With Disney working on a new Star Wars sequel Trilogy, it won't be long before our TVs will once again be filled with Star Wars retrospectives, trailers and tie-in merchandise advertizing campaigns. Before all of that begins, let's go back to the winter of 1996/1997 and re-live the launch of the Star Wars Trilogy Special Editions.
Picking up where The Original Star Wars Trilogy - One Last Time left off, the original version of Star Wars was now out of print and by August of 1996 magazines like Entertainment Weekly were teasing us with articles like this one:
TWENTY YEARS LATER, THE EMPIRE STRIKES AGAIN
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away-- actually Los Angeles in 1977--a 13-year-old named Dean Devlin waited in line for four hours to see Star Wars. "I went in thinking it would be cool, but after the first scene I was screaming," says Devlin. "It was the single most important movie in my life." Now, as Darth Vader would say, the circle is complete. Devlin is the producer of the intergalactic blockbuster Independence Day, a film that not only pays heavy homage to George Lucas' magnum opus but, given its box office success, may very well pave the way for an even splashier-than-expected return of the Jedi.
Last month, in connection with the release of ID, Fox sent a 2-minute, 20-second trailer to theaters. The clip opens with the image of a small TV screen and a voice that says: "For an entire generation people have experienced Star Wars this way.... On Presidents' Day weekend, 1997, see the Star Wars trilogy again for the first time." Needless to say, fans danced in the aisles at this teaser for the re-release of Lucas' classic series. "We were honored to have [the trailer] before our film," says Devlin. "It made Independence Day an event."
With ID racing toward the $300 million mark, the groundwork has been laid for a Wars renaissance. "There's no better time than now," says Fox senior executive VP Tom Sherak. "Star Wars is the mother of all sci-fi movies."
Sherak has reason to cheerlead. Aside from the rerelease's huge box office potential, Fox, along with every other studio, is looking to distribute Lucas' next project: the long-awaited second trilogy in the Skywalker saga, planned for 1999. "We're going to do whatever we can to get the films," says Sherak. "When Lucas comes here, we won't let him out of the room."
For the rerelease, the films--Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)--have undergone a $10 million face-lift consisting of digitally remastered soundtracks, restored prints, and, most intriguingly, several minutes of never-before-seen footage that has been juiced up by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic. For example, the new Wars will feature a tete-a-tete between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt that was originally edited out because Lucas lacked the budget and time to portray Jabba properly. Similarly, Jedi will feature an enhanced cabaret sequence in Jabba's palace. (Lucas wanted Elton John to write the score for the new scene, but the singer passed.) "George wanted to go back and fix the things that have been bothering him," says Lucasfilm spokesperson Lynne Hale, "now that the technology has caught up."
Of course, perfectionism may not be Lucas' sole motivation. "Everybody involved with Star Wars is going to walk away a winner," says Ira Mayer, publisher of the trade magazine Entertainment Marketing Letter. Those winners include Pepsi, which recently inked a promotional deal with Lucas, valued at $2 billion, that allows Pepsi to use the film's characters to push its Frito-Lay, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken products; current licensees, such as Galoob, whose best-selling line of Star Wars toys would receive a huge boost; and, of course, Lucas himself, who personally holds the merchandising rights, which means Lucasfilm gets a cut from the sale of every action figure and lunch box--quite a chunk of change considering such licensing has racked up more than $3 billion since '77.
The windfall has some casting a jaundiced eye on the rerelease. "Lucas is sacrificing the movies for money," says Mark Altman, editor of Sci-Fi Universe. "Why change the films and diminish their importance?" Altman adds, "It might be nice to see the bells and whistles, but he needs to make new films, not futz with the old ones."
In fairness, Lucas has spent the past year hammering out the scripts for the new trilogy, which takes place before the events of Star Wars. Details are sketchy, but Lucas confirms that casting for the prequel, which will deal with the story of young Obi-Wan Kenobi and a pre-Dark Side Darth Vader, has begun, although no names have been released. (Lucas denies rumors that Kenneth Branagh will play Obi-Wan.) In addition, a crew has started scouting locations in Tunisia, India, and the former Soviet Union. And Lucas has said that he may direct one of the films, something he hasn't done since the original Star Wars.
There is one thing for sure about the prequel: "I'll be there again standing in line four hours before the first show," says Devlin. Presumably, as long as it's not premiering on the same day as Independence Day 2.
By CHRIS NASHAWATY
Edited by MAGGIE MURPHY
Copyright © Time Inc., 1996. All rights reserved.
