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An Interview With Jim Ward, V.P. of Marketing, Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones - The IMAX Experience

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: William Kallay Date: December 2002
"Attack of the Clones". © Lucas Film 2002

Jedi Knights, Imperial Storm troopers and Tusken Raiders rejoiced this past summer of 2002, when it was announced that "Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones", would be released in the IMAX format. For how many years have fans of the original trilogy, and now prequels, wished upon the stars above Skywalker Ranch for the films to be shown on the giant IMAX screen? Perhaps many years. In 1996, Star Wars alumnus, Ben Burtt, directed the movie, Special Effects: Anything Can Happen, in IMAX. That was the first and only time fans of the series were able to see galaxies far, far away on the tall large format screens, until recently. Utilizing IMAX Corporation's new DMR (Digital Remastering) process, which digitally augments 35mm film and 24p (digital cinematography) into the large 15-perf 70mm IMAX frame, Lucasfilm re-released "Attack of the Clones" on 58 IMAX screens. Many fans were delighted to see Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi battle the Dark Side on massive six-to-eight story screens.

Jim Ward, Vice President of Marketing for Lucasfilm, Ltd., was kind enough to take time from his schedule to talk about how and why "Attack of the Clones" went to the IMAX screen.

William Kallay- Was an IMAX release considered during production of the "Attack of the Clones"?

Jim Ward- No, not at all. This didn't come up until July of this past summer. The IMAX guys approached us and said, "Hey, we've got a new process called DMR. We're currently working on "Apollo 13". We'd be interested in seeing if you guys would be interested at all doing "Attack of the Clones". And we asked them, "Have you had any success with DMR process with any digital films?" Of course, they hadn't. They said let us test it and we'll show you what it looks like. So they did, and we came back, probably mid-August, and we took a look at it and we saw that it could work and we gave them the go-ahead.

Kallay- That was a pretty fast turnaround from going from a film that was still in release, to a shortened version in IMAX, wasn't it?

Ward- Yes. (Laughter) We were pretty busy. We decided to go ahead based on the test in mid-August. We had to cut the film down to the two-hour plate time. And then, we had to finish the DMR processing over the course of a couple months to get it into theatres by November 1st.

Kallay- Did Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) supervise the digital re-processing into IMAX?

Ward- Well, we had the initial tests. Then we had scheduled check-ins with them as they proceeded along, and then we took a look at the final film. Yes, Industrial Light & Magic worked very closely with them.

Kallay- What were some of the concerns about going from 24p and how it might look in IMAX?

Ward- First of all, similar to any film. How are things going to look on the big screen? When you have 24p, you're less obviously concerned about grain in the film, but you are concerned about how images are going to hold up. Also, you're concerned about how the effects are going to hold up. Are they going to have the same relative feel that the film has in its smaller format? And then things like contrast, color saturation, all of those issues still pertain and needed to be worked on in the process.

Kallay- Did the magicians at ILM do any tinkering to the original footage to make it look good in the larger format?

Ward- No. We handed over the files to the IMAX guys, and they worked together on the DMR process to make it look as great as it does.

Kallay- Why wasn't the original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1 utilized for the IMAX version of "Attack of the Clones"?

Ward- We looked at a number of different aspect ratios, to be honest, and it seemed like 1.81:1 was the best balance of optimizing the size. We said, "Look, if we're going to do this, we want it to be as big as possible, while at the same time, balance the images on the screen and make sure we could maximize that without having to get too dramatic on a pan-and-scan basis."

Kallay- Are there any noticeable shots in the film that you recall that were pan-and-scanned?

Ward- We used the pan-and-scan version of the DVD as sort of a guideline. It's been a while since I've seen it. I don't recall anything that jumps out at me.
More in 70mm reading:

The Original First-Week Engagements Of “Star Wars”

"Star Wars" Presented in Dimension 150

Internet link:

Kallay- Was the cinematographer David Tattersall involved with conversion at all?

Ward- No.

Kallay- Has he seen it?

Ward- I don't know, to be honest.

Kallay- Do you foresee an IMAX version of Episode III? Or is this something that is top secret?

Ward- No, no, it's not top secret, but it's way premature. The reason we did this was because we thought it would be a fun opportunity and a fun experience. It was kind of a reward for our fans. We've got a great fan base that has been with us for over twenty-five years now. And when the guys at IMAX came to us, we thought, if the testing works, wouldn't it be a fun thing for the fans? Absolutely! Every once-in-a-while, in a chat room or something, someone would say, "It would be great to see a Star Wars film on the IMAX screen." We thought, if this thing can work and it's going to look good, it would be a fun experience for the fans. So, that's why we did it. We're a couple weeks into the launch and it's going very well for us. But we've made no decisions about Episode III at this point.

Kallay- How has the film performed at the box office?

Ward- We did about $1.45 million or about $1.5 million opening weekend. It was a $25,000 per screen average. That's huge.

Kallay- That's incredible.

Ward- On 58 screens, yes, that's equivalent to what we did when we opened the film theatrically. That was double the per-screen average of Apollo 13. The second weekend we did $1.3 million and change, which was about a two-three percent decline from the first weekend, which is phenomenal. And this past weekend, we did $910,000 and that was about a 35% drop-off, which was great, given that "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" was in the marketplace, so we're very happy with the way this has been going. And our fans have just been ecstatic about the experience and the quality of the look of the film.

Kallay- Absolutely. Have you done exit polls as to who's actually seeing the film?

Ward- No, we haven't done any of that. But I think it's fair to say we mobilized our fan base in a big way for opening weekend. But we can't maintain these numbers without having this permeate beyond just the fan base, as well. So I think it's really just word-of-mouth that this is just a fun time.

Kallay- Now that there have been multiple presentation types of Episode II, which includes 35mm, digital cinema, IMAX, and now VHS and DVD, what do you feel is the best manner for an audience to view this movie?

Ward- I'm not sure if there is one single best way. First and foremost, George Lucas is a filmmaker. We honestly believe that seeing it in a theater with a digital projector is an optimal way to see it. And then for those people that obviously missed it, or can't go to a theatre with digital projection, I guess that maybe DVD is the next best way because, again, crisp digital presentation is the way that George meant it to be seen. So it's a combination of those two arenas. The IMAX Experience is clearly a fun opportunity, but that's not really how the film was optimized and shot in the first place. I think that's the icing on the cake.

Kallay- Is George Lucas pleased with the results of that IMAX version of the film?

Ward- Yes, I think so. Yes.

Kallay- Has this film been booked for a set amount of weeks, or is it going to run its course?

Ward- Well, it's really on a theatre-by-theatre booking. In general, it's basically going to run from November 1st through the end of the year.

Kallay- Jim, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk about "Attack of the Clones" in IMAX.

Ward- You're welcome.

Special thanks to Jim Ward, Jeanne Cole, Ellen Pasternack and Michael Coate
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Updated 21-01-24