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The real reason the Star Wars 3D movies were canceled

With the billion-dollar successes of the sequel trilogy and critically-acclaimed TV series like The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars continuing to expand the universe, it's hard to imagine there was ever a time when someone said no to more Star Wars.

But there was, and it wasn't that long ago (or in a galaxy far, far away). For those who remember, the early 2010s found Lucasfilm attempting to bring the franchise into the cinematic future with a series of special re-releases. In 2012, Episode I: The Phantom Menace returned to theaters after more than a decade to introduce yet another generation of fans to the action, romance, and political intrigue of the Skywalker saga. Only this time, the first of the prequels was in eye-popping 3D. The plan was to roll out each of the six films over six consecutive years.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on who you ask — that first 3D release didn't do so great at the box office. Unlike the original 1999 release, which earned over $924 million worldwide, its 3D counterpart garnered barely more than a tenth of that total, according to Box Office Mojo. That same year, Disney bought Lucasfilm, and by the start of 2013 the Mouse House had announced that it was squashing plans to release the remaining five chapters (via Deadline). 

Seen by some as a blatant cash-grab, the 3D initiative was scrapped to make room for the sequel trilogy that kicked off in 2015 with one of the biggest box office hits of the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The canning of the project spurred the rumor of a 3D version of Star Wars: A New Hope

While the plans for a 3D library of the complete Star Wars saga never came to fruition, The Phantom Menace's 3D release sparked a rumor that Lucasfilm had secretly stashed away a 3D version of Episode IV: A New Hope, a.k.a. the original Star WarsWatching the prequel trilogy, which featured relatively modern effects (and earned significantly less fan and critical acclaim), might not have seemed appealing to the franchise's core fanbase who openly revered the '70s and '80s originals. But seeing the trio of Luke, Leia, and Han take on Darth Vader in the new format could have been something special — even if it was a part of a rather exhausting 3D trend that was gripping Hollywood at the time. 

The existence of such a version, however, was disproven. While Lucas did actually convert the remaining two films in the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, due to the timing of the $4 billion sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, it's likely A New Hope didn't have a full 3D conversion yet. As it turns out, making it happen would have actually been quite complicated. At that time, 20th Century Fox still owned the distribution rights to the original six films, meaning any further 3D conversions could theoretically be done by the VFX wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, but the release would have had to be hashed out by Fox and Disney.  

Back in 2012, before deals like Sony and Disney's shared use of Spider-Man, it just didn't seem possible — and maybe it still would be, had Disney not completed its $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox in 2019. With that comes a new hope for a 3D Episode IV, should James Cameron's upcoming Avatar sequels jumpstart a return of the stereoscopic craze.