[Source: Entertainment Weekly, 08/02/96, Issue 338, p6]
In January, with the release date three weeks away, Star Wars made the cover of Entertainment Weekly as they expanded their thoughts on the special editions, how they think fans will react to some of the changes, and about the saleability of the series in 1997.
THE REMAKING OF STAR WARS
A LONG TIME AGO IN A CULTURAL LANDSCAPE FAR, FAR AWAY, GEORGE LUCAS RODE A DINKY SPACE FANTASY TO STRATOSPHERIC SUCCESS. TWENTY YEARS LATER, HE'S RAISING THE STAKES WITH A RISKY REISSUE AND PLANS FOR A WHOLE NEW TRILOGY. BUT IS THE FORCE STILL WITH HIM?
In the firmament of cinematic second-guessers, there are plenty of leading lights. Consider James Cameron, who has noodled around with expanded "special editions" of Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day for TV and video. Then there's Francis Ford Coppola, who revisited The Godfather not just in sequels but in multiple TV-miniseries editions, VHS cassettes, and laserdisc boxed sets. Even first-time auteur Kevin Costner retraced his steps for a four-hour Dances With Wolves.
But this month, George Lucas will outshine his fellow revisionists like a supernova blowing away so many dwarf stars. For the 20th-anniversary theatrical rerelease of Star Wars on Jan. 31 on approximately 1,800 screens--a far cry from the movie's timid 32-screen debut on May 25, 1977--Lucas has dispatched his special-effects artists at Industrial Light & Magic to tinker with and even flat-out remake bits of the movie. Only 4 1/2 minutes of new visuals are involved (though the entire soundtrack has been tweaked), but the restoration and filmmaking techniques employed are so complex, they cost $10 million--about the size of the original movie's budget. And what a difference the few added minutes make: They mark the dawn of a new era in filmic hocus-pocus, where directors (and maybe hostile studio bosses) will be able to conjure new scenes out of thin air long after the sets have been struck and the actors have moved on.
Besides, with a movie as well-known as Star Wars, every ripple of change sends a tidal wave through the film's fan base. ILM has souped up creaky, fake-looking creatures (debate rages on the Internet about whether this is good or bad), reinstated outtakes, and tricked out old scenes with new shots or added-in figures (a la Forrest Gump's fact-meets-fiction newsreel wizardry). Lucas has also orchestrated smaller emendations in the sequels The Empire Strikes Back (due for rerelease Feb. 21) and Return of the Jedi (March 7).
Is the world ready to fall in love with Star Wars as a communal experience all over again? At first, even Lucas' faithful weren't sure. "When I heard we were doing this, I had reservations," says Ben Burtt, the sound designer who won a special Oscar for Star Wars and who is remixing the trilogy in digitally recorded, bass-boosted surround sound. "I didn't want to deal with it again. I said, Gee, shouldn't we put our energy into something new?"
In a way, they have, since Lucas hasn't tuned up these space operas in a vacuum; they're the prelude to a new set of arias. Next fall, the 52-year-old filmmaker will end a 20-year directing sabbatical and begin filming the first of three Star Wars prequels from his screenplay. He'll then hire others to direct (and probably script, from his outline) chapters 2 and 3 of an intended nine-movie cycle (take that, Star Trek), in which Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi occupy the fourth, fifth, and sixth slots. Release dates for the new trilogy are set for May 1999 (the prodigious effects will take that long to finish), 2001, and 2003.
LUKE SKYWALKER (Mark Hamill) in movie Star Wars
The multitasking logistics involved might overload even R2-D2's circuits. Lucas plans to finance the new movies entirely through his own company, Lucasfilm Ltd. Supposedly, they'll be made on low-fat budgets of less than $60 million apiece, thanks to a cast of bargain-priced unknowns and radical methods of combining actors with digital characters and scenery. In all likelihood, revenues from the reissues and a new blitz of licensed merchandising (a nearly $4 billion gold mine since 1977) will go right back into the new films.
Of course, with the prequel on track, there's no turning the ship around if the reissues vanish into the black hole of low grosses. As Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) once put it: "I'm taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work."
To hear George Lucas tell it, mere commerce was never the guiding Force in the decision to touch up his original trilogy. In a video-recorded message that's part of a new CD-ROM set of Star Wars games--the sort of electronic decree he prefers these days to press interviews--he says he's a hostage to his perfectionism. "Whenever you do something that's creative," says the flannel-shirted auteur in this click-on communique, "and you end up having to rush through and finish it before it's really completed the way you'd hope it [would be], it bothers you. There were a lot of things in Star Wars that bothered me a great deal."
