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Star Wars Given New Hope In £2.5bn Disney Deal

Disney (NYSE: DIS - news) has agreed a deal to buy Lucasfilm from its founder George Lucas and says it will make a new series of Star Wars movies.

The US entertainment giant, which already owns brands such as Pixar, Marvel, ESPN and ABC, announced it is paying $4.05bn (£2.52bn) for the production company.

It also confirmed it is making Star Wars Episode 7 , which is scheduled to be released in 2015.

Disney said the project would be the first in a new series of Star Wars films, with a new movie being released every two to three years.

The last Star Wars picture was Revenge Of The Sith in 2005, and Lucas had previously suggested there were no plans for any more.

The deal also includes the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise, although Disney did not reveal if it planned to revive the films featuring the action hero, played by Harrison Ford.

Kathleen Kennedy, the current co-chairman of Lucasfilm, will become its president and report to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn.

Analyst Matthew Harrigan, from Wunderlich Securities in the US, said the deal was a good one.

"Lucas wanted Luke and Darth to be in safe hands, and now they will be," he told Sky News.

He said there was room for growth in both the film and merchandising aspects of the franchise - given the popularity of 3D films and Imax (Xetra: 896801 - news) cinemas, and video and social games.

But Mr Harrigan warned that Disney must be cautious about the number of Star Wars films it releases.

"The last Star Wars movie did OK internationally - but not as good as James Bond," he said.

"There's certainly scope to grow, but Disney must be careful not to burn the franchise out.

"Releasing a film every two to three years sounds about right."

Lucas, who created the Star Wars fictional universe and with it one of the most lucrative box office draws of all time, will be creative consultant on the new films.

After the deal was announced he said: "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."

Lucas will become the second-largest individual holder of Disney shares, with a 2.2% stake.

Disney will pay about half the purchase price in cash and issue about 40 million shares to complete the deal.

Chief financial officer Jay Rasulo said the deal would lower Disney's earnings per share by a low single-digits percentage in 2013 and 2014.

He also said Disney would repurchase all of the issued shares on the open market within the next two years, on top of planned buybacks.

The deal marks the third time in less than seven years that Disney has signed a massive deal to take over iconic studios or characters, part of its strategy to acquire brands that can be stretched across TV, movies, theme parks and the internet.

In early 2006, Disney struck a deal to acquire Toy Story creator Pixar, and in the summer of 2009 it bought the comic book powerhouse Marvel Entertainment.

Mr Harrigan added: "This deal is not a slam dunk like Marvel, but it is as good as - if not better than - Pixar."