'Star Wars: Force Awakens' Will Debut in 3D, a First for the Franchise

Star Wars the Force Awakens 2 - H 2015

J.J. Abrams' movie will be the first film in the 'Star Wars' series to be released in 3D during its initial run — alongside 2D and Imax versions.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens everywhere in the U.S. on Dec. 18, it will be the first film in the Star Wars franchise that will be presented in 3D during its original release. In 2012, Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, first released in 2D in 1999, was converted to 3D and rereleased, but then Disney tabled plans to rerelease 3D versions of the other two films in the series.

Force Awakens, though, will hit screens in a multitude of formats — digital 3D, three different Imax 3D versions and regular digital 2D.

Director J.J. Abrams, at a recent junket, explained his decision to send out a 3D version, saying, "As someone who really hasn’t been the most vocal advocate of 3D, the strangest thing happened to me on this. When I was watching the reels in 3D, there were a number of shots — and I know this sounds insane — that I hadn’t understood in the three-dimensional space quite the way I did when I saw them in 3D. I actually felt that there were things that were playing better in 3D. I had never felt that before."

Disney and Lucasfilm announced in late 2013 that Force Awakens would be available in 3D, and the movies' format choices are now listed on marketing materials.

Films that were shot with 3D cameras, such as James Cameron's Avatar (2009), Martin Scorsese's Hugo and Ridley Scott's The Martian, tend to promote the 3D aspect much more than those shot with 2D cameras and then converted to 3D. The new Star Wars movie was converted.

Few Hollywood studios would forgo making a broad tentpole available in 3D because of the higher-priced tickets 3D commands. Even though the appetite for the format has waned in North America, it remains far more popular overseas.

"It's very rare that a big tentpole doesn't have a 3D component. It's especially popular overseas," said Eric Handler of MKM partners. "Disney is a big fan of 3D film."

Three different formats of Force Awakens will play in Imax theaters. The vast majority of locations will offer Imax 3D, while 18 to 20 locations will play Imax 70mm film and another 18 to 20 Imax theaters will use laser projection. Abrams shot one key sequence with Imax cameras, and anyone seeing the movie in an Imax location will see the movie expand to take up the entire screen during that sequence.