So, when Twentieth Century Fox and Lucas began working together in the early '90s on a 20th-anniversary Star Wars push--Fox still owns the first film but merely distributes Empire and Jedi--Lucas suggested he might at last put his disco-era demons to rest. With a total of $15 million, provided mostly by Fox, to tweak all three films, he set out to engineer a digital face-lift.
Michael Jackson will be envious of the results. Deploying '90s computer graphics to pull off effects his technicians couldn't accomplish with models or puppets in 1977, Lucas has given mobility to the dewback beasties in scenes on the desert planet Tatooine, where we meet Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Instead of running into a handful of storm troopers on the Death Star, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) now faces a whole squadron, played by ILM employees digitally multiplied into a horde. In the dogfight finale, rebel ships swoop and swerve in a more turbulent, post-videogame style. A computer-generated Jabba the Hutt, who wasn't in the original film, has even been superimposed into a sequence with Ford that Lucas had to drop in 1977, when the technology needed to finish the scene proved out of reach. None of the actors were called on to alter or redub any dialogue, though, and for better or worse, Carrie Fisher's cinnamon-Danish Princess Leia hairdo remains unmorphed.
A fortified rebel fleet, inserted 20 years after the original cast made the jump to hyperspace
Although Lucas has had years to map out these changes, he has not hesitated, by his own staffers' account, to up the ante as the final deadline nears. The ILM artists and technicians based in San Rafael, Calif., nestled between San Francisco to the south and Lucas' Skywalker Ranch facility to the north, are racing to finish their work just a few weeks before the debut. Is their leader stuck in a past he can't blast out of?
"George would look at a scene and approve one fix," says ILM effects supervisor Dave Carson. "Then there'd be another shot that was now the new worst shot in the sequence. So, we'd fix that."
according to some sci-fi buffs who've seen an early print, the unquestionable thrill of seeing the new Star Wars with restored color is severely compromised by Lucas' fiddling. "The insertions are incredibly distracting," says Mark Altman, editor in chief of Sci-Fi Universe magazine. "Every new creature they've put in never stops moving or making noises. It's ludicrous. Why do this? It sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. If I go see Casablanca in a theater, I want to see a great print. I don't want to see a new computer-generated plane in the airport scene."
To be fair, the perfectionism isn't all coming from Lucas. Fox "has actually pushed us as hard as we've pushed them," says producer Rick McCallum, who's overseeing the logistics of both the reissue work and the new movies. The suits in L.A. insisted, for instance, that the indelible opening shot of that humongous ship passing overhead in Star Wars be put back together again from its original pieces, the better to remove some fine bits of dirt and grain from the scene. Says McCallum, "I've never argued with a studio about them spending more money than we have. They've been unbelievably supportive."
CREATURE COMFORTS Lucas feels better about his 1977 classic now that he's added in a few beasts: above, a Ronto roams the streets of Mos Eisley where none trod before; below, Ford's Han is no longer solo with an animated Jabba at his side BEFORE AND AFTER
Back in 1977, when he was struggling to complete Star Wars' breakthrough "motion control" shots of spaceship models, effects supervisor John Dykstra wasn't so lucky. He and Lucas found themselves at odds when the director returned from his England shoot to find $1 million of the initial $2 million effects budget gone and, by Lucas' account, virtually nothing in the can. (That was a trifle, of course, compared to the hard feelings when Dykstra signed on to ABC's 1978-80 Battlestar Galactica series and Fox filed a suit for copyright infringement; it was settled out of court.)
"I hope the new work comes out great," says Dykstra from the production offices of Batman & Robin, where he is visual effects supervisor. "I don't know how the [computer-graphics material] will integrate with the film techniques applied at the time. But I'll definitely see it. The curiosity would kill me, not knowing what got changed and whether it improved it."
Now that Lucas has rebuilt the star field of his dreams, will audiences come? Industry sources estimate that Fox must be spending at least $30 million on prints and promotion, yet nobody's sure viewers will line up for three movies that have been on video and TV for a decade. Fans have certainly been buying Star Wars books, bric-a-brac, and toys in rising quantities lately, after a major slump in licensing revenues in the mid-to-late 1980s. But one of the hottest recent items could hurt grosses: In 1995, FoxVideo released a heavily promoted "remastered" video edition of the Star Wars trilogy that sold 30 million cassettes worldwide.
"This [reissue] raises visibility," says Hollywood Reporter box office analyst A.D. Murphy. "But even with whizbang Dolby Digital stereo and SDDS [Sony Dynamic Digital Sound] and DTS and all this other alphanumeric gobbledygook, people may say, 'You know, I've seen this four times and I've got the video.'"
