Collider Visits Skywalker Ranch for the 3D Re-Release of STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE; Plus 12 Things We Learned About the Film

     February 10, 2012

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Last week, I had the privilege of going to Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm’s offices at the Presidio with my daughter to learn about the 3D re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which opens everywhere today.  Hit the jump to read my recap of the visit, including how the 3D re-release offers a new perspective on the film, and for a rundown of 12 things we learned about Episode I.

star-wars-episode-1-the-phantom-menace-3d-posterHere are 12 things we learned about Episode I from our visit:

  • The name Coruscant actually means “glittering”.
  • Darth Maul comes from the planet Dathomir, which is ruled by powerful witches called the Nightsisters, and he has a brother named Savage Opress.
  • Natalie Portman plays Queen Amidala, but when she switches roles with her handmaiden, the Queen is played by Keira Knightley, who played Elizabeth Swan in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
  • In between the production of Episode II and Episode III, George Lucas first began exploring the idea of presenting the entire Star Wars saga as 3D theatrical releases.  Active 3D conversion work on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace began in 2010.
  • Episode I was converted frame-by-frame to go from 2D to 3D thanks to Prime Focus and Industrial Light & Magic.
  • Movies shot for 3D use specialized cameras that capture two simultaneous images – one for each eye – that are projected together to create the illusion of depth.  Movies created in 2D only have a single image per frame.  For 3D conversion, a visual effects process creates what will be seen from the second viewpoint.
  • 3D conversion is an artistic process filled with artistic choices.  George Lucas wanted to avoid 3D gimmickry, like objects breaking through the screen for the sake of a 3D effect, but rather wanted to add depth to the existing picture.  He wanted to maintain the proscenium perspective and have the effects take place behind it.
  • Episode I was the last Star Wars movie captured on film, as Episodes II and III were shot digitally.
  • Some of the biggest challenges in the 3D conversion of Episode I were shots of transparent elements – like holograms, lightsabers, lasers, Watto’s blurred wings, or the windshield on Anakin’s Podracer.
  • Though Episode I is filled with amazing landscapes and panoramic vistas, the close-up and medium shots create the greatest sense of depth.
  • Even though there were no content changes made to Episode I for the 3D release, the film to tape transfer created an 8% image size increase.
  • In spite of cynical points of view, the reason George Lucas believes in re-releasing the Star Wars saga in theatres is because he believes in the cinematic experience and thinks allowing generations to share the experience is a great thing.

star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace-poster-5The first time I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was the midnight showing at the Fox Theatre in Westwood, CA.  I had heard from a friend that George Lucas might be showing up during the film, and so many times I left the theatre to see if I could have a chance encounter with the man who gave so much to generations of people.  The encounter did not occur, but nearly thirteen years later I had the opportunity to see Episode I in its new 3D format at Lucasfilm.

At first, I was skeptical and couldn’t understand why he would want to release the film again.  Was Lucas getting caught up in the 3D craze?  It seems like every movie that has made a dollar out of Hollywood is being redone in 3D.  I couldn’t imagine Lucasfilm, ILM, Skywalker Sound, and Lucasarts needing more money with their continued success, and George Lucas has never seemed to be motivated by money.  I was searching for the motive.

Twentieth Century Fox hosted a press weekend up at Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm’s property at the Presidio for members of the press and their children, and I was extremely fortunate to have been able to go.  Fox coordinated to have the children interview people who had worked on the production of Episode I and learn about the creative process used in the film.  When my seven-year-old daughter found out she had the opportunity, she immediately sat down and wrote 21 questions in spite of it being “past her bedtime!”

We arrived at Skywalker Ranch on Saturday morning January 28, 2012.  The sun hadn’t yet hit the slopes of the valley with its radiation and so frost covered the grasses that remained in the shadows.  Through the fogged windows of the shuttle we could see the subsistent garden that fed those who lived on the ranch…you get the picture, it was a gorgeous day!  We walked in, but before we could receive our press badges we were taking pictures next to R2 and 3PO.  There was a giant cardboard display with a hole for the face of the Jedi who was fighting Darth Maul.  Cyan (my daughter) wasn’t tall enough to get her face in the hole, so I asked someone from Lucasfilm, who obliged, to take her photo as I held her up.  It didn’t work!  It was frantic because we were at Skywalker Ranch.  The dreams of a 3 year-old boy shaped by a mythology told in the stars were coming to fruition.

Lucasfilm-Star-Wars-Episode-1-Phantom-MenaceI settled down and the “Take your kid to work day,” hosted by Lucasfilm was underway.  Cyan went to four information sessions before interviewing each of its facilitators: Lightsaber training with stunt coordinator ObiShawn, Sound Editing and Character Voicing with sound editor Matthew Wood, Pod Racer tour with concept model artist John Goodson, and “Darth Maul from Live Action to CG” with CG supervisor Joel Aron.  We played the Kinect video game that is set to release “sometime” this Spring, went to the gift shop (if only my wife had kept my credit card), and toured the grounds.  Skywalker Ranch was beautiful.

After the nervous energy of realizing one of my childhood dreams subsided, I was overwhelmed with a sense of family.  Everyone at Lucasfilm was genuinely happy to help and glad that we were there.  They offered encouraging words to our children, told them to believe in themselves, and patiently answered questions until we were ready to go.  Yet, I had not discovered why the 3D conversion and theatrical re-release

Sunday, January 29th we went to the Presidio and the Lucasfilm compound there.  Again, I was overcome with childhood energy and thrust back into my 3, 6, and 9-year-old perspectives on life.  A Yoda fountain, Stormtroopers, ObiShawn with a Yoda puppet…I found myself skipping with my daughter and engaging in photo frenzy.  Cyan had made friends with another girl and they had used their lightsabers to hold off the Stormtroopers!  And then, we toured the offices and saw the legacy George Lucas, ILM, and Skywalker Sound had created.  Models, and paintings, and props from a myriad of films across seemingly infinite genre decorated the halls as we walked our way to the screening room where we would watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D.

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace LUCASFILMPhantom We got our glasses, selected our seats and sat down.  We were tired.  It had been a long weekend filled with anticipation and excitement.  There would be no popcorn, no drinks, and no cell phones, please!  Just my daughter and I, and Episode I.  For the first time, my daughter and I would watch Episode I in a movie theatre together!  George Lucas then made his appearance.  He did not arrive to shake our hands, or meet the scrutiny of the press.  Larger than life, he was projected on the screen to provide an answer to my lingering question: why the 3D conversion and theatrical re-release?  He said did it so a third generation could see the films in the theatre, and that’s when it struck me.  Money isn’t his motive, it’s to inspire another generation to dream with the same wonder and excitement he intended when he released the first film in 1977.

The movie began and I watched the dream in 3D.  It looks a lot better in 3D.  One of the criticisms that I have of CG environments is that all the surfaces look uniform.  My eye can tell the difference between a model’s texture and that of a CG version.  3D enables the CG texture depth in ways 2D does not.  It is a vast improvement and offers a new perspective.

During the lightsaber battle on Tatooine between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn, a new thought was thrust in my mind.  The sequence is shot at a very close range.  We rarely see both Maul and Jinn, but instead see the lightsaber of each and one of the characters, and with the conversion to 3D I was struck with Qui-Gon Jinn’s perspective.  I felt as though I were watching the fight from his eyes, which I had never experienced before.  This new perspective changed how I thought of all the films.  Now when I watch, I get the feeling of a Jedi spirit who has passed on to become One with the Force which enforces my audience perspective.  I urge moviegoers to see the film in 3D and experience this new perspective.

For more on my trip, here are my daughters interviews.

Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

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