Jar Jar Binks, Darth Vader, Mickey Mouse, Goofy and pals may be a box office hit for Marin County.
That's the early word from the North Bay's top economic analyst, who says that Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm could benefit the county in a number of ways.
Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State University professor who serves as CEO of the Marin Economic Forum, added that county business officials need to set up a parley with Disney executives as soon as possible to learn more about corporate plans for Lucasfilm -- and what is in store for the county.
He said Marin must take advantage of economic opportunities and tap into the "major windfall" that resulted this week when George Lucas cashed in his film business in a deal with Disney valued at more than $4 billion. Lucas retains his Marin ranch holdings, most of which are protected from development, aside from acreage he envisions for a low-cost housing project at Grady Ranch.
The Disney deal is bound to boost filmmaking work at Lucasfilm facilities in Marin, as well as others, increasing local digital and post-production work as it spurs filmmaking interest in the county.
Because Lucasfilm is based at the Presidio in San Francisco "with a major piece of real estate around it," it is unlikely it would move south to join Disney in Burbank. "Disney now can tap the talent in San Francisco, at Lucasfilm already, and perhaps use additional space there to expand its other animation and film operations," Eyler said. "Some of that may spill over into Marin County in terms of job creation."
Tim Partridge, CEO of San Rafael's 32Ten Studios, said there is no question the deal will benefit the county's filmmaking community, and cheered news that Disney will make movies continuing the blockbuster "Stars Wars" saga.
"We're excited," he said of his studio crew, adding Star Wars films will be a boon for business, putting many in the film industry orbit to work -- and making sure that those now making movies have plenty more work to do.
Partridge, noting that filmmaking generates jobs ranging from model-making to catering, said Lucas for some time has wanted to retire and make "experimental" films, and now "he'll have plenty of money to do that," endeavors that likely will be based in Marin. "Provided the county embraces him, why wouldn't he do those films here?" Partridge said.
Jim Farley, who oversees cultural affairs at the Marin Civic Center, said the county will continue to be a beacon for creative talent under the new ownership of the Lucas film empire. He noted that Disney creativity has resonated across the county for years, "from collaborative theme park attractions with Lucasfilm to the wizards of Pixar animation that live here and have created a legacy of great family entertainment."
Although Lucasfilm spokeswoman Lynne Hale said Lucasfilm employees "will stay where they are," one Hollywood veteran said he expected the North Bay franchise to move south.
Peter Sealey, former president of marketing and distribution for Columbia Pictures, told USA Today he could not imagine Disney allowing Lucasfilm to operate away from Disney's home base. "I don't see how or why you keep any of this up in that area, it'll all move down to Burbank," he speculated.
Although Disney packs enormous economic clout, much remains up in the air, and Eyler called on Marin officials to act quickly and become players in the latest chapter of the region's "Hollywood North" story.
"There is a great opportunity to draw more of Disney's animation and post-production operations to Marin, but we do not know their plans," he noted. "I think that organizations like Marin Economic Forum, the chambers, the county of Marin, need to consider meeting with Disney and trying to find out more."
One thing is certain: Disney, a public company, must issue financial reports that for the first time will provide a window on Lucasfilm operations, enabling the public to peek into affairs that private citizen Lucas shrouded with a veil of secrecy for four decades.
"The beauty of a public company being in control of those assets is that quarterly reporting will tell us more regularly what is going on versus the white smoke that came from Lucasfilm historically," Eyler observed.
Wall Street was waiting for the smoke to clear before putting its money down on the Disney deal Wednesday, as the $88 billion entertainment goliath lost 2 percent of its market value at almost triple its usual volume in the first trading session after announcement of the buyout. Disney stock closed at $49.12 -- down about $1 -- even though most analysts think Lucasfilm will continue to be a money-making bonanza.