The Star Wars Negotiations and Trust at the Negotiation Table

Learn how Disney and George Lucas handled negotiations over Star Wars and why building trust in bargaining scenarios is key to successfully negotiated agreements

By on / Business Negotiations


What is a negotiation in business? Negotiation research has identified it as a process of building trust at the bargaining table while using effective strategies to create, and claim, more value out of the negotiation for both parties.  Back on October 30, 2012, the Walt Disney Company made a bold leap into the world of fantasy movies with its surprise announcement that it was acquiring Lucasfilm, home of the immensely successful Star Wars brands, from its founder, George Lucas, for $4.05 billion, split evenly between stock and cash. They underwent negotiations with Lucas, who is the sole shareholder of his company.

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Negotiations in Business: How to Build Trust with your Counterpart

The acquisition bolsters Disney’s status as a leader in animation and superhero films, the New York Times reports. Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009 and Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion in 2006. It also gave Disney the opportunity to reap huge earnings from the already highly lucrative Star Wars media and merchandising empire.

Since becoming Disney’s CEO in 2005, Robert A. Iger has aggressively expanded the company beyond its traditional niche in animated films for young children and theme parks. Iger has arranged to transition from CEO to a lesser role with Disney in March 2015.

Fans of the Star Wars franchise – known for their loyalty and zealotry – were thrilled by Iger’s announcement that Disney would begin producing and releasing new films in the Star Wars franchise every two or three years. The acquisition even included a detailed script treatment for the next three Star Wars films.

In addition to the Star Wars brand, Lucasfilm gave Disney the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise and Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas’s special-effects company. But Disney’s chief financial officer told the Times that Disney’s financial calculations behind the purchase were almost based entirely on the future earnings of the Star Wars series, which is already represented in Disney’s theme parks.

This deal offers further confirmation of Disney’s willingness to make bold bids to expands its big-ticket content. Its $4 billion deal with Marvel paid off almost immediately with film hits such as Marvel’s The Avengers, which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide.

Lucasfilm’s merchandise licensing revenue currently comes primarily from toys sold in North America. Disney is planning to expand the licensing business to international markets.

The 68-year-old Lucas stepped down as head of his company and serves as a consultant as it joins Disney. Lucas decided to sell his company after beginning to plan his retirement several years ago. In a past interview with the Times, Lucas revealed that he was tired of the pressure of living up to the expectations of Star Wars fans.

“Why would I make any more [films] when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” he said.

According to Iger, he and Lucas conducted the negotiations personally, beginning early in 2011. Speaking of Lucas’ decision to hand over his creative legacy to Disney, Iger acknowledged to the Times, “There was a lot of trust there.”

 The acquisition of Star Wars by Disney illustrates the importance of building trust when dealing with a powerful counterpart. To gain the trust of a wary partner, follow Iger’s formula. (For more information on building trust in integrative negotiations, see also: Integrative Negotiations, Value Creation, and Creativity at the Bargaining Table).

Negotiation Tactic for Building Trust 1. Send in the big guns. 

  • Iger won over Lucas’ trust by showing that a Lucasfilm purchase was worthy of his personal attention.

Negotiation Tactic for Building Trust 2. Be patient.

  • Iger and Lucas conducted their deal over the course of a year and a half. Remember, it takes time to prove you’re trustworthy.

Negotiation Tactic for Building Trust  3. Give them a role.

  • By asking Lucas to include treatments for new Star Wars films in the deal, Disney showed him that it planned to build on his vision rather than replace it.

What have the Star Wars negotiations taught you? Let us know in the comments.

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Related Business Negotiations Article:

Top 10 Negotiation Stories of 2012 – Here are some of the top negotiation case studies from 2012. From business negotiations to crisis , these stories illustrate the highs (and lows) of bargaining.

Dealmaking: Top Ten Business Deals of 2013 – The top ten business negotiations of 2013 featuring both integrative negotiation strategies and hard-bargaining negotiators from a range of industries.

Originally posted in 2014.

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No Responses to “The Star Wars Negotiations and Trust at the Negotiation Table”

  • Ultimately though the “treatments” provided by Lucas were ignored and completely new stories were developed which has left Lucas angry as shown in numerous recent news articles. So did Iger just ask for the treatments to make Lucas “think” they wanted his inputs, knowing full well Disney was going to do whatever it pleased?

    • I think that it is important to remember exactly *why* Lucasfilm awarded Disney the Star Wars franchise in the first place. I don’t think that it is important for the original treatments to be absolutely obeyed by Disney following the transmission of the deal. I think what the article is attempting to demonstrate is that Robert A. Iger really took his time and accomplished an amazing administrative acquisition for Disney with the deal with Lucas. The three tactics he used – attraction, patience, & inclusion – gave both companies a way to adapt to the forthcoming changes after the deal was traded. I don’t think that the treatments really mattered as much as the deal itself. I can’t wait to see what Disney does with the new franchise!

  • Brandon B.

    Just a correction, the acquisition took place on Oct. 30 2012 not 2013.


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