washingtonpost.com
Star Wars: Ad Creep and Sith Speak

Jennifer Chaney
washingtonpost.com Movies Editor
Friday, May 20, 2005 11:00 AM

With the summer season kicking into high gear this weekend, Jen Chaney will tackle two questions on the minds of many moviegoers: How is "Revenge of the Sith"? And why do we keep seeing so many commercials in movie theaters?

Chaney -- moderator of 'Sith' Sense, the "Star Wars" blog on washingtonpost.com -- will be online Friday, May 20, at 11 a.m. ET to answer any and all queries about "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith." She also will discuss her story, which appeared May 15 in the Post's Sunday Arts section, about movie advertising, otherwise known as pre-show entertainment.

Chaney is the movies editor and DVD columnist for washingtonpost.com and a frequent contributor to the print edition of The Post.

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Jen Chaney: Good morning, everyone. We're going to have this discussion on dual topics today. First, I definitely want to hear your thoughts on "Revenge of the Sith." What did you think? Is it the masterpiece some critics say it is? Did you take a sick day (or rather, a 'Sith' day) to see it?

I'm also interested in your thoughts about movie theater advertising, something more people will be exposed to during the big summer movie season. Do you mind watching pre-show commercials or do you wish they would be banned entirely?

All right, let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for doing this chat. I wasn't hardcore enough to camp out at the Uptown, so I went to see Episode 3 last night a smaller theater. I thought the movie was great, but I still really want to see it on the bigger screen at the Uptown. When do you think the crowds will have died down enough that I can get in on a weeknight without waiting for hours? Thanks!

Jen Chaney: Yes, seeing it at the Uptown is really the way to go. I'm guessing the crowds will have died down a bit after Memorial Day, certainly enough that a week night won't require you to stand in line for hours on end. You can also try going at off-times, say, the earliest matinee.

I think there's something more special about going to the movies at night, though. And the ticket prices for "Star Wars" at the Uptown don't vary much between matinee and evening, so it's worth it to go after dark, if you can.

Glad you enjoyed the film. So far, that's one happy customer.

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Ft. Washington, Md.: A satisfying conclusion to a 28-year ride. I loved the movie from start to finish. Now I can finally watch my original trilogy DVDs that I'ave be chomping at the bit to watch since Christmas!

Jen Chaney: Hold up, Fort Washington. Are you saying you've had that DVD since December and you've never watched it? The Force of will power is strong with you, young Jedi. (For those of you counting the geeky jokes in this discussion, mark that as No. 1.)

Glad you liked the film, too. I liked it but had a slightly less enthusiastic reaction. My expectations were extremely low after "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones," so the fact that it was a decent movie made it seem like a great one. But some of the problems that plagued the first two films in this trilogy -- particularly the bad dialogue and a relationship between Anakin and Padme that never fully resonates -- are still present. They're just easier to ignore.

Also, I have to agree with The Post's Desson Thomson in that I wanted a little more from Hayden Christensen's performance. I don't think he's a bad actor; he was terrific in "Shattered Glass." But there's an ingredient that's missing here somehow. I think back on the discussions years ago of who should play that part and I wonder how, say, Leonardo DiCaprio would have handled it. He's too old for it, in my book, but I think he or someone like him might have given Darth an intensity and gravitas that the character needs.

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Alexandria, Va.: Loved it at Midnight, Thursday! What on earth happened to the Padme character in "Revenge of the Sith?" She was such a strong senator in the last movie and in this one, she is a simpering weakling? Here was a real missed opportunity to make a strong female to help understand Anakin's downfall. Your thoughts

Jen Chaney: Thanks for this, Alexandria. This was another thing that bugged me a little about the movie. "Star Wars" has always been great about developing strong-willed female characters -- with Leia in the first trilogy and Padme, to an extent, in the first two films of this arc. In "Sith," though, she often comes across as weepy and weak, certainly not a Senator. At the same time, there were parts of Natalie Portman's performance that I admired, particularly the scene where she tells Anakin he's breaking her heart. I thought she played that beautifully.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't really have a problem with theater ads, if for no other reason than that they're probably holding ticket prices down. But I think there's room for compromise on the issue, if the companies that make the commericals are game. What if they made the commercials bigger and better? Go crazy on the special effects. Get bigger celebrities to appear. Maybe even produce longer commercials, effectively making them short films. To an extent, they already do some of this, but most of the commercials are still pretty weak. This seems like a win/win: companies get to advertise to a captive audience, and theater-goers get a better experience.

