Death to Star Wars and the Mickey Mouse! Not literally, of course. Mickey doesn’t need to guest star in an episode of Itchy and Scratchy or Happy Tree Friends and get hacked to death by a hatchet made from his own leg bones. He doesn’t need to be fed a vial of acid and have his innards melt away into a pool of intestinal gravy. The same for the Star Wars universe. Nobody really wants to see an accidental light saber mishap take off the head of Old Man Solo or Crank Skywalker and put an end to the future of the Jedi. We’re not speaking literally here, just figuratively. And not really about death either, just public domain. I think it’s time for Mickey Mouse, and perhaps even Star Wars, to enter the realm of public domain. It wouldn’t be a death, it would be the gift of immortality.
Reports are coming out stating that Disney is closing LucasArts, the video game studio and publishing wing of George Lucas’ now deposed empire. Actually it was just conquered by an even more powerful empire, the Kingdom of Disney. Here’s some attribution to prove I’m not just making it up. This one. That one. And this one over here.
The reports are pretty sparse on details, but they do all seem to share the same sentiment. The future development of Star Wars games is in danger or heading for a radical change, including those already well into production, such as Star Wars 1313. Disney hasn’t really made their intentions clear when it comes games set in the Star Wars universe, just that it intends to focus on licensing their newly purchased franchise, which LucasArts used to do as well, and of course the new trilogy of movies.
It’s not a secret that Star Wars games haven’t had much of a role in the latest generation of gaming. Bioware did their MMO thing with Star Wars: the Old Republic, but that was PC only. The Force Unleashed was notable but hardly a classic and only received mixed reviews. Star Wars: Kinect…was a Kinect game. Star Wars: Battlefront 3 hasn’t seen the light of day. Beyond that, there haven’t been many notable or triple AAA Star Wars releases for gamers to enjoy. And don’t post a comment mentioning Angry Birds Star Wars. That belongs in the same category as Star Wars: Kinect. You know, the kind of game that deserves to be personified into an animal caricature, like a fluffy bunny, or a silly bird, only to face a Happy Tree Friends style of death. Or people could just pretend they never existed.
Disney got away with some sort of miracle, or perverted and twisted manipulation of capitalism in 1998 when it lobbied on behalf of a proposed extension to intellectual property rights: CTEA – Copyright Term Extension Act. It’s sometimes referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, in that it prevented the iconic character form entering public domain and thus not allowing Disney to profit from the use of the character. I’m not a lawyer, but apparently Wikipedia is, and they can explain the law in better detail. It’s this kind of law and perverse twisting of capitalism that should worry gamers now that Disney has a firm grasp on the Star Wars franchise. They are ominously quiet about the status of Star Wars 1313, and many fear that the supposed ‘hardcore/adult themed’ Star Wars game does not match with the Disney family friendly branding that it’s known for. Disney had a hand in many things that never seemed like Disney, as in Touchstone Pictures. They were responsible for movies like Rushmore, the Royal Tennenbaums, and the mega-tastic non-Disney but really Disney classic, Pearl Harbor. Maybe Disney will create a Touchstone Pictures version of a video game studio, while keeping all the same employees and all the progress made on Star Wars 1313. Maybe, but probably not.
Public domain simply means nobody owns it. It was only meant to last 50-75 years past the date of death for the original creator. In the case of Mickey Mouse and Disney, it was 50-75 years after the death of Walt Disney, possibly the last person with any creative backbone within the company. Since then it’s been nothing but accrue, acquire, capture, purchase, and steal (I’m looking at you Kimba the White Lion and Osamu Tezuka!) But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be a company or have the right to compete in the marketplace of ideas. It just might be a healthier marketplace if there were more robust public domain laws. That’s a big if. It would likely be easier to invent a whole new country, lobby for UN recognition, partner up with Palestine on the list of wanna-be nations, then write new intellectual property laws rather than change the old ones.
Mickey Mouse deserves to enter public domain more than Star Wars. It wouldn’t really be a death, but a true ticket to immortality. The Grimm’s Fairly tales didn’t die, and without Disney they probably would have. But under the direct control of some company, let’s say created by the original Brother’s Grimm or whoever really made those stories, we’d have 150 years of stories where women cut off parts of their feet to fit into shoes, and kids were constantly getting eaten by wolves and old ladies living in the forest. Not that those stories would be a bad thing, kids definitely deserve to be eaten sometimes, but public domain can sometimes spur creativity and open up new areas of artistic interpretation where over-protective corporations cannot.
Star Wars should probably go into public domain as well. The franchise has been milked long enough. Movies, TV, toys, music, games, and an entire sub-culture of geek orthodox fanboyism. Under the direct control of the original creator, George Lucas, the second Star Wars trilogy didn’t measure up to the first. How can another company do any better? Same story, same characters, same IP, but new found success?. It could happen, but is unlikely. Public domain would encourage creativity and free up the Star Wars brand to a Shakespearian-like interpretation. I don’t mean some one will make a Shakespeare version of Star Wars (doth though have the force too much?) But new movies and video games could flood the marketplace, all freely using the name Star Wars. In a sense, anyone doing yet another Shakespeare update, or new Sherlock Holmes, or a new take on the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is writing a fan fiction. That’s the whole point of public domain.
Under Disney, strict control of such a massive and popular IP could stifle the industry, not just in the Star Wars universe, but entertainment overall. Disney, with direct control of Star Wars, and it’s policy towards developing content, which is to basically not developing anything at all, just buying it, is the very antithesis of what capitalism is intended to provide for society and consumers. Capital means stuff, or the value of that stuff. New stuff. New ideas. New interpretations. Disney’s version of Star Wars could be great, but if it isn’t, where else are you going to go? Bioware? Mass Effect? At least some one is getting it right.
This is only the opinion of an exiled gamer, living in Japan, still trying to complete all the secondary and secret objectives in every mission of X-Wing and Tie Fighter. Discard, condemn, rebuff, deny, or attack as you see fit.