Fox Filmed Entertainment's senior exec VP and official Lucas booster Tom Sherak disagrees. He insists that Lucas' new editions are light-years ahead of home-video versions. "Hopefully, parents will bring kids to see Luke Skywalker on a big screen with sound you can't get at home," he asserts. If they do, it's well past gravy time: The domestic gross for all three flicks is already $810 million. But regardless of the results, Sherak claims, "we've restored our Star Wars negative, which is 10 times more important than what it winds up grossing."
Hollywood observers say Fox will in fact be watching the grosses carefully as a yardstick for bidding on the prequels. Though Lucas says he will talk to Fox first about distributing them, there's been no real negotiation yet. Fox reps insist they're not pushing the reissues as a vanity-project sop to Lucas, but certainly the cachet of the future franchise will increase if they do well.
And what happens to Fox's brand-enhancement plan if audiences don't like Lucas' postgame quarterbacking? Lucas says he'll be happy if the new versions supplant the originals. But tampering with classics is risky, and according to some sci-fi buffs who've seen an early print, the unquestionable thrill of seeing the new Star Wars with restored color is severely compromised by Lucas' fiddling. "The insertions are incredibly distracting," says Mark Altman, editor in chief of Sci-Fi Universe magazine. "Every new creature they've put in never stops moving or making noises. It's ludicrous. Why do this? It sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. If I go see Casablanca in a theater, I want to see a great print. I don't want to see a new computer-generated plane in the airport scene."
Mark Hamill, who hasn't yet seen the new edition, has editorial ideas of his own. He wishes Lucas would reinstate a deleted opening sequence, which pictured Luke in a Tatooine hangout with his pilot pal Biggs Darklighter. (It's described in Lucas' 1976 novelization but was cut and hasn't been resurrected for the reissue; another Biggs scene later in the movie has been reinstated.) "Biggs eventually gives up his life to enable Luke to enter the Death Star," says the 44-year-old actor, who now appears in CD-ROM games such as Wing Commander III. "The heroism of that act would be accentuated if that introduction was still in."
Of course, such spirited talk of what should or shouldn't be altered may help make the new flick a must-see. But the real question is whether Lucas' primary goal is really to rewrite history by replacing his rough draft with this polish job. It may well be that the special editions are in fact more a Fox-financed lab experiment than a final word. "Some of this work was added specifically by George as a test," says effects supervisor Carson. "It's to see what kinds of shots ILM can and can't do well as we go into the [prequels]."
As an example, Carson points to a new shot at the climax of Jedi. Part of an expanded montage showing rebel celebrations on several planets instead of just in the fuzzy-wuzzy Ewoks' home forest, it reveals an Imperial city called Coruscant. The burg, rendered entirely in computer-graphic animation, figures in the prequels, and such CGI landscapes will dominate the new movies. "The end of Jedi doesn't really belong to the middle trilogy anymore," says Carson. "What you're seeing is the first shot of the new trilogy."
At Leavesden Studios in England, a vast facility northwest of London, producer McCallum is gearing up for the prequels even as he supervises the last daubs of digital paint on the revised originals. Lucas' chapter 1 script, which focuses on the young Anakin Skywalker (who becomes Darth Vader) and a character McCallum calls the Young Queen, Luke and Leia's mother, is now complete, as are outlines for episodes 2 and 3, which may be shot back-to-back like the Back to the Future series.
And who will be acting out these tightly scripted mythologies, guarded more carefully than a Death Star blueprint? Maybe one of thousands of actors already auditioned, maybe not.
Lengthy casting calls are nothing new for Lucas, who tested multiple trios for the Luke-Han-Leia triangle back in the '70s. (The rejects, says one Lucas bio, included Christopher Walken and Nick Nolte as Han; Amy Irving and Jodie Foster as Leia; and Will Seltzer, who landed Lucas' More American Graffiti instead, as Luke.) But a decade from now, there may not be a thespian on earth who won't be able to say, "I read for the prequels." In the past two years, Lucas and the casting director have considered 3,600 child performers just for the roles of Anakin (they're looking for an 8- to 9-year-old Caucasian boy) and the Young Queen (an "exotic" 13- to 14-year-old girl).
DUNE IT AGAIN A new scene shows a storm trooper atop a more agile dewback and an Imperial craft nearby
Among the teeming hopefuls, as EW has reported (#357, Dec. 13), was Jingle All the Way's Jake Lloyd. His agent now reports that he got a single audition, "like every other kid in L.A."
