In Disney CEO Bob Iger's memoir The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, released Monday, Iger reflects on Star Wars creator George Lucas feeling "upset" and "betrayed" upon learning Disney intended to "go in another direction" and forgo using his plots for the sequel trilogy following the company's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm.
"At some point in the process, George told me that he had completed outlines for three new movies. He agreed to send us three copies of the outlines: one for me; one for [Walt Disney Company Senior Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary] Alan Braverman; and one for [Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney Studios] Alan Horn, who'd just been hired to run our studio," Iger recounts. "Alan Horn and I read George's outlines and decided we needed to buy them, though we made clear in the purchase agreement that we would not be contractually obligated to adhere to the plot lines he'd laid out."
Iger continues: "He knew that I was going to stand firm on the question of creative control, but it wasn't an easy thing for him to accept. And so he reluctantly agreed to be available to consult with us at our request. I promised that we would be open to his ideas (this was not a hard promise to make; of course we would be open to George Lucas' ideas), but like the outlines, we would be under no obligation."
Iger then details meeting with Lucas, screenwriter Michael Arndt and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy at Skywalker Ranch to "talk about their ideas for the film."
"George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren't using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations," Iger recalls.
"The truth was, Kathy, [The Force Awakens writer-director] J.J. [Abrams], Alan, and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn't what George had outlined. George knew we weren't contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we'd follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded," Iger continues. "I'd been so careful since our first conversation not to mislead him in any way, and I didn't think I had now, but I could have handled it better. I should have prepared him for the meeting with J.J. and Michael and told him about our conversations, that we felt it was better to go in another direction. I could have talked through this with him and possibly avoided angering him by not surprising him."
Iger then admits, "Now, in the first meeting with him about the future of Star Wars, George felt betrayed, and while this whole process would never have been easy for him, we'd gotten off to an unnecessarily rocky start."
Disney's sequel trilogy ultimately incorporated ideas that resembled Lucas': Lucas once envisioned a female Jedi Padawan, "Kira" — eventually materialized as Daisy Ridley's Rey — and an aged and exiled Luke Skywalker, played by a returning Mark Hamill. The story between an in-training Rey and reluctant teacher Luke in Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi was inspired in part by Lucas' original concepts, with the "Jedi Killer" character imagined by Lucas earlier being realized as The Force Awakens villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Lucas commented on his plans for the sequels in 2018. As Lucas told it, the trilogy was "going to get into a microbiotic world," exploring a "world of creatures that operate differently than we do."
"I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force," Lucas said. "If I'd held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did [Episode I of Lucas' prequel trilogy] Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told."