The Empire Strikes Back

News that Disney and 21st Century Fox have been in talks to merge film studios has been met with every conceivable reaction from movie fans. Fans of Marvel wonder what a merger would mean to the MCU, but there's another fan base that would also be impacted. 20th Century Fox was the company that distributed the original Star Wars trilogies, and while Disney owns Lucasfilm, the company that produced the movies, Fox still has the distribution rights to the original versions of the films. A purchase by Disney would put all rights in the hands of the House of Mouse, which could potentially make some things easier, like releasing the original trilogy in its pre-special edition version.

While Disney acquired most Star Wars related rights when it purchased Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox still has the home video and digital distribution rights for the first two Star Wars trilogies. Many of those rights expire in 2020, so Disney will get them back without purchasing Fox. However, Fox has permanent and complete distribution rights for the original Star Wars: A New Hope. This means that Disney has to deal with Fox anytime the studio wants to release that movie. Fox also owns John Williams' original score for the first film. Clearly, Disney would love to not have to share revenue with Fox from the income generated by Star Wars, so buying the film division of Fox would certainly fix that issue.

For a generation that grew up with Star Wars in movie theaters and on VHS, the 20th Century Fox fanfare that opened the film was as much a part of the score as anything written by John Williams. It was even included in many soundtrack releases. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie to be released in theaters without it and I can't be the only one who felt like something was missing. That same generation has been asking for Disney to release the original, unaltered versions of the original trilogy on Blu-Ray. Rumors that such a thing could happen have persisted for years but never happened. There's no guarantee that it would finally happen if Disney bought 21st Century Fox, but it would certainly become easier for Disney to do.

While it doesn't appear that talks between Disney and 21st Century Fox are currently happening, it does sound like such things could pick up again, meaning that this merger is a real possibility. In addition to bringing Star Wars under one roof, it would also do the same for most of Marvel's film rights as well as add other franchises, like James Cameron's Avatar, which is already part of Disney on the theme park side, to the massive Disney library.

While it's possible that nothing could come of this, it does seem like Fox has decided that the studio can't build a film division that's going to compete with the likes of Disney, so it might as well sell to somebody else and focus on other parts of the business. Wherever this story goes next, we almost certainly haven't heard the end of it.

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