Bob Iger has opened the Disney vault in his revealing new memoir The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
In his book, which came out Monday, Iger revealed some previously unknown stories, which include Disney’s near acquisition of Twitter, the company’s initial apprehension toward buying Marvel, and behind-the-scenes drama with George Lucas over Star Wars. Let’s get into it.
Disney’s interest in buying Twitter in 2016 was widely known, and if their previous acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm were any indication of how they conduct business, nothing could possibly stand in their way. So, what got in their way? Disney.
In an interview with New York Times, Iger explained why they balked at the opportunity at the last minute. "The troubles were greater than I wanted to take on, greater than I thought it was responsible for us to take on," he said. "The nastiness is extraordinary."
Iger provided a very relatable summation of everyone's relationship with Twitter to further justify his reason for walking away from the negotiating table. "I like looking at my Twitter newsfeed because I want to follow 15, 20 different subjects," he said. "Then you turn and look at your notifications and you're immediately saying, 'Why am I doing this? Why do I endure this pain?' Like a lot of these platforms, they have the ability to do a lot of good in our world. They also have an ability to do a lot of bad. I didn't want to take that on."
Disney, under former CEO Michael Eisner, once raised the idea of buying Marvel Entertainment, but decided against it over concerns that Marvel was "too edgy" and would "tarnish" their brand. "Early in my time working for Michael, I attended a staff lunch in which he floated the idea of acquiring [Marvel]; a handful of executives around the table objected," Iger wrote. "Marvel was too edgy, they said. It would tarnish the Disney brand. There was an assumption at the time—internally, and among members of the board—that Disney was a single, monolithic brand, and all of our businesses existed beneath the Disney umbrella."
"I sensed Michael knew better, but any negative reaction to the brand, or suggestion that it wasn't being managed well, he took personally," Iger wrote of his predecessor.
What may turn out to be the most interesting part of the memoir is Iger's contentious relationship with Lucas over the way Disney has handled his precious Star Wars franchise. Following their acquisition, Iger admits to being receptive to Lucas' ideas for a trilogy, starting with The Force Awakens, but not tied to them.
Lucas was quickly made aware of Disney's intention to move in a direction that was different from what he suggested; he wasn't pleased, but the franchise was out of his hands. "Early on, Kathy [Kennedy] brought J.J. [Abrams] and Michael Arndt up to Northern California to meet with George at his ranch and talk about their ideas for the film," Iger wrote. "George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren’t using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations."
"The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan [Horn, Disney’s film chief], and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined," Iger continued. "George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded."
Lucas' disappointment with their plot for the upcoming Star Wars trilogy was only confirmed after viewing The Force Awakens, which he felt brought "nothing new." Iger recalled, "In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, 'There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.' He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars."
"We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do," Iger added.
Iger announced in April that he will step down as Disney’s chairman and CEO when his contract expires at the end of 2021.