‘Phantom’ spirit

'Menace' re-release a blessing to charities

HOLLYWOOD — Don’t mothball that Darth Maul costume just yet, “Star Wars” fans. “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” returns to theaters next week.

But this is no scheme by Fox to get the pic’s domestic gross up to a nice, round $500 million.

On the contrary, it’s a one-week run to benefit local charities selected by at least 755 theater owners in 350 cities across North America. Every B.O. dollar collected from Dec. 3-9 will go to one of 177 charities.

Fox and Lucasfilm say it will be the first time 100% of a major studio film’s grosses go to charity.

“It’s a season when people are really into sharing,” said Gordon Radley, prexy of Lucasfilm. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to help local causes, and a wonderful way to end the ‘Star Wars’ theatrical run.”

Originally released May 19, pic played until early November. Cume to that point was $427.7 million.

Few doubt Fox could have wrung a few more million out of it. But Tom Sherak, chairman of the studio’s domestic film group, said he wanted to try something different.

Film execs “are always looked at as these cold-hearted money-grabbers,” he said. “And here we have an opportunity to really help out now. Anything we give to these causes is going to make a difference. It’s a good feeling.”

Newspapers in all but a handful of participating cities plan to donate ad space listing show times and the name of the local charity. All of the top theater chains are taking part. Hasbro Inc. and Legoland Systems Inc. will help advertise the limited run.

Fox and Lucasfilm picked a release slot that’s shaping up as a breather between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The only other new films out Dec. 3 will be platform bows of Sony’s “The End of the Affair” and Miramax’s “Holy Smoke.”

Neither pic shares the target aud of “Star Wars.”

“It’s a film for all ages,” Radley said. “We wanted to take an opportunity to help families spend time together and give local causes a lift.”

Radley added he once spent time in the Peace Corps.

“One of the things volunteers learn,” he said, “is that service is its own reward.”

Sherak said the one-week total will be added to the cume of “Episode I.” But he has no clear idea what kind of response the charity effort will get.

Regardless of the outcome, he said, “It’s a special thing to give back on this kind of scale.”

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