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The end of an era: Lucas Animation laid off three members of its ‘Star Wars’ team

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In the history of Star Wars, The Force is strong with this man. In the wake of his loudest hit, Lucas Animation was nearing the end of the line. The studio’s then-CEO Phil McNally and chief creative officer Kevin Deters started an informal startup group called Vader Inc. They called it “a group of misfits” and used the company’s logo — a tank — to make its first distribution deal with the Walt Disney Co.

Lucas was full of ideas and inventions. He discussed a ship for the Millennium Falcon. He suggested his story line for “Star Wars” was the origins of global capitalism. He wanted to do a video game based on the “Star Wars” universe. He wanted to build a series of virtual “neighborhoods” where users could create their own video games.

On March 18, 2010, the night after the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Deters gathered the team in his office.

“Phil McNally … described the young, struggling garage-style company that had been created in the shadow of George Lucas’ shadow, just a few years before. He described how things had moved along during that time, and he told us that we were all about to see how far we could go,” write writer Aydin Senkut and the former Lucas Animation creatives Micah Ellman and Robyn Gross in their upcoming book “WeWork: Inside the Hired Revolution.” “Phil asked us if we believed that we could break into the very big company at the top of our industry.”

Deters (pictured above) told McNally that the company “would be fun,” which meant “easy money,” according to Ellman, Gross and Senkut. McNally said he would make sure they received their fair cut of profits. Deters’ reaction surprised him: “I said it was too easy.” McNally said he saw “no value in this project.”

Maybe he just forgot that one of his best friends at Disney was also one of the executives who had to manage the company’s $1.4 billion in new debt from Lucas Animation’s acquisitions of the “Star Wars” franchise.

Lucas called the “Star Wars” product “greatest thing Disney has ever done.” But he urged Lucas Animation to stop with that claim because it was “bogus.” The amount of money in the new “Star Wars” trailer is “disappointing,” he warned. He said the only people who would read the final version of that trailer are those who had already rented tickets to watch it.

The next day, McNally summoned McNally and Deters to Disney’s offices.

“After two more blows to our dreams, we stood at the window on the eighth floor, and Phil McNally said, ‘By the way, your two best friends have quit.’ ”

The three, along with their new creative director, Julian Flores, were laid off in May 2010 — three months after the internal Lucas Animation team disbanded.

Lucas Animation was still making sequels to “Star Wars” movies as recently as 2013, when Lucas sold the company to Disney. But the times were changing at Lucasfilm.

Lucas, now 72, re-emerged as a social media celebrity with his verified Twitter handle @StarWars. Disney had already sold Lucas Animation to Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, and Lucas was working on the new “Star Wars” trilogy after selling Lucasfilm to Disney.

Eager fans looking for a glimpse of the future of “Star Wars” may remember Lucas’s plans to return to a licensed-to-nonprofits style of licensing, first revealed in his 2011 book “They’ll Love You When You’re Dead.” But the post-public-stock-market Disney needs to make more money than Pixar did, so Lucas will only be able to take part in the Disney movies he has pushed others to make.

With Lucas’s most recent film, “Red Tails,” released a few months ago, it is clear that he is no longer focused on making films. Still, Ellman said in an interview that the book “Star Wars” will continue to draw legions of fans — something that Lucas did in his head, even during his writer-directing reign with “Lucasfilm.”

“His love of ‘Star Wars�

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