'Star Wars' 3D release targeted for Feb. 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Fox, Lucasfilm eye date around Valentine's Day

20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm are zeroing in on a February 2012 release date to launch the first of the "Star Wars" movies to be converted to 3D, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."

George Lucas hopes that releasing the film early in the year, outside of summer blockbuster season, will give it an open run at the box office and also set up the opportunity to sell merchandise through the balance of the year. The plan under discussion would make the release of the subsequent films in the series an annual event on the film calendar.

While Fox said it has not decided on a specific date, sources suggested that it is looking at a date around Valentine's Day, which falls on a Tuesday in 2012.

That would point to a release date as early as Friday, Feb. 10 or, more likely, Wednesday, Feb. 15, or Friday, Feb. 17, which also happens to be the beginning of the extended President's Day holiday weekend.

Currently, the only movie slated for February 2012 is Sony's "Ghost Rider 2," which will also be in 3D and is set for Feb. 17.

If the first in the series meets with success, the remaining five films would follow a year apart on comparable dates. However, depending on how the first release performs, the companies could also decide to open the subsequent entries in different spots on the calendar.

When the new special-edition version of the original three "Star Wars" movies were re-released in 1997, that cycle began with a re-release of "Episode IV: A New Hope" on Jan. 31, followed by "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" on Feb. 21 and "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" on March 14.

Launching the movies during the first quarter of the year would also give Lucas Licensing the opportunity to launch new licensing programs that could run throughout the course of the year.