George Lucas will become the second-largest shareholder in Walt Disney Co after selling his production company Lucasfilm Ltd, which made the multibillion dollar franchise Star Wars, to the entertainment group in a deal worth more than $4bn
Walt Disney also revealed it will release at least another three Star Wars films, the first as early as 2015, as part of the transaction.
Star Wars feature films have earned a total of $4.4bn in global box office sales to date and continue to be one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. By purchasing Lucasfilm, Walt Disney will also acquire all related products since the production company became a lead product licensor in the US in 2011.
Lucas, the sole owner of Lucasfilm, will receive around $2bn in cash as well as 40m Disney shares.
Walt Disney will also own the rights to a number of new business models, including digital platforms, and will "put the acquisition in strong alignment with Walt Disney's strategic priorities for continued long-term growth," the group said in a statement.
"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next," says George Lucas, Chairman and CEO of Lucasfilm. "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.
"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. 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."
Despite Star Wars being the linchpin acquisition, Walt Disney will also acquire Lucasfilm's operating businesses in live action film production, consumer products, animation, visual effects, and audio post production, and take over a substantial portfolio of cutting-edge entertainment technologies.
Following the announcement, the parties confirmed that the present intention is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations. Kathleen Kennedy, current co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will become president of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn.
Lucasfilm , headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound.
The deal is the latest in a long line of lucrative acquisitions made by Walt Disney, including Toy Story creator Pixar in 2006 and comic book powerhouse Marvel in 2009.