The May 19 premiere of Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith should have Darth Vader declaring, ”The circle is now complete.” But suddenly it’s clear that even long after the loose ends of the Skywalker saga are tied up, the Force will still be with us. On March 17, at the movie industry’s ShoWest convention, George Lucas announced that he’ll convert all six Star Wars movies to 3-D and rerelease them one per year starting in 2007. It’s a strategy that stands to send Death Star blasts through both Lucas’ excitable fan base and the bottom-line-conscious motion picture industry.
Star Wars has always popularized cinematic innovations, from old-school special effects to digital production. And with 3-D, Lucas could draw another generation to the series, boosting its $3 billion global box office. ”It’s like you are seeing it for the first time,” says director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids 3-D). ”People will go to blockbusters that they already love and want to experience in a different way.”
Then again, some fans may not approve of further tweaks, just as they were baffled by Lucas’ fiddling with last year’s release of the original Star Wars Trilogy on DVD. But Lucas, who finances his own films, has seemed impervious to criticism: ”My movies have always been independent movies,” he says. Still, the surgery involved in converting to 3-D could make the series look cooler, or it might not. What it will definitely do is make the movies a completely different experience. ”I am convinced that there will never be a definitive edition of Star Wars until George dies — he will keep tinkering right up until the very end,” says series producer Rick McCallum. ”It’s a nightmare I had many months ago: I’ll wake up at 80 years old in my wheelchair with George and his daughter calling me saying, ‘Rick, we’re looking for the sound elements from Episode II. Can you come up to the ranch?’ And I woke up in a cold sweat.”
Lucas hopes Star Wars can help kick-start a digital 3-D craze. Though half a century old (House of Wax or Jaws 3-D, anyone?), three-dimensional, a.k.a. stereoscopic, cinema is a burgeoning phenomenon thanks to advances that improve image quality (especially through modern glasses, which have mostly replaced those cardboard shades shown above). Plus, its technical complexity makes it immune to camcorder piracy — for now. And lately it’s been drawing crowds, notes IMAX’s Greg Foster, who enjoyed 3-D hits in 2004 with a NASCAR doc and a large-format Polar Express. Says Foster: ”3-D will help differentiate the cinematic experience from the home video experience.”
Creating a unique theatrical sensation is pivotal in getting consumers off their couches. Consider: Home video now surpasses theaters in revenue, piracy costs Hollywood billions annually, and theater admissions dropped 2.4 percent last year. ”I feel like we’re starting to eat our own tail,” says Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles. ”People are not going out to see movies because they’re going, ‘Oh, I’ll just wait for the DVD.’ It’s not just because they’re lazy. It’s because in many cases their home system is better than the theater’s.”