Jen Chaney: This is already happening to some extent. I think the cinema ad companies certainly seek to make their commercials big, bold and theatrical. (I'm thinking, for example, of the Baz Luhrmann/Nicole Kidman Chanel ad, which played like a movie and showed in some theaters.)

With Loews unveiling a 20-minute pre-show and Regal and AMC revising theirs', I'm sure you'll see even more of cinematic ads. Let me ask this question, though: Do you mind watching the commercials when they air after the movie's posted start time? Or would you prefer it if they ended it before then?

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Darkside, Wis.: Which "Star Wars" actor do you first expect to turn to all of us and do a repeat of the old William Shatner "get a life" line?

Jen Chaney: I'd say Mark Hamill, but I don't think he'll host "SNL" (as Shatner did when he uttered that hilarious line) anytime soon. Maybe someone will make a cameo on this week's show ... it would be great if George Lucas did it. After all, he has been on "The O.C.," so he's practically a teen heartthrob.

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Vienna, Va.: Simple question. Is this movie appropriate for a nin-year-old "Star Wars" fanatic? Based on what we've read about it, his mother and I are saying no. Should we change our minds and restore harmony to our house?

Jen Chaney: That's a tough question. This will sound like a cop-out, but I think it really depends on your child. If your nine-year-old has seen other movies with slightly intense action, he/she probably could handle this. Contrary to early reports, I don't think this movie is particularly bloody. But there are disturbing images in it that might give a sensitive child bad dreams.

Maybe one of you should see it first, then decide whether your little one can handle it. That seems like the best compromise.

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Olney, Md.: I'd just like to ask everyone to STOP referring to this movie as "completing" the saga. The full story had three trilogies, the current one, then the "original" movies from the '70s-'80s, then another trilogy that took place after "Return of the Jedi." Lucas has said he will not make any more movies, so this probably will be the last one made, but the original saga is incomplete.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, Jen. You write a great column.

Jen Chaney: All right, you've gotten that off your chest. Feels better, doesn't it?

"Sith" doesn't complete the saga, that's true, but if Lucas sticks to his claim that there won't be anymore, I think it's fair to say this ends the saga or brings it to a close. Agreed?

And thanks for the compliment about the column. Glad you enjoy it.

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Colonial Heights, Va.: Do you think there'll be any chance Lucasfilm would allow someone else to create a third trilogy, this time after the events of "Return of the Jedi?" This would probably be an easier trilogy to make than trying to start from the very beginning like this last trilogy.

Jen Chaney: This one is related to Olney's question ... I blogged earlier this week about a comment Roger Ebert made in his "Revenge of the Sith" review suggesting that it's possible more "Star Wars" movies will be made. I don't think Lucas would make them, though, so he'd have to be willing to hand over the reins to someone else.

In the past, he's seemed unlikely to do that, but who knows? If he wants the money, he'll do it. Don't know if any of you caught "The Charlie Rose Show" last night, but it was a rerun of a September interview with Lucas. And he essentially said he made these recent "Star Wars" films because he knew they'd make money and it would give him the financial independence to make other films with no studio interference for the rest of his life. If he wants to keep building on that (and with news of a possible TV show being developed, it sounds like he does), I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility.

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Reston, Va.: Frankly, I was shocked at how bad this movie was. It was the campiest comedy that I've seen in a long time, and impossible to take with a straight face.

I thought "The Empire Strikes Back" was bad, but this was junk!

John Waters could have done SUCH a better job with that script than Lucas! This movie was garbage!

What was Lucas thinking?

Jen Chaney: Guess you didn't like it, huh?

John Waters does "Star Wars" ... interesting concept. Maybe he can still do something like that. Here's a potential title: "Spaceballs." Oh wait, I think that's already been taken...

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Arlington, Va.: I resent the ads if they lower the lights and act like it's the previews starting. I don't mind that whole "the twenty" thing (though I think it's really stupid) because the lights are on, and you can choose whether or not you want to watch. I resent paying to go in and then being FORCED to watch instead of either talking to my companion or reading something while waiting for the film to start. That said, they did ads in the U.K. when I lived there in the 80s, and when I came back suddenly they were here, too. But those ads were, as a previous poster said, larger and more theatrical, so I didn't mine them as much, as they had (some) entertainment value.

