LOS ANGELES -- George Lucas watched the success of "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" in the 3-D format and decided it was time for a return of the Jedi.
"Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" will return to theaters in 3-D in 2012 and will be followed in the stereoscopic format by the five other live-action movies set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
The Modesto native's Industrial Light & Magic special effects shop is overseeing the 3-D conversion. 20th Century Fox will release them, as it has done for all previous "Star Wars" films.
Lucas has said on more than one occasion that the technological strides of James Cameron's "Avatar" persuaded him to reconsider his longtime disdain for 3-D. After the Golden Globes, for instance, he told "Access Hollywood" that he was investigating the possibilities of converting his Skywalker family epic into the trendy format.
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"Haven't been a big fan of 3-D, but that movie definitely improves in (the field of) 3-D. ... We've been looking for years and years and years of trying to take 'Star Wars' and put it in 3-D," Lucas said. "But (the) technology hasn't been
there. We've been struggling with it, but I think this will be a new impetus to make that happen."
Reaction from local fans was mostly positive.
"I think that's awesome," said Mike Vanek, 31, of Modesto. " 'Star Wars' is an iconic movie. No matter who you are or how old you are, you've heard of 'Star Wars.' I have all the toys. The whole 3-D format is huge now. I think people will come out in droves to see 'Star Wars' 3-D."
Mary Beth Fullerton, 32, of Modesto said she and her family are huge fans of the series and are looking forward to seeing what Lucas will do with 3-D. "His special effects are awesome, and I'm sure in 3-D, they'll be even more powerful," she said.
But fan Sean Fornelli, 40, of Modesto said he would skip the 3-D versions. He was disappointed by the three most recent movies in the series and by the 1997 special edition of the original trilogy, which added special effects that weren't possible at the time of the three films' initial release.
"I thought the first three that came out were masterpieces the way they were, and then he rereleased them with changes that I thought made them worse," Fornelli said. "He doesn't have a good track record, in my opinion, in improving things."
Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisor John Knoll made clear that his company doesn't intend to put out a subpar 3-D conversion. Some conversions done in a rush have turned off moviegoers and critics.
"Getting good results on a stereo conversion is a matter of taking the time and getting it right," Knoll said in a statement. "It takes a critical and artistic eye, along with an incredible attention to detail, to be successful.
"For 'Star Wars,' we will take our time, applying everything we know both aesthetically and technically to bring audiences a fantastic new 'Star Wars' experience," Knoll said.
Bee entertainment writer Lisa Millegan Renner contributed to this report.