"You have to track kids," McCallum says in defense of the enormous net Lucas has cast. "They can be brilliant at 7, then awkward at 9....We have 10 or so that have semifinalist status."
While Lucas pursues juvenile leads, at least one grown-up actor has opened hailing frequencies unasked. On Dec. 6, Samuel L. Jackson told the host of a British TV show, TFI Friday, that he wants to "just...sit in a room with George Lucas and let him know that, hey...I'd be Lando Calrissian's father...I'd be Luke Skywalker's slave." Says Billy Dee Williams, who was Calrissian in Empire and Jedi, "I guess [that's] fine. He's a pretty good actor. I don't spend much time thinking about [the new movies], to tell you the truth." With good reason, since the original actors aren't likely to show up in them.
Whoever lands the coveted slots--there'll be no announcements till shooting starts--will work in a virtual-reality environment where bitsy sets are complemented later with digitally rendered extensions in ILM's computers. "They're going to have to learn a whole new set of skills," says McCallum. "It's like when sound came in. It's going to be a very basic part of the vocabulary, working against blue screen. It's slow and laborious. You're idle a lot."
The point of such "digital matting," says McCallum, isn't just to enhance the new film's planned complement of 1,700 special-effects shots, or to keep the budget down. It's to give Lucas flexibility to make and remake finished scenes while still in principal photography.
"George's loves are the story development and the editing," says director-producer Ron Howard, who made Willow for Lucas back in 1988. Howard says he'd been "bugging" his former associate for a whole year to return to his directing roots, as had Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robert Zemeckis. "The filming for him is a terrible chore," Howard explains. "It's not exhilarating for him the way it is for me. I love filming. George has more of an animator's sensibility."
Now that he's gone back to the drawing board with such sophisticated, infinitely malleable rendering tools at his command, Lucas may prove more prone than ever to changing his mind after the cameras stop rolling. "It's not for everyone," McCallum says of what he terms Lucas' "evolutionary" method. "But it's the way we love to work. And it's the way George absolutely needs to be. His vision's strong going in. But the fun is to be able to chip away at it and change it, just like a sculptor." Well, maybe not just like a sculptor, since George Lucas clearly dreams of a creative medium where absolutely nothing is set in stone.
BY GEORGE Lucas, shown with a prop from 1983's Jedi, declares his revised Star Wars to be "closer to my original vision"
By STEVE DALY
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TRICIA LAINE AND ZORIANNA KIT
Copyright © Time Inc., 1997. All rights reserved.
[Source: Entertainment Weekly, 1/10/97, Issue 361, p18]
A Week later, Newsweek also ran an article on the forthcoming release:
THE FORCE IS STILL WITH US
You've rented the videos, bought the toys, compared your boss to Darth Vader. Now, 20 years later, go back to the theater. 'Star Wars' strikes back.
IT WAS A REVIVAL IN MORE THAN the movie sense. One night last week at the Gotham Cinema in Manhattan, several hundred fans gathered for a sneak preview of a movie they'd collectively seen thousands of times before on video. When the lights went down and "Star Wars" began to roll, the congregation of mostly twentysomethings cheered in delight. Behold that unforgettable opening shot of the Rebel Blockade Runner being pursued by the monstrous Imperial Star Destroyer! The score was a hymn, the plot a parable, and everybody in the audience mouthed the lines before they were actually spoken. ("When I left you, I was but the learner," Darth Vader tells Obi-Wan Kenobi in a pivotal scene. "Now I am the master!" Pretty memorable, eh?) But when the name of writer-director George Lucas appeared in the credits, people yelled the loudest. In the men's room during a break, one fellow with two earrings turned to a total stranger and exclaimed, "God, this is spiritual, isn't it?"
Get ready for this sort of stuff at a cineplex near you. Beginning Jan. 31, "Star Wars" is returning to theaters, 20 years after its release. Its two sequels, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," will open in February and March. All will have spruced-up prints and some new digital surprises. But it's not that the movies ever really left. Videocassette versions, best-selling Bantam novels, fan clubs, collectibles, at least 963 sites on the World Wide Web, an incredible $4 billion in merchandising sales--they're part of an industry and a cult. The appeal depends on the fan. It's a classic fairy tale about good and evil, evoking old-time mythology with futuristic intergalactic cavalries. It has religious, paternal and political overtones. "Everyone has an opinion," Lucas told NEWSWEEK. Maybe, he says, because it's about "universal themes like friendship, loyalty, morality." Or it's an "adrenalin rush." Or, most simply, because it's a ton of campy, corny fun, which is more than can be said for the cynical drivel coming out of Hollywood these days.
