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`The Force' and you

Lucasfilm is finally releasing some `Star Wars' clips. Fans get to re-edit them; the filmmaker makes money.

May 29, 2007

DEVOTEES OF THE six "Star Wars" films have churned out an epic number of tributes and parodies. Now, after years of warily eyeing fan filmmakers, Lucasfilm is trying to draw them in -- not to the dark side, but to its website.

The studio has made about 250 clips available on StarWars.com, inviting visitors to edit them into their own mini-movies. People can also splice in pictures or scenes they've shot themselves. Don't like Hayden Christensen's serious-as-a-heart-attack performance as young Anakin Skywalker? Liven up Lucas' scenes with your own lighthearted portrayal of a gifted youth in crisis.

Other major media companies have invited fans to slice and dice clips. What makes the StarWars.com announcement significant is George Lucas' history of tightly controlling his characters, copyrights and trademarks. By embracing the Internet's remix culture, he's effectively handing control over his studio's footage to millions of new editors -- provided, of course, that any revenue generated by their work goes to Lucasfilm, not them. The only limits enforced by Eyespot, which is providing the site's editing tools and screening films before they're posted, are on nudity, profanity and other objectionable content. If you want to edit Darth Vader into a hero, go right ahead.

The venture exemplifies how leading figures in the entertainment industry are adjusting to the runaway success of YouTube, MySpace and other sites featuring user-generated content. Increasingly, consumers aren't merely consuming media; they're creating, modifying, personalizing and sharing the results. And there's a surprisingly large audience for these creations, which means there's an opportunity to sell advertisements.

Lucasfilm isn't exactly flinging open its vaults to online remixers. Only an hour or two of clips from the six movies will be available, out of more than 13 hours of running time. And the fan films can't be longer than six minutes. Still, even this limited release signals that one of filmdom's most zealous guardians of intellectual property sees the value in sacrificing some control in exchange for the chance to profit from the Net's appetite for reconstruction.

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