By Grady Smith
Updated February 21, 2012 at 11:29 PM EST
Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Two weeks ago, when Fox re-released Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, many people expected George Lucas’ sci-fi sequel to rake in huge amounts of dollars and easily top the box office. After all, when Disney re-released The Lion King in 3-D in September, the animation roared up a huge $94.2 million, so prognosticators assumed that a Star Wars film had to be at equally successful. But that’s not really how things have played out.

The Phantom Menace scored $22.5 million in its first three days, enough for a fourth-place finish behind The Vow, Safe House, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It then plummeted 65 percent in its second weekend (a holiday weekend no less!) to $8 million — which put the film in sixth place. All told, the re-release has brought in $35.8 million in its first 11 days.

So is that gross actually any good? “I think some would characterize this as a disappointment,” says’s Paul Dergarabedian, “[but] to me, to get another $36 million [so far] out of a film that so many people have seen — it’s a good thing.”

Lucasfilm is feeling chipper as well. A rep for the studio tells EW, “It’s exciting to see a whole new generation of fans experience Star Wars on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen. We look forward to bringing more of our galaxy far, far away to fans in 3D!”

Perhaps Lucasfilm is so excited because their upgraded version of The Phantom Menace came with minimal negative costs. Converting a film into 3-D typically takes about $10-15 million (this is a ballpark figure ascertained through conversations with other studio reps), and we can assume that Fox spent somewhere in the $10-20 million range to advertise the event (again, an educated guess). Thus, while The Phantom Menace, which seems headed for a $45 million finish, won’t turn over a major profit with this theatrical run, it will, according to Dergarabedian, “keep the franchise alive” and set the stage for future box office hauls.

“This is a great warm up,” says the analyst, who agrees with my personal theory that perhaps Fox chose to release The Phantom Menace first to build up excitement for re-releases of the original Star Wars movies — the real draws in this re-release process. “The truly exciting thing would be to see the first Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in 3-D,” he says. “It’s sort of like saving your big guest for the end of the show so people don’t leave after the beginning.”

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time a Star Wars movie has been re-released — the original Star Wars was currently getting a second run on this very week in 1997 — and it probably won’t be the last. “It’s a license to make money,” explains Dergarabedian, “and this is box office gravy.” Why not cash in?

What do you think of The Phantom Menace‘s box office run so far? Are you guessing that the original Star Wars movies will earn more money in their re-releases?

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