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Will We Ever Be Rid of “Star Wars”?

A letter arrived in e-mail the other day:

The 3D edition of The Phantom Menace made $23 million over the weekend, proving that George Lucas will never be punished for his crimes. Will we ever be rid of Star Wars? Or in another 10 years will we have to endure the re-release of the Star Wars films in Smell-O-Vision?

Well, to address the first part, $23 million was only the studio estimate. The real amount was $22.4 million. See? That makes it all better.

To address the second part, no, in this lifetime you will never be rid of Star Wars, and you should just learn to accept that fact.

And no, it’s not just about George Lucas. George Lucas, it should be
noted, has almost gleefully declared himself done with Star Wars, and
has no intention himself of returning to the universe. As he put it to the New York Times recently,
“Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and
says what a terrible person you are?” It’s really hard to argue with
him about this; at this point no matter what Lucas himself does in the
universe, there’s going to be a negative reaction. He could put out an
Episode VII that is gorgeous and brilliant (it is possible) and
he’d still get tons of hate. Why? Because that’s how it is. Lucas
realizes at this point he can’t win, so why play. That’s fair enough,
and you can’t blame him for walking away from it.

But this
doesn’t mean Star Wars is going anywhere. Lucas might be turning his
back on the universe in a creative sense, but the Star Wars universe is
bigger than just George Lucas, and has been for decades now. Even if
another Star Wars film is never made (with or without Lucas), there are
still the books. And the video games. And the TV series. And the
merchandising. Dear Lord, all the merchandising.

Beyond that
there are the businesses that comprise Lucasfilm, which employ thousands, from special effects people to sound engineers to the people
who write the Star Wars novels. Shutting down Star Wars wouldn’t kill
Lucasfilm — Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and LucasArts
(the video game arm) would still get work — but it would downsize it,
with a likely loss of hundreds of jobs. I understand nerd rage at
Jar Jar returning to the big screen with a 3D tongue, really I do, but
my own personal rage does not extend as far as wishing all those
people out of good-paying jobs.

Now, you may ask: If there are the books and video games and TV series, and the merchandising, then why do you need
the movies back in the theaters? Why trot out the films over and over?
I’ll give you two reasons for now. The first is simple and relates to
Lucas himself: He’s a child of the cinema; he sees the movie theater as
the natural home for the films and is happy to have any excuse to bring
them back to the big screen. Before it was “Special Editions” with the
added special effects. This time around it’s 3D. And while I don’t
suspect there will actually be a Smell-O-Vision edition, in 10 years
time if there’s a significant technological advance in movies (and
there will be), they’ll trot them out again with that process.

second reason is more pragmatic: Star Wars has the books, games,
merchandising, and so on, but at the end of the day the movies are at the
heart of the universe, and Lucas is smart enough to know he has to
engage each new generation with them. In that respect, the theatrical
re-releases aren’t aimed at the people who saw the films when they were
originally in the theaters; they’re aimed at the ones who have never
seen them there — or indeed possibly have not seen them at all. Lucas
is explicitly taking a page from Disney, which before the age of home
video would re-release its classic movies every seven years or so in
order to bring in a new crop of fans to Snow White and Pinocchio and Dumbo (and which is also using 3D right now to do the same trick — note the recent releases of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast).

To be blunt about it, if you’re an older Star Wars fan, your exasperation at the 3D release of The Phantom Menace
and the future 3D versions of the other five films in the series — is
almost totally irrelevant, because you’re not really the intended
audience. Your kid is. And, speaking as the father of a 13-year-old
girl, I can assure you that your child finds your exasperation quaint
and adorable. The good news here is that in 10 to 12 years, when a
new Star Wars release is out, you’ll smile when your child has his or
her own nerd rage about how the films have been changed. It’s the nerd
circle of life.

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