lucasfilm given George’s imminent intention to step away. I knew Kathleen well and was enormously excited to work with her. But, more than anything, the prospect of being involved with a new trilogy of Star Wars films made by a new generation of filmmakers was nothing short of exhilarating for me.
Star Wars has been my life’s work. I started my career at Lucasfilm in 1980, the week that Empire was released. I have been intimately involved with every Star Wars film since then, and have helped shepherd the franchise through three generations of fans. I authorized and then oversaw the creation of the Expanded Universe. I re-launched Star Wars toys after nearly a 10 year hiatus. I brought LEGO into the Star Wars fold. To say that I am passionate about Star Wars would be a gross understatement.
I would not have come back unless I truly believed that we were doing the right thing for Star Wars and, even more fundamentally, that we were entrusting its fate to people worthy of that trust. I believe in Bob and his teams at Disney. I believe in Kathleen. And I believe in George and our company. My faith isn’t blind. It’s based on knowing these people for decades, knowing their talents, their achievements, their integrity, their commitment. For many of the pundits analyzing the Disney deal, we are often little more than abstractions based on resumes and numbers on a page. But for me it’s much more. My faith is the product of my life experience, what I know from living and working with the folks to whom the torch has been passed, who will now share responsibility for keeping the Star Wars flame burning bright.
I didn’t have to come back, but I did. And I, for one, am enormously excited about the future.