The recent commencement of production on Star Wars Episode VII has had wide-ranging effects on the Star Wars franchise as a whole, as Lucasfilm has started to transition back into the full swing of big-budget filmmaking. This is a far cry from their activities between the release of Episode III and now, when their primary function with regards to Star Wars was that of a brand custodian. As a result, existing products in development may not necessarily fit with Lucasfilm’s direction now; this is the case with the recent cancellation of the 3D conversions of the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies.
George Lucas mentioned the possibility of converting the existing Star Wars films to 3D years ago, but only the recent surge in the popularity of 3D movies created an environment where this was actually viable. The plan was to start with the prequel trilogy and move on to the originals afterward – re-releasing everything in theaters, one film per year. Episode I was released in February of 2012, to a mixed reception; on top of all the existing criticisms of the film, the 3D conversion was reported as being somewhat flat and dark. Combined with the desire to focus on Episode VII, the muted response is likely part of the reason for the cancellation.
Viewers of early screenings of the work-in-progress conversion of Episode II, though, have suggested that Lucasfilm had taken those criticisms to heart, producing a 3D conversion on par with – or better than – most 3D movies produced today. The film’s color palette wasn’t as negatively impacted, and the feeling of depth was far more convincing. It can be presumed that the later conversions – those of Episode III and the original trilogy – would have improved further on the process; whatever Lucasfilm’s pros and cons as a studio, they’ve historically had a great grasp on the cutting-edge of film technology. Enthusiasts of 3D movies have more reason to be disappointed than they might think from the 3D version of Episode I; by all accounts, the later conversions were looking remarkable.
This isn’t to say that the cancellation was pointless, though; far from it. Star Wars Episode VII has a lot to prove; it’s the first Star Wars film since Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, and it’s the first one since the end of the prequel trilogy. The prequel trilogy’s lukewarm reception has made the public much more skeptical going into Episode VII than they were going into Episode I; where the prequels were essentially guaranteed financial success by the strength of their brand, there’s a real chance that a lackluster Episode VII could flop. So, Lucasfilm needs to be able to provide that film with as much money and manpower as possible; the 3D versions of the older films were interesting projects, but Episode VII should be better for having Lucasfilm’s full attention.
Is there any hope for the remaining Star Wars 3D movies?
Finally – while the 3D conversions of the past Star Wars films are cancelled for the time being, it’s very plausible that the project will be revived down the line. There’s still a market for these, and there’s already quite a bit of work done. It’s not unlikely at all that Lucasfilm will revisit the notion of turning the prior Star Wars films into 3D movies, once Episode VII’s development has been completed.