Star Wars films going digital on April 10: 5 things to know about the iconic film franchise

It is every Star Wars geek's dream come true: the luxury of having all the films at your beck and call, for your viewing pleasure anywhere, across any device.

This, after Lucasfilm announced that it would be releasing on April 10 the space opera saga's six epics on Digital HD - available for download on outlets such as iTunes and Google Play - for the first time.

Bonus features for the digital movie collection include Star Wars: Discoveries From Inside, interesting nuggets of information gleaned from conversations between key franchise contributors, as well as a curated list of classic Star Wars extras from each film.

Here are five things to know about the George Lucas-inspired phenomenon, which first debuted in 1977 with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

1. One of the most lucrative film franchises ever

Spanning an unprecedented three decades, the sextet of films have grossed almost US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) in total. Star Wars Episode I: The Phanton Menace, the fourth film in the franchise, tops the charts with a little over US$1 billion at the global box office.

But its blockbuster success has not been confined to the silver screen - it has spawned a thriving side-empire of DVDs, toys, videogames and books.

According to a 2007 Forbes article, the entire franchise has earned more than US$22 billion, with a large chunk of it (more than US$9 billion) shared by toy companies such as Hasbro who fuel the fanbase with action figures and other toys.

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Another secret to its remarkable longevity has been a constant cycle of re-releases. For instance, Lucas revived the first three films in 1997 with new digital effects, just before the 1999 debut of The Phantom Menace, which marked the first of three "prequels" that culminated in 2005's Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith.

2. Six plus three equals nine

This December has already been marked down as one of the most anticipated months in film, thanks to the imminent release of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens - otherwise known as Star Wars: Episode VII - helmed by Star Trek director JJ Abrams.

The story is set to take place 30 years after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi.

The Force Awakens will see the return of the cast, which includes Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), from the original three films. It will also be expanded to a third trilogy, bringing the series' grand total to nine.

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That's not all - Disney, which bought Lucasfilm for US$4.06 billion in 2012, intends to produce a spin-off every year between the release of the eighth (May 2017) and ninth films.

Godzilla (2014) director Gareth Edwards is directing the first - Star Wars: Rogue One - which stars The Theory Of Everything actress Felicity Jones and is set for a Dec 2016 release.

3. Tunisia IS Tatooine

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It might have taken place in a galaxy far, far away, but four of the six films were actually filmed in southern Tunisia, which doubles up as the famous planet Tatooine - the home world of Anakin and Luke Skywalker.

The fictional town of Mos Espa in the Sahara Desert, left intact after filming ended, has attracted many a pilgrimage from ardent fans.

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Luke Skywalker's home in Matmata, which consists of five pit dwellings, has been converted to a hotel called the Hotel Sidi Driss. It reportedly costs just 15 Tunisian dinar (S$10.50) a night to stay there.

Tataounie, an actual Tunisian town located along the fringes of the Sahara desert, served as the name inspiration for the planet. However, no movie scenes were shot there.

4. It made George Lucas a multi-billionaire

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As of April 7, 2015, Forbes valued the 70-year-old's personal net worth at around US$5 billion. This ranked him 309th on the world's rich list. But how exactly did he do it?

The story goes that Lucas had eschewed a higher fee in favour of a relatively modest US$150,000 for writing and directing the first Star Wars film. But in exchange, Fox gave him the licensing and merchandising right to the film, as well as ownership of any sequels.

Production of the film was fraught with many problems, with a pessimistic Lucas famously saying then that "it won't make more than US$15 million".

The rest, of course, is history.

5. Singapore is a part of the Star Wars universe

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Dubbed The Sandcrawler for its Star Wars-inspired design, Lucasfilm Singapore's new regional headquarters at Fusionopolis View was opened to much fanfare in January 2014.

Besides housing a treasure trove of the franchise's memorabilia, parts of the interior also resemble iconic sets in the film, while there is also a 100-seat in-house theatre for the studio's employees to watch - what else? - Star Wars movies.

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Some of the digital effects created there reportedly could also be in the upcoming sequels.

mklee@sph.com.sg

Sources: Starwars.com, The-numbers.com, Box Office Mojo, Forbes, AFP, Wookieepedia, Celebritynetworth.com, The Straits Times