3-D Makeover for Star Wars Challenges Fan Loyalty

As New Effects Are Added to Classics, Could Viewers Run Out of Patience (and the Theater) For Good?


Published: October 7, 2010

Lasers galore are streaming from all directions, so close that you can almost touch them. That’s the kind of excitement George Lucas, creator of “Star Wars,” is hoping to inject into his classic film series. His company, Lucas Films, recently announced that it plans to re-release the “Star Wars” saga in 3-D, starting with “Episode One” in 2012.

Industrial Light & Magic, the effects company responsible for the original effects in “Star Wars,” will be in charge of the 35-year-old series’ conversion to the 3-D format. But John Knoll, supervisor of Industrial Light & Magic, understands the challenges ahead. On the Lucas Films website, he wrote, “[The project] is not something that you can rush if you want good results… We will take our time, applying everything we know both aesthetically and technically to bring audiences a fantastic new ‘Star Wars’ experience.”

While few fans doubt that the Lucas Films team will do their best to create stunning 3-D effects for the “Star Wars” series, some are bothered by the idea of applying the modern technique on a classic.

“Star Wars is not bringing the technology together with the story; it’s putting the technology on top of the story,” said Jennifer Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and media studies. “The ‘Star Wars’ prequels disappointed many fans who thought Lucas did not respect the trilogy. This might further increase their disfavor.”

Al Auster, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and media studies, disagrees. “‘Star Wars’ is literally made for 3-D. If George Lucas had this technology years ago, he would have abused it,” Auster said.

With so many recent movies coming out in 3-D lately, one might think that movie producers just discovered the visual technique.

But the effect has a long history. Three-dimensional effects can be traced back to 1890, where early efforts to create 3-D visuals were patented by British inventor, William Friese-Greene. Then, anaglyph lenses (those red and blue cardboard glasses) quickly became popular after their debut in the 1920s. The golden age of 3-D arrived in the ’50s, with some of the first well-known 3-D films, including Warner Brothers’ “Bwana Devil” and “House of Wax,” and Universal Studios’ “It Came from Outer Space.”

“It was the studios’ defense against television,” Auster said. “It really didn’t take off until now, with all these movies coming out. It’s a technology whose time has come.”

We can thank James Cameron’s success with “Avatar” for the current interest in 3-D movies. The film’s breathtaking visual effects inspired many other producers to create action-packed 3-D movies, hoping that their success might match Cameron’s.

The problem is that Cameron spent at least 10 years working on “Avatar,” with the intention of producing the movie in 3-D from its inception. However, producers trying to emulate his success don’t usually plan on using 3-D until filming is well underway, resulting in horrible aesthetic effects.

Clark believes moviegoers are spending more money to be cheated. “It provides a shortcut to [the] audience’s thrill and response,” she said. “I’d rather prefer a build up to those.”

American film critic and screenwriter Roger Ebert can attest to this. His article in the May 10 issue of Newsweek, entitled “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too),” discussed his aversion to the conversion of recent film “Clash of the Titans” to 3-D. “In my review of ‘Clash of the Titans,’” he wrote, “I added a footnote: ‘Explain to your kids that the movie was not filmed in 3-D and is only being shown in 3-D in order to charge you an extra five dollars a ticket.’”

Abe Mendez, FCLC ’12, doesn’t see the benefit of 3-D for customers either. “I’m not a huge fan of ‘Star Wars,’ but I wouldn’t want to pay $17 just to watch a remake of a movie that came out years ago,” he said. “Classics should be left alone.”

Despite negative feedback among older fans, some younger “Star Wars” fans are excited at the prospect of a 3-D remake. On starwars.com, following the announcement by Lucas Films, user-generated comments were full of enthusiasm, many posted by fans too young to experience the original “Star Wars” films when they first premiered.

Louie Sullivan, FCLC ’13, understands this appeal and thinks Lucas Films is making a smart business move. “Some fans are upset because they’re starting with ‘Episode One,’ but it makes sense. It’s a marketing strategy, targeting the new generation of ‘Star Wars’ fans,” he said. “It breathes new life into the series.”

Regardless of where fans stand on the issue, Lucas Films will likely repeat past success with its new project.

Danny Velasco, FCLC ’14, believes fan dedication can’t be underestimated. “The fans could be upset, but there is no way they will not see the movie,” he said. Lucas Films and movie theaters nationwide are betting on it.