LOS ANGELES - Walt Disney Co announced Tuesday it is buying "Star Wars" director George Lucas's film company for $4 billion, and plans to revive the classic sci-fi series starting with a new movie in 2015.
The entertainment giant plans a new trilogy in the legendary franchise, launched with the original "Star Wars" movie in 1977, while Lucas himself said it was "time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers."
"Star Wars 7" will be released in 2015, "with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future," said Disney, announcing the deal to buy pioneering movie company Lucasfilm.
In a conference call with investors, Disney said it planned a new trilogy with films eight and nine, after which more "Star Wars" movies would be made every two to three years.
The deal "combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney's unique and unparalleled creativity," said Disney chief Robert Iger.
"Lucasfilm reflects the extraordinary passion, vision, and storytelling of its founder, George Lucas," said Iger, head of global entertainment giant Disney, which is headquartered in Burbank, just outside Los Angeles.
The transaction is valued at $4.05 billion -- based on current stock value -- with Disney paying about half in cash and issuing approximately 40 million shares at closing. Lucasfilm is 100 percent owned by Lucas.
Lucas, who runs his company from its San Francisco base, added: "For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next.
"It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
The first "Star Wars" film came out in 1977, and there have been two trilogies -- three films from 1977-1983 and three prequels from 1999-2005 -- while the brand has expanded into theme parks and a huge merchandising arm.
The movies have earned some $4.4 billion at the box office globally over the last 35 years, and offer "a virtually limitless universe of characters and stories to drive continued feature film releases," said Disney.
"The franchise provides a sustainable source of high quality, branded content with global appeal and is well suited for new business models including digital platforms," it added.
The acquisition comes after Disney's takeover of animated film giant Pixar and comic book character-driven Marvel Studios.
Those deals had "demonstrated the company's unique ability to fully develop and expand the financial potential of high quality creative content with compelling characters and storytelling," said Disney.
Lucas will be succeeded as head of Lucasfilm by his current co-chairman, Kathleen Kennedy, who will report to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, said the Disney statement.
"I'm confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come," said Lucas.
"Disney's reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products," he added.
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