The triumph of "Star Wars" isn't bad for a movie that almost didn't get made. (Or a story that a New York Times critic said "could be written on the head of a pin and still leave room for the Bible.") Studios shunned it. Lucas himself, over the course of three years, couldn't settle on a script; one version was only about robots (which is what critics said anyway of Mark Hamill's performance as Luke when the film came out). Finally, Alan Ladd Jr. at Twentieth Century Fox paid Lucas $15,000 to do a screenplay and then committed $10 million to make it--more out of loyalty to a young Lucas than faith that the movie, without any big stars, would sell. Lucas and his close friend Steven Spielberg had a bet over how it would do. Lucas took the low number.
Now "Star Wars" is part of the culture. The Smithsonian next fall will open a big exhibition on the mythology and social themes of "Star Wars." Bartlett's credits the movie with adding "evil empire" to the lexicon; "Darth Vader" is the personification of evil, and journalists love him: in 20 years, he's appeared in the lead paragraph of 1,239 articles (including 21 times in NEWSWEEK). An episode of "Friends" features David Schwimmer fantasizing about Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia; this season, Brooke Shields was called "tall as a Wookiee" on her TV show. (Same eyebrows, too.) James Earl Jones, who gave Vader his immortal voice, is now omnipresent as the bass embodiment of CNN. (Lucas considered Orson Welles but thought his voice too recognizable. Jones polished off the "Star Wars" voice-over in three hours. "I was offered a day's work," Jones says, "and I got paid a day's wage.")
When "Star Wars" opened, just before Memorial Day 1977, it obliterated box-office records. People waited in lines for up to six hours to watch Luke Skywalker fight Darth Vader in an epic comic-book adventure. By the end of the summer, "Star Wars" had raked in an unprecedented $134 million domestically; that's now grown to $323 million, fourth on the all-time list, behind "E.T." (1982), "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Forrest Gump" (1994). Adding in worldwide ticket sales, the take for the entire trilogy grows to $1.3 billion.
The merchandising spoils total three times that. You've seen the movies? Read the books--20 million copies of 26 stories. From the Ewok Doggie Chew to Princess Leia kids' underwear, "Star Wars" is the most lucrative franchise in Hollywood since Snow White moved in with the Dwarfs. May the sales Force be with you! And the merchandising windfall to Lucas was dumb luck, by his own account. He gave up a $500,000 "Star Wars" directing fee from Fox in return for sequel rights. (He worried the film would bomb and Fox wouldn't bankroll him again.) Licensing was a throw-in. Owning the sequels and merchandising gave Lucas the financing for his billion-dollar empire, including the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) special-effects house and a computer-games division.
"Star Wars" mutated movie-making and altered Hollywood's fiscal expectations forever. Not that it was all bad." 'Star Wars' was a seminal moment when the entire industry instantly changed," Spielberg told NEWSWEEK. "For me, personally, it's when the world recognized the value of childhood." "Star Wars" gave us the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" trilogy and "E.T." But its smashing success also corrupted the greedheads in Hollywood and ushered in the witless and soulless megabudget, special-effects, merchandise-hawking blockbuster. "Star Wars," thy stepchildren are "The Last Action Hero" and "Judge Dredd," too.
FOR THE NEW THEATRICAL VERSIONS OF the trilogy, the master prints have been restored. In addition, 4.5 minutes of new computer-generated footage have been added to "Star Wars." (Given what these movies are about to bring in all over again, the cost of the restoration was cheap--about $15 million.) Want to follow along with the propeller heads who know every frame by heart? Look for new creatures when Luke's entourage enters the city of Mos Eisley, snazzier rocket fire and the appearance of slimeball Jabba the Hutt. A stationary, animatronic Jabba is in the beginning of "Jedi" and Lucas had a place for him in "Star Wars," actually shooting opposite a human stand-in; but since the Jabba costume looked terrible, Lucas had to cut the scene. In the new shot, the special-effects magicians have cleverly figured out how to get Harrison Ford to step over Jabba's long, digitalized tail (which no one had originally told Ford to do).