Jen Chaney: When I talked to people with the movie theaters and cinema ad companies, many of them pointed out that European theaters have run advertising for a long time and no one over there minds. I've never seen a movie overseas, but it sounds like, from what you're saying, their commercials have more artistic merit than ours'. Interesting; I've love to see some of their commercials for comparison's sake.

I think a lot of people share this sentiment: If the ads end before the start time, it seems to bother people much less.

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Washington, D.C.: I think the 12:01 Thursday Uptown crowd will give you the best answer to your ads question -- the only time the crowd 'boo'ed all night was when a Coke ad and twelve previews pushed our actualy start time back to something like 12:25. Play this stuff before the posted start time, and especially at a huge midnight opening-night event.

Jen Chaney: Interesting. I've been in theaters where people have booed the commercials, too. After standing in line for hours (or, in some cases, days) this has to be all the more frustrating.

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Washington, D.C.: Is this really the final episode?

How about Darth Vader meets Jason.

Jen Chaney: Or how about Batman vs. Superman vs. Darth Vader? That would be sweet!

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Ads: I missed the ads because my boyfriend was 15 minutes late for the show and I have to stand outside with his ticket. We arrived just at the start of the dogfight, but missed the scrolling story set-up. Anyway, I kind of like the ads in the movies, even if they start at the movies posted time (although then I think they should include that in the running time for the film when they publish it). They're usually fun or funny, and I agree it probably helps keep ticket prices down. My only objection is when they're crude or disgusting, or really really loud. I hate seeing commercials that make my skin crawl on television -- I certainly don't want to see them on TV. Can't think of an example of really crude ones, but I do hate the car commercials. On the big screen and with the big speakers they're just too loud. I don't mind if a movie's loud, but I came to see that.

Jen Chaney: Wait, you missed the opening titles of "Star Wars" because your boyfriend was late? I would have asked for my money back. Seeing the opening titles is my favorite part of "Star Wars." I think the "Star Wars" movies may have the best opening titles of all time. Can anyone think of others that are equally impressive?

Re: the ads, you've touched on another issue that seems to nag at people: Volume. Often the commercials and the previews are jacked up to 11, then the movie starts and you can't hear anything Jude Law is saying. I'm not sure if theater owners have control over this or not (they may not), but if that bothers consumers, it seems like a pretty easy thing to fix.

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Lewisdale, Md.: I always wanted to know how legal is advertising in movies, you are a captive audience and can't not watch. Is it just a price we pay for the movie and if so how much of my $9.50 is it?

Jen Chaney: Funny that you raise the legal issue. A woman in Illinois filed a lawsuit against Loews a couple of years ago; it was basically a truth-in-advertising issue, based largely on the fact that the movie didn't start when the theater said it would because of all the commercials and previews. The suit was dismissed and had been on appeal, but will probably be dropped becase Loews recently announced that it will post information saying the movies start 10 to 15 minutes after the posted start time. (Still not terribly specific, but it's something.)

In short, as long as the theaters are upfront with the consumers, I think they have every legal right to show commercials. As to how much of your $9.50 goes to the ads, that's a great question but one that's not very easy to answer. I don't think the theaters break it down that way. Ticket sales are one stream of revenue, concessions are another and the ads are a third. Those first two are still the theaters' bread and butter -- or perhaps I should say their popcorn and fake buttery substance.

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Falls Chuch, Va.: Do you think that Lucas might have borrowed the idea of the Sith from H. P. Lovecraft's primordial race of banished monsters (who threaten to return) in the Cthulhu mythos? Thank you.

Jen Chaney: Falls Church, I think you're far smarter than I am about the "Star Wars" mythology. I can confidently say I don't have a clue how to answer this question.

I can tell you this, though: When I was a kid, I got to meet Chewbacca at the Toys R Us on Rockville Pike. And that was pretty cool.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, going to see "Sith" with high hopes but my comment is about commercials in the theater.

I was wondering why that commercial/PSA with the Native Americans hunting buffalo who hear a cellphone ring in the audience, scaring the herd, is actually much more dramatic and interesting than most of the blockbuster movies I'm seeing the PSA attached to. I mean, being a bit sarcastic here, but why does it sometimes look like more effort went into the marketing than the actual product? I miss the days where films opened smaller and grew over time; "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was in D.C. area theaters from summer 1981 to almost Easter 1982 off-and-on -- that is staying power -- and no matter how big a film's opening is now, they rarely have the same kind of hold over an audience after more than two or three weekends.

