On May 19, salivating fans in Obi-Wan robes and Queen Amidala updos will stampede into theaters for Episode III Revenge of the Sith. But savvy Sith followers will already know what they're in for: On May 5, a full two weeks before the movie's opening, George Lucas will give a sneak peek at plot points and scenes from the finished film to those who slap down about $50 for the Episode III videogame, a saber-swinging third-person game that follows the narrative of the film. (Keep reading, we don't spoil anything.)
It's an unprecedented marketing twist that should earn Lucas serious loot and hopefully reconnect with the coveted male-geek demo that was burned by Jar Jar. And it's evidence that Hollywood and the nearly $10 billion videogame industry have gotten cozier than Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in a corner booth. For years, studios have crafted fanboy-friendly fare to exploit comic-reading sci-fi lovers, but their joystick spin-offs haven't always scored big-time. Now that action auteurs like the Wachowski brothers and Sam Raimi have lent their cred by collaborating with videogame makers on best-selling versions of The Matrix and Spider-Man 2, respectively, game companies and studios have realized that console editions need some Hollywood flash and buzz to really succeed. Together, they've developed a win-win-win formula: Movie producers get built-in promotion; game makers get to up their profiles and create higher-quality product; and geeks get gameplay that's truer to the big-screen experience.
Here are three of 2005's most anticipated movie-spawned games, coming soon to a living room near you.
Star Wars: Episode III— Revenge of the Sith
For such a typically secretive studio, it seems strange that Lucas is basically giving away movie clips a fortnight before the Episode III release. But, as Jim Ward, president of LucasArts and VP of marketing for Lucasfilm, explains, the move capitalizes on the obsessive nature of the Star Wars cult. ''[It] fuels [fans'] excitement about going to see the film itself,'' he says. ''It's a way of allowing people to become immersed in that Star Wars experience.'' In other words: Expect lines at your local toy store. . .and then longer ones two weeks later.
But don't expect other Hollywood studios to quickly follow suit. This seemingly plot-spoiling plan is possible only because the game and film studio both part of the Lucas empire are under one roof. ''It's tightly integrated,'' explains Ward. ''[We] basically sent the [game] team to live with the production of Episode III on a day-to-day basis.'' That meant going to the Australian set and later collaborating with Hayden Christensen and lightsaber guru Nick Gillard to create convincing fight scenes.
Ward says the final product will be ''consistent with the film but also go beyond simply experiencing the movie. . . . We're very, very careful about not ruining the movie experience.''