It may anger some, but George Lucas
has milked the cash cow
that is "Star Wars" better than anybody has ever milked any franchise ever. This is a history of how George Lucas
has creatively made his fans (myself very
much included) spend cash on his films over and over and over again
In 1996, Lucas re-released the original "Star Wars" trilogy on VHS in a package called the "Star Wars Trilogy Giftpack." This was the first video release of the films since their original video release and many re-releases in theatres (not uncommon for films prior to the mid-80s). Advertisements told us this was the last time that these films would ever roll down the assembly line. Lucas labeled the package with a message to enjoy the films for generations to come, as this would be the last time we'd see them. In the video's lone special feature, in which Lucas was interviewed by film critic Leonard Maltin, he briefly mentioned the prequels at times. In a way, Lucas saying these were the last time these films would be released was a truthful statement. This release was the final time the original three "Star Wars" films were ever released in their original form.
In 1997, Lucas brought Special Editions of the original trilogy back to theatres. The films were altered from their original state and new scenes were added. Some fans argued the changes, yet each of the films went on to make good business at the box office. Lucas then went on to release a trilogy pack on VHS on August 26th, 1997.
After the May 19th, 1999 release of The Phantom Menace (which grossed $924 million worldwide, second only to Titanic at the time) Lucas was getting pressure from fans to release The Phantom Menace on DVD. Still a budding format at the time, people thought Lucas could create a fantastic DVD to go along with the film, which received some of the most mixed reviews in the history of cinema. Yet, Lucas didn't give in to the demand. On April 4th, 2000 the film came out on VHS. On April 28th, perhaps as a response to fan complaints, "The Phantom Menace – Widescreen Video Collectors Edition" package was released. It contained a behind the scenes featurette, a 48 page collector's book and a mounted 35mm filmstrip from a print of The Phantom Menace. Yet still, nobody was happy that the film wasn't on DVD.
In the holiday shopping season of 2000, Lucas decided to re-release the original trilogy on VHS again. This release contained the 1997 Special Edition versions of the films and its only hype behind the release was a featurette on the making of what would become Attack of the Clones. Yet the featurette was only ten minutes long and didn't feature a second of footage from the final product.
On October 16th, 2001, Lucas finally caved and released The Phantom Menace on DVD. The package was filled with great features and contained seven new sequences supposedly "created just for the DVD release." The DVD sold like hotcakes, just like the VHS sold like hotcakes...to the same people.
On November 12th, 2002, Lucas's next installment in the "Star Wars" saga came to, Attack of the Clones. This came right to DVD and like The Phantom Menace, was a fantastic package. On the day of Attack of the Clones' DVD release, “Saga Video Packs” were sold in which both prequels were packaged together.
Then, after much demand for Lucas to re-release the original "Star Wars" trilogy films on DVD, Lucas finally did. On September 21st, 2004, a four-disc package with the original three films was released. The special features were once again fantastic, yet the films had been altered even more, with the usual strong reactions from the "Star Wars" faithful.
Obviously, the main problem fans had with the DVD release is that they wanted to see the "Star Wars" films in their original state on DVD. Similar to Steven Spielberg released both the original 1982 version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the altered 2002 "Special Edition" of the film on DVD. I wouldn't doubt that Lucas's next trick will be caving once more and releasing the films in their original state on DVD. Maybe around the time he is packaging the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy on DVD after the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005.