Vader rises for TV buyers

Cablers, nets seeking 'Sith' at any cost

“Star Wars: Episode III” has not only whet the appetites of fans worldwide, it’s got TV outlets at home and abroad salivating.

HBO has already stepped up for the pay TV rights domestically, but on the free TV front the rights are quietly being dangled before an array of players.

While the Fox network, sibling to George Lucas‘ longtime distrib, had previously landed “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” a number of cable outlets and broadcasters were invited to a special screening of “Revenge of the Sith” before the pic opened May 19.

It’s quite possible that a complicated deal involving, say, NBC, USA and Sci Fi — or Fox and FX — or any number of other combos could end up bidding for the rights to the latest installment, and for a package of the previous “Star Wars” pics as well. Think $20 million bucks or so.

On the foreign front, things could be even more complicated.

Top titles like Steven Spielberg‘s “E.T.” and “Jaws” as well as Lucas’ previous “Star Wars” installments were the subject of fiercely contested auctions in a number of key European territories.

And judging by the prices paid for recent blockbusters like “Spider-man” and “Lord of the Rings” by foreign stations, the battle for this latest epic will soon heat up.

One of Lucas’ top distribution execs, Jeff Ulin, has apparently already contacted prospective buyers abroad.

For those who lose out, there’s always a fallback: Universal is already dangling “King Kong” before buyers’ eyes and Warners is readying its next “Harry Potter.”