Feature Article
Why George Lucas wants you to pirate Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace. At least that's what it seems like.

April 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

Last year one of the most anticipated movies of all time came out, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. This movie broke, or came close to breaking, many movie sales records. Well it is a year later and finally SW1 is available for you to buy.

But where is the DVD version?

Lucas invented a new sound format, above and beyond Dolby Digital AC-3 (also known as Dolby 5.1). The new standard adds a new rear channel to the already heady 5 channels in the AC-3 standard (the ".1" is for the sub-woofer). This rear channel drives 2 speakers bring the round up to all these speakers: Front Left, Front Right, Front Center, Surround Left, Surround Right, Rear Left & Rear Right (on the one new channel), and the sub-woofer. That’s 8 speakers driven by 6 full channels and the sub-woofer on its own "mini" channel.

Can you hear this awesome sound on the copy of SW1 you buy at the store? No. Why not? Because Dolby Digital in not recorded to VHS, and SW1 is not available on DVD. The Dolby 5.1, and now 6.1 (my term for the moment), are only available on DVD movies. If you want to experience Dolby 6.1 you can have to buy a new stereo/home theater sound system that supports it (none are available yet) and buy Austin Powers 2 - The Spy Who Shagged Me on DVD.

So why isn’t SW1 available on DVD? That is a very good question. I heard that George Lucas won’t release any of the Star Wars movies until all of them (Episodes I - VI) are finished.

But that doesn’t really answer why. I have thought about it a while and have come up with the only logical reason none of the Star Wars series will be released on DVD until 2006 (the last movie, Episode III, is supposed to be released to theaters in 2005). George wants us all to buy it on VHS and then he expects us to buy it again on DVD.

I briefly thought George might have wanted to wait until HDTV settles out and the next generation of DVD comes out with its improvements over current DVD. Some background... the two big standards for HDTV are 1080i and 720p. 1080i uses 1,080 lines of resolution in the display. The "i" stands for interlaced meaning that the screen is displayed in two passes, the first pass "draws" the odd numbered lines (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.) and the second pass draws the even lines (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.)

720p has 720 lines of resolution, but draws all the lines in one pass "progressively" (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). The "p," of course, stands for progressive. One of these standards, or something entirely different, will become the one and only standard used in the U.S. The FCC will require that all broadcasts be HDTV by 2006. Does that year sound familiar?

Where does DVD fit into the picture? Current DVD discs are encoded with a resolution of 768 x 480. The 480 is 480i. Some DVD players are coming out as 480p (look for a DVD player that supports DVD Progressive Scan). But the resolution is still only 480 lines.

Not to go into serious DVD techno-babble... on current HDTVs the DVD signal is multiplied to match the Television’s resolution. This results in a slight loss of quality, but still far superior to VHS tape.

DVD will eventually change to meet this improvement in television quality. So expect DVD players of the future to read discs with 1080i or 720p, and to read current discs and do the multiplying for compatibility.

Back to Star Wars. If DVD will change by 2006 to meet the change that will happen in TVs, it would appear to support the possibility that George wants to wait for the best format to show off his movies.

If that were true then why is he selling them on VHS? Follow me. DVD movies don’t where out. How many people would by SW1 on DVD now only to replace it with a better quality DVD version later? My guess is very few. However, if you buy it now on VHS it will be worn out by the time it comes out on DVD (regardless of the resolution of the DVD disc) and people will be more likely to buy it again.

In fact, Lucas probably hopes people will wear out their VHS copies and buy it on VHS more than once. Maybe he will "remake" The Phantom Menace and have another version for you to buy. Nah, nobody would bother buying the same movie twice just for a little extra stuff. Or would they?

So… what should you do? Do what I am doing... boycott George Lucas and Star Wars. The Star Wars franchise is, without a doubt, the most commercialized movie series I have ever seen. And to top it off George Lucas expects us to buy the movies more than once. By the time SW1 arrives on DVD I will have seen it on rental, pay-per-view (actually I will boycott these two), HBO, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, UPN, TNT, USA Network, and Lifetime for Women. There will no longer be a reason to buy it. It will be old (not classic) by 2006.

We will have missed nothing. Try it. If you ever expect Lucas and the rest of the movie industry to believe in the phrase "the customer is always right," you must stand your ground. Unfortunately, I feel I am behind a lost cause. Both version of The Phantom Menace, wide screen and standard (in VHS only), rank as the #1 & #2 sellers, respectfully, at (as of this writing).

Boycott Star Wars! Better yet, pirate it. If they don’t want to sell you a digital version, then go ahead and download it. They must want you to download/pirate a digital version otherwise they would sell you one, right. They are feeding piracy with their insane business practices. I say, "Be a Pirate!"