Now, when “Star Wars” became the phenomenon that it did, that’s when things got tricky. The short version of how things shook out for the “Star Wars” sequel is that Lucas once again appealed to the studio’s natural hesitance to spend money and offered to fund the sequel himself if they gave him total control of the rights. He’d sell them the distribution rights, but that was so low a risk for them that if “Star Wars” proved to be a one-hit wonder, they wouldn’t be taken to the cleaners. Lucas would be the one to lose the bank, not Fox.
It’s easy to look back now and see the multi-billion dollars Fox lost out on, but you also have to consider that if Fox had been steadfast and retained the sequel rights, there’s no guarantee Lucas would have stayed involved and “Star Wars” could have gone the way of, say, “Jaws 2” after the auteur left and fizzled out.
But Lucas bet the farm (or, more accurately, the ranch) on his “Star Wars” sequel, which he was able to do because of the huge profits from merchandising on that first film, and the rest is history.
The business maneuvering complete, that just left one very crucial step: delivering a good sequel.