Jen Chaney: An ad that's better than the movie? It's not unheard of. There are lots of commercials I'd rather watch instead of sitting through Oliver Stone's "Alexander" again. Good God, that movie was bad.

I totally, totally agree with you on the slow opening thing. You're spot on about "Raiders," and I remember distinctly the same thing happening with "E.T." the following summer. Back then, movies opened on fewer screens so they sold out more often and stuck around longer. I didn't actually see "E.T." until two months after it came out because every time my parents tried to take me, it was sold out. You know what's funny, too? Even though I saw it late, I still hadn't seen photos of "E.T." so it was a total surprise to me when the creature revealed himself in the film. That would never happen these days, and that's a shame in a way, too.

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Olney, Md.: I love previews, but I hate ads. It may sound contradictory, but I'm sure I'm not alone. I like ads for movies because the trailers are almost mini-movies, even if some of them are misleading. And since high school, the worst trailers have often been the most fun, since they are so easy to mock, although in recent years I started whispering my snide comments to my wife instead of shouting them out. The ads incense me though, because I've PAID to see a movie -- more than if I had rented it, in which case I wouldn't have to watch their commercials -- and if I wanted to sit through commercials, I'd wait until it was broadcast. Except I have a ReplayTV, so I never watch commercials anyway.

And if anyone out there has an HDTV and likes previews, INHD, an all-HD cable/satellite station, plays a half-hour of previews in HD on some weeknights, last time I saw them it was around 7 or 7:30 p.m.. I usually have other things I want to watch, but I love seeing the previews in HD and DD5.1.

Jen Chaney: I watch the previews on INHD, too. I could really watch almost anything in HD. In fact, I wish my entire life was in HD. Maybe I can get some high definition contact lenses or something.

Most people, like you, don't seem to mind previews even though they are technically commercials, too. I think that's partly because they seem more appropriate for a movie theater audience. Coming attractions have been around since movies began pretty much, so we're used to them.

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Beltway Bandit, Washington, D.C.: Hi Jen,

I haven't seen "Episode III" yet (am going to see it tomorrow), but I just don't get it when people complain about cheesy dialogue and wooden acting. Let's face it, Lucas is about special effects and story-telling, and when it comes down to it, the entire Star Wars franchise was and still is a popcorn-blockbuster thrill ride. Except for "Empire", which is the only one out the original three with substance, Episodes 4 and 6 were also quite goofy in some aspects. Just want to know what your thoughts are ...

Jen Chaney: Episodes 4 and 6 are definitely goofy, you're right. Some of the dialogue in those movies is equally ridiculous.

I think the difference is that the original "Star Wars" trilogy had a spirit of Sunday-serial-style fun that the second trilogy doesn't. That's partly because of the subject matter: It's hard to chuckle as you watch a guy go to the Dark Side.

But I think that's what I miss most in the second trilogy. Even when some of the dialogue was bad, the wisecracks of Han Solo and Princess Leia somehow overcame it. In "Episode IV," it feels okay to laugh at some of the silly stuff, whereas the second trilogy takes itself much more seriously. It's the difference between laughing with the movie and laughing at it.

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Ft. Washington, Md.: Yeah, I haven't watched in yet. Considering I had seen those movies hundreds of times I wanted to freshen the experience by waiting until the saga was complete. Anyway, the points about Natalie and Hayden's love relationship are spot on, though I thought they were more believable this time out. Still cheesy, but better. I thought Hayden was great as Vader. I was really feeling his pain this time out. He really captured the angry and conflict of Annakin.

Jen Chaney: I'm sure you'll be breaking open those DVDs this weekend. One thing I really like about "Sith" -- and I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it -- is the way it ends. It ties back in really nicely with Episode IV and makes you want to go straight home and watch that one again.

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New York, N.Y.: I'm still chewing on it but I think I really liked it. I can find flaws in it, but I think it conveyed very well the 'tragedy' of the Republic's downfall, and the the horror of the Jedis' betrayal and extermination. Very, very sad, thoughtful ending. A more poetic, poignant movie than I expected.

Jen Chaney: Are you chewing on it or Chewie-ing on it? (That's geeky joke No. 2 for those of you scoring at home.)

There is certainly some poignancy there, I agree. Glad you liked it, New York.

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Washington, D.C.: Why in the world would anyone want more ads? There are more than enough on TV and the Internet. To me wanting more ads is like wanting more disease.

Jen Chaney: What, you don't