LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co agreed to buy filmmaker George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd and its “Star Wars” franchise for $4.05 billion in cash and stock, a blockbuster deal that includes the surprise promise of a new film in the series in 2015.
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told analysts on Tuesday that the plan is to release a new movie in the series every two to three years thereafter. The last “Star Wars” picture was “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005, and Lucas has in the past denied any plans for more.
Lucas, a Hollywood icon known for exercising control over the most minute details of the fictional universe he created, will remain as a creative consultant on the new films.
“It’s now time for me to pass ‘Star Wars’ on to a new generation of filmmakers,” he said in a statement. Lucas will become the second-largest individual holder of Disney shares, with a 2.2 percent stake.
Disney will pay about half the purchase price in cash and issue about 40 million shares at closing.
“This is one of the greatest entertainment properties of all time,” Iger said. Like Disney’s purchases of Marvel Entertainment and Pixar studio, LucasFilm will “drive long-term value to our shareholders,” he said.
Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said the deal would lower Disney’s earnings per share by a low single-digits percentage in fiscal 2013 and 2014. He also said Disney would repurchase all of the issued shares on the open market within the next two years, on top of planned buybacks.
This agreement marks the third time in less than seven years that Disney has signed a massive deal to take over a beloved studio or character portfolio, part of its strategy to acquire brands that can be stretched across TV, movies, theme parks and the Internet.
In early 2006, Disney struck a deal to acquire “Toy Story” creator Pixar, and in the summer of 2009 it bought the comic book powerhouse Marvel.
“Disney already has a great portfolio and this adds one more,” said Morningstar analyst Michael Corty. “They don’t have any holes, but their past deals have been additive.”
Iger said he and Lucas first discussed a possible sale about 18 months ago. Lucas was pondering his retirement, and Iger was looking to add another well-known brand to the Disney empire. The two signed the deal at Disney’s Burbank, California, headquarters on Tuesday.
“Everywhere I went, ‘Star Wars’ was already there, and sometimes they got there ahead of us,” said Iger in an interview. “I kept seeing that brand and decided maybe we should buy it.”
He told analysts he believed there was “substantial pent-up demand” for new “Star Wars” movies. Each of the last three films in the series would have grossed $1.5 billion in today’s dollars at the box office, CFO Rasulo estimated.
The film’s iconic characters also will boost Disney’s sales of toys and other consumer products, particularly overseas, executives said. Sales of “Star Wars” items such as Darth Vader and Yoda action figures total roughly $215 million a year, Rasulo said.
In 2005, the year the last “Star Wars” film was released, LucasFilm generated $550 million in operating income, Rasulo said.
Disney also will be able to extend the presence of the franchise at its theme parks around the globe, Iger said. The company’s parks already feature rides based on “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” another Lucas property.
“Star Wars” characters also are likely to find a home on the Disney XD cable channel, which is aimed at young boys, Iger said.
Iger wouldn’t commit to keeping the “Star Wars” operation separate from Disney, as he did with Pixar and Marvel.
And Lucas won’t sit on the Disney board despite his 2.2 percent stake in the company, Iger said. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who held a large stake in Disney after it bought his Pixar studio, had a seat on the Disney board.
From a fan’s perspective, critics said there was sure to be at least some excitement at the prospect of episode seven in the saga of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
“Do I want to see more Star Wars movies? Not really, but they’re not making these movies for me,” the film writer “Mr. Beaks” wrote on the well-regarded industry site Ain’t It Cool News. “There’s a whole new generation of Star Wars fans, and they worship the prequels like folks my age worshipped the original trilogy.”
Besides “Star Wars,” the Lucasfilm deal also includes rights to the “Indiana Jones” franchise, though Disney did not elaborate on any plans for that series.
Additional reporting by Michael Erman in New York and Himank Sharma in Bangalore; Writing by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Ciro Scotti