Madison Avenue and Hollywood can hardly wait for the rerelease. New tchotchkes due out this year include the "Star Wars" Monopoly game (five Yoda huts equal a Death Star!), the R2-D2 phone and the light-saber TV remote control. Despite the fact that 30 million videocassettes of all the "Star Wars" movies sold in 1995 alone, and despite its virtual ubiquity on cable, Fox is banking that there's nothing like seeing the saga on the big screen. For grown-ups, says Fox vice president Tom Sherak, it will be "reliving the experience" of 20 years ago; for their children, it will be a chance to hook "a whole new generation." For the really young kids, it's a chance to see where all their action figures came from--the "Star Wars" franchise is so blessed that now the merchandising may drive the box office, not the other way around. "I remember this as a seminal moment in all of our lives," Spielberg says. "Kids should experience it the same way--communally, in a theater." He's interested, too, because his "E.T." is $76 million ahead of "Star Wars" in the box-office pantheon. If "Star Wars" bolts by "E.T.," Spielberg might send his film out for a spin at the multiplex next year. He and Lucas are playfully competitive that way.
The additions and tuneups notwithstanding, the movies are the same as always. But best not to use the term "re- release" around the Lucasfilm guardians of the grail. This is the "Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition," and don't forget it. It's all a prelude to Lucas's plan for three brand-new movies, beginning in 1999, the first of which he'll direct--the first time he's directed since "Star Wars." They'll be "prequels" and tell the story of what happened 40 years before "Star Wars," including how Vader came to be a no-goodnik. Remember, Vader is Luke's father and used to be named Anakin Skywalker. Lucas told NEWSWEEK the prequels will be "darker" and "more tragic" than the trilogy. "I spent a great deal of time looking at history, philosophy, mythology," Lucas says, "about how those relate to the breakdown of a democracy and rise of a dictator." But on a cheerier note, Pepsi has committed $2 billion in advertising to promote the first prequel, as well as the Special Edition. Hey, Vader's formative years can't be all grim if he's a member of the Pepsi generation.
FORGET FOR A MOMENT THE TRILOGY'S trinity: Obi-Wan, Luke and Yoda. To meet the deity himself, first you have to make the pilgrimage to Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas's hideaway headquarters 30 minutes north of San Francisco. The Force isn't much use on the serpentine back roads of Marin County. Gated, unmarked and set back into the undulating brown hills, the 2,541-acre ranch is as much mythology as the movies whose millions in profits built it. The magnificent centerpiece of the ranch is a modern Victorian mansion, but the conceit is that it belonged to a 19th-century sea captain. Lucas thought up a story about the place, which then served as a blueprint for the architects and craftsmen. He may only be the 56th-richest person in America, according to the Forbes list, but he's got the best workplace around.
The 52-year-old Lucas himself is every bit the wizard behind the curtain, cloaked in mystery but utterly ordinary in person. The mystery is part accident, part design, part invention on the part of a public that expects the creator and keeper of the "Star Wars" universe to be at least a little strange. The part that is accident stems from Lucas's pathological shyness--especially with the press--combined with a streak of stubbornness. The design part is the shrewd recognition of his handlers that the more the public's assumptions about Lucas are reinforced, the better the asset they have when, at rare intervals, he appears to market his products. And yet, when you meet him, Lucas himself doesn't seem to be an artful part of the game. His innocence is part of his charm as a moviemaker.
It also explains why he's believable when he says his decision to touch up the trilogy had nothing to do with making money. Lucas acknowledges that the movies were and are about to be an Event. But to him, it's beside the point. "It's like that old screen door in back that never fits right," Lucas says. "I wanted to fix little things that have bugged me for 20 years. I was furious at the time 'Star Wars' came out because it was a half-finished movie that just got thrown into the marketplace. And one day you have the energy and the stuff you need to fix it, and you do and it feels so good." Similarly, he insists he's doing the prequels because he has stories he wants to tell and now the high-tech tools to tell them. Computer-generated sets, digital storyboards, virtual actors, shooting scenes simultaneously for different films--Lucas intends each movie to be made for under $70 million; indeed, half of the new prequels may emanate from a Silicon Graphics workstation. Characters and plot, though, remain the thing for Lucas; the special effects are simply a means toward that end. "Just as 'Star Wars' gave you something you knew you'd never seen before, that's what I'm hoping for in the new movies . . . Maybe I won't succeed."
And, then, he asks: "Would you like me to make a movie that'll fail?" It's a dig at all the suggestions made over the years that it's the trilogy that's caused Hollywood's ruination. "The studio executives are their own worst enemy and are the ones making $100 million movies," he says. "If it were left to filmmakers, they'd be doing it for much less. It was more James Bond than 'Star Wars' that brought in the 'adrenalin' movies. They've been trying to do blockbusters since 'Gone With the Wind.' Bad movies have been around since the beginning of time. The notion that I'm responsible for them is totally unfair."
