The Star Wars series is truly an exceptional franchise, having broken box office records, creating legions of fans, and bringing the idea of collateral merchandise licensing to an unprecedented level. Also, how many other films are top hits at the box office in three different decades, even when all you’ve done is add a few minutes of extra scenes and made the explosions better?
Although Episode 7 is not slated for release until December of 2015, there is new Star Wars content out for mass consumption. Just yesterday, LucasFilms released a trailer for Empire Strikes Back: Uncut through the website Mashable.com. The full film will be released today.
In case you didn’t know, 2 years ago director Casey Pugh sent out an internet call to action to Star Wars fans: film your own version of any scene from Star Wars: A New Hope, and I’ll use it to make a fan-made version. The result is a full length feature film that is at times intentionally hilarious, actually impressive, or other times, so terrible it is hilarious. The full movie can be viewed on this officially sanctioned and licensed YouTube page.
Below is the official trailer for the new Empire Strikes Back: Uncut film
There are so many levels of derivative work and licensing issues involved that I think any release would require a flowchart and possibly a power point presentation. This isn’t the first time companies have embraced user-generated content, but it is certainly one of the more ambitious uses. But it is wonderful to see a major player in the entertainment industry embrace new technologies and fan participation. The underlying copyright issues may be difficult, but they’re not insurmountable and, for me, the result is worth it.
But Star Wars hasn’t been focused solely on copyright law, they’ve been making strides in trademark law too. Although there has been an increasing interest in the registration of sound marks, LucasFilms was a pioneer in the field, having obtained a trademark registration for the sound of Darth Vader breathing. The registration was issued in 2009 and covers “Halloween and masquerade costumes incorporating masks” and “costume masks, voice altering toys, toy computers, action figures, electronic games” and similar toys and figurines. You can listen to the sound mark here.
Although Darth Vader’s breathing is perhaps the most distinctive sound to emerge from the Star Wars series, it isn’t the only one that might be worthwhile protecting. R2-D2 has some distinctive noises as well as Chewbacca’s roar. It might be a bit harder to obtain, but the sound of a light saber might have a chance, too. And who knows what else may come out of the final three episodes?
While the last year has been relatively quiet on the Star Wars front, I think these new stories are just the beginning of what will surely be a 2015 filled with “sneak peeks,” fan complaints and, yes, legal issues surrounding the Star Wars franchise as we gear up for the first Disney-produced installment of the saga. Here’s hoping that the majority of these are fun stories like Star Wars Uncut in the coming year.