Correction: Despite his own quotes to the contrary, Steven Spielberg told Fandango Friday that Disney did allow Star Wars references into Ready Player One. You can listen to him talk about it below, followed by the original article.
From Back to the Future and The Iron Giant, to Akira and The A-Team, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is absolutely jam-packed with pop culture references. However, despite the efforts of arguably the most famous and powerful director of all time, one kind of big property isn’t in the movie adaptation.
Speaking at a press conference in Hollywood today, Ready Player One director Steven Spielberg admitted he wasn’t able to get the rights to the franchise his best friend created. “We couldn’t get any Star Wars rights,” Spielberg said. “[We tried] very hard. They wouldn’t give up the Star Wars rights.”
“They” being Disney, of course, which bought Star Wars from Spielberg’s pal George Lucas in 2012 for $4 billion. (io9 contacted Disney for comment and will update this post if we hear back.) Still, the director suggested that his licensing team, lead in part by producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, worked for years to get access to as many licenses and characters as they could.
“Kristie spent three years with all of the Warner Bros. legal people getting the rights to all of them,” Spielberg said. “And we couldn’t get all of them.”
Besides Star Wars, another franchise they couldn’t get was Ultraman. The Japanese superhero plays a huge role in the end of the original Cline novel but is basically replaced in the film by The Iron Giant, which is owned by Warner Bros., which is distributing Ready Player One.
“Ultraman is in a lawsuit, believe it or not,” co-writer Zak Penn told io9. “And even Steven Spielberg can’t convince these two parties to settle.”
Still, Penn and others said working with Spielberg made things much easier when it came to licensing rights, and that what did end up in the movie was more than they’d ever hoped for. “It’s fun to work for Steven Spielberg,” Penn said. “Seriously, [his team] should get an Oscar for licensing.”
And, actually, one person did think he could have helped with those Star Wars rights. “You could’ve called me on that one, Steve,” joked Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn, who’s also in Ready Player One. “I built the Death Star, I’m just saying.”
Ready Player One opens March 29.