He's right. Hollywood's destroyed itself. Lucas made a sweet, earnest movie that had a real story and even the ability to chuckle at itself once in a while. If Hollywood successfully imitated those qualities, we wouldn't get the junk that now passes for entertainment. Maybe the nostalgic return of "Star Wars" will remind folks of the wonder and innocence that once was possible; maybe the prequels will do that in the millennium. But don't count on it. The world of 20 years back, when George Lucas stirred the imagination, was "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
By David A. Kaplan With ADAM ROGERS and YAHLIN CHANG
Copyright of Newsweek is the property of Harman Newsweek LLC
[Source: Newsweek, 1/20/1997, Vol. 129 Issue 3, p52]
U.S. News & World Report was an American news magazine, which Along with Time and Newsweek was for many years a leading news weekly, focusing more than its counterparts on political, economic, health and education stories. In January 1997 they took a look at the enduring popularity of Star Wars from a business perspective:
THE FORCE IS STILL WITH THEM
'Star Wars': Return of a cosmic cash cow
In the entire six-hour sequence of the Star Wars movies, cosmic bounty hunter Boba Fett appears for a total of eight minutes and speaks just five lines, the longest and most memorable of them being: "He's no good to me dead." Yet this "minor" character created by filmmaker George Lucas for The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the Star Wars trilogy, has become a star of seemingly intergalactic proportions.
On the Internet, there are a dozen Web sites devoted to Boba Fett's exploits. His recently created fan club already has branched out around the world; he is the subject of novels, comics, and fan-written fiction. Older Boba Fett toys, which are much pricier than toys based on more prominent Star Wars characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, sell to collectors for between $300 and $2,500; new ones fly off the shelves as soon as they arrive. Most important, perhaps, for Fettishists who feel he has never received his due, he has been introduced--ever so briefly--into a scene in which he did not originally appear in the first Star Wars movie.
Next week, a special edition of the first movie in the series, Star Wars, will open in theaters across the country, to be followed a few weeks later by the sequels The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Twentieth Century Fox has invested $15 million to re-release the movies. The studio hopes to earn $100 million in new box-office receipts, while laying the groundwork for the next generation of fans. Since their release, the three movies have amassed more than $800 million.
Striking back. The success of the original movies is one reason for re-releasing the space epic. But an even bigger factor is the trilogy's (and by extension characters like Boba Fett's) life beyond cinema. Twenty years after its first release, Star Wars consists of the familiar story seen in theaters and hundreds if not thousands of lesser-known ones, each with potential to become a bestselling novel, popular toy, or hot new CD-ROM.
The targeted audience for these products is threefold: adults who saw and loved the movies when they first came out, younger people who have viewed the videos and played with the stuff ever since, and young children who have not yet been exposed.
The enduring popularity of the Star Wars cosmos has been evident to the business world for years. In 1990, long after the appearance of the last Star Wars movie, Lucas authorized publication of a new Star Wars novel, Heir to Empire, and to almost everyone's surprise, it shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Since then, several new novels have appeared, and all have done well. Meanwhile, in 1994 and 1995, two toy companies--Kenner and Galoob--reintroduced a line of Star Wars toys that had been in hiatus for about a decade. Last year, they were one of the biggest hits in the toy industry, accounting for 15 percent of the $750 million action-figure market. PepsiCo has committed itself to pay $2 billion over the next three years for exclusive rights to use Star Wars characters to promote its soft drinks, snack foods, and restaurants in 58 countries.
Boba Fett isn't the only obscure Star Wars character with a following (Wedge is no slouch, for example). But for reasons that are hard to pin down, few have achieved the kind of cult status enjoyed by Fett. Thirteen-year-old Aaron Fettmeister Proctor, founder of the Boba Fett Fan Club and arguably the world's leading authority on the bounty hunter, has made sculptures and collages of the character, written his own stories about him, and even entered into regular correspondence with the British actor Jeremy Bullock, who played Fett in the original movies. "He's mysterious. No one has seen him and lived, basically," Proctor says of the character's appeal.
The ultimate tribute to Boba Fett's appeal is that his death at the beginning of Return of the Jedi has since been overturned by Lucasfilm. With the help of another bounty hunter, he was resuscitated in a recent Star Wars comic book. Perhaps Lucas just realized that Fett is no good to him dead.
PHOTO (COLOR): Aaron Proctor, 13, can't get enough of obscure Star Wars character Boba
PHOTO (COLOR): Boba Fett figures fly off the shelf
By John Marks
Copyright 1997 the U.S. News & World Report, L.P. All rights reserved.
[Source: U.S. News & World Report, 1/27/97, Vol. 122 Issue 3, p63]
Next time, we'll explore what happened after the Star Wars Special Editions were released in Theaters.