Last week, Lucasfilm finally announced an official date for the release of 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' in 3D: Feb. 10, 2012. Whether you love or hate the prequels, 'The Phantom Menace' is the first film in the series -- especially for fans who consider them, and not the original trilogy, generational benchmarks -- and it is natural for Lucas and 20th Century Fox to start at the beginning of the saga. But the question isn't whether the prequels should be the trilogy to initiate this cinematic re-release, it's whether they're the films that will truly make the best use of 3D; no matter which order you choose to see these six films, some of them feature scenes and sequences which will simply look better when converted into three dimensions.
So in descending order from worst to best, we've decided to put together a countdown of which 'Star Wars' films will make the best use of 3D overall, and which scenes in those films will (presumably) look the best once you're in the theater with your glasses on, ready to finally be truly immersed in the world George Lucas created such a long time ago.
6. 'Episode II: Attack of the Clones'
Thanks in no small part to George Lucas's affection for cars and racing, many of the sequences in all of the films should be fairly dynamic in 3D, simply because of the way in which they were originally shot. But the interesting thing about 3D is that it is meant to work in the same way as our natural vision, and pretty much anything that's more than 50 feet away from us is no longer in 3D, even in the real world. Because of that, and counterintuitive as it sounds, a lot of the films' more expansive landscapes, even ones in the vastness of space, may not look as dynamic as audiences may expect. And it's because of this -- the fact that as awesome as the chase on Coruscant is -- that much of 'Episode II' will probably not gain a whole lot from the conversion process. That said, Yoda's debut as a fighter equal to his less diminutive protégés (much less opponents) should be a pretty amazing sequence to behold.
5. 'Star Wars'
Because it's an easier process to dimensionalize computer-animated (and digitally-photographed) images than ones created in-camera on celluloid, the actual conversion process may itself be an issue for Lucas when he takes on the original trilogy. The 1977 original is by far the least visually dynamic of all of the films, which may actually work in its favor. There's more immediate recognition of spatial dimensions there than in the films where there are completely fantastical, computer-animated worlds from the top of the screen to bottom – but it's also a film which may ultimately seem the most perfunctory in its 3D execution. That said, the scenes inside the Death Star – such as Obi-Wan's infiltration of the cavernous room where the controls for the tractor beam are located – should be impressive, and it seems as if all fans have been imagining the trench-run finale in 3D all their lives, making it the showcase of this film as a whole.
4. 'Episode I: The Phantom Menace
There are three sequences in particular that should truly benefit from 3D conversion in 'Episode I:' the underwater journey to Otoh Gunga, where Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan battle sea creatures and the obnoxious personality of Jar-Jar Binks; the pod race where Anakin Skywalker decimates his opponent against a backdrop of farting aliens and two-headed race commentators; and the Duel of the Fates, where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan face down Darth Maul. The pod race seems most readily compatible with 3D – just imagine being behind the wheel of Anakin's vehicle as he races towards the horizon – but all three should look good, even if, again, you do have to endure an unhealthy dose of Jar-Jar to fully experience them.
I was originally tempted to put this film at Number One simply because I've been ducking trees during the speeder bike sequence since the film was originally released in theaters in 1983, but no matter where it is on this list, it should look pretty amazing, from the opening scenes on Tatooine where Luke fights the Rancor and Han hangs dangerously over the Sarlacc pit, to the final showdown between Luke and Darth Vader in the Emperor's throne room. The fact that this will be the last film shown is a convenient coincidence, because it features an abundance of natural foliage that will presumably be something of a nightmare to convert into 3D, but assuming that Lucasfilm has been working on the process for several years, it should look every bit as believable and immersive as the landscapes of Pandora in 'Avatar' – especially if they get those POV shots in the speeder bike sequence right.
In spite of the fact that space is actually going to be kind of an issue for the conversion of the series – to dimensionalize stars and other distant objects will only undermine the scope of the images (too much dimensionalization of background details has a miniaturizing effect) – I'm really looking forward to seeing the opening sequence of 'Episode III' because of the way that Lucas shot the action. Not only is the space footage shot in a way that maximizes the frame and the effect of 3D, but it builds to a terrific visual gauntlet that pays off with a shot of a massive space cruiser flying directly at the camera. Meanwhile, the battle between Obi-Wan and General Grievous is itself a fairly epic set piece, and of course the final showdown between Obi-Wan and Anakin should look impressive as well.
It's possible I found the most sequences in any 'Star Wars' film here because I know Irvin Kershner's installment best, but just think about the possibilities: the snowy landscapes of Hoth, the AT-AT attack on the rebel stronghold, the slimy textures and twisting greenery of Dagobah, the amazing, amazing, asteroid field chase, the endless pristine hallways of Cloud City, and of course, the battle in its bowels between Luke and Darth Vader. Imagine how awesome it will look for Luke to truly be perched dangerously on a ledge thousands of feet above what seems like certain death as Vader offers his opponent some harsh truths about his identity. It's not without good reason that fans of the series think this film has everything – except of course a conclusive ending – and its variety of settings and their consistent suitability for dimensionalization should make it the most highly-anticipated of all of the 'Star Wars' films, but also offer a payoff that's well worth the wait.
More: 10 'Star Wars' Scenes We Want to See in 3D (And 5 We Don't)