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Last year word leaked out that George Lucas had a plan to re-release all six Star Wars movies in 3D, so that finally you could have the Death Star explode right in your lap (or alternately, get a full tongue experience from Jar-Jar Binks). This news has inevitably led to people asking why Lucas might do such a thing. After all, it's not as if he's hard up for cash; he'll not be re-releasing these flicks to make the mortgage payment on Skywalker Ranch. So what is Lucas thinking?
I have three explanations:
First, Lucas is the movie industry's alpha geek; his fascination with pushing new film technologies is so great that he helped create modern special effects processes with Star Wars (forcing John Dykstra to invent a new effects-oriented camera, for example). He also once released a movie more or less as a technology beta test: In 1994's Radioland Murders (which you did not see, but I had to), he perfected the technique of creating computer-generated sets, which he would later use in his 1997 re-release of Star Wars. Given this fact, it's only natural he'd choose to fiddle once more with his flicks to bring them up to date with the latest tech.
Second, Lucas is re-releasing Star Wars again to breed yet another crop of fans. Disney perfected this strategy back in the days before home video, when they would re-release their animated flicks every seven to ten years in order to indoctrinate a new herd of kidlings. Thus Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, originally released in 1937, was re-released in '44, '52, '58, '67, '75, '83, '87 (the 50-year anniversary) and '93. Star Wars itself has had two official re-releases, first in 1982, and then the version in '97 that included new bells and whistles (and had Greedo shooting first, which as we all know was wrong). The '97 re-release racked in another $138 million to the movie's gross, greased the skids for The Phantom Menace and inculcated another generation of geeks into the Star Wars tribe. Another re-release would add a new geek crop to the fold, and ensure Star Wars' Vader-like grip on the nerds of the world continues unabated for another 20 years.
Now both of these are good reasons, but let me offer a third, which is going to sound nuts, but go with me: Gone With the Wind is a wart on Lucas' fanny.
And you say, wha? How did we get to Gone With the Wind? Well, it's simple. The single most successful domestic box office movie of all time is not Titanic. Though it's currently atop the list of highest-grossers, when you adjust for inflation Titanic slips to sixth on the list, and Gone With the Wind, with an adjusted $1.45 billion in box office, reigns supreme. What's number two? Why, Star Wars, of course, with $1.28 billion adjusted.
George Lucas -- cinema's alpha geek -- the dude responsible for the theater experience as we know it (do you like your THX-certified theater?), who lives, breathes and excretes cinema, is a mere $170 million from having Star Wars, his baby, become the single most successful movie of all time. I ask you: Knowing all we know about George Lucas, might this be something that's important to him? Considering that the '97 release of Star Wars added $138 million to the movie's gross (which, adjusted to today's ticket prices, equals about $195 million), do we really think it would be that difficult for a spiffy new 3D version of Star Wars to crop up another $170 million or so? Aren't you planning to see the 3D verision? Oh, don't lie: You totally are. Search your heart. You know it to be true.
Yes, I know, this sounds nuts. But you know what? You're not George Lucas. You don't have George Lucas' money and motivation, or a means to put yourself on top of a list that, barring a fundamental redo of the way we handle movie distribution, no new release will ever match. Lucas doesn't have an Oscar -- all he's got is one of those lousy Irving Thalberg awards -- but there's only one single most successful movie of all time. And when Lucas has it, he can look around and say, "What? An Oscar? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale. He's also Creative Consultant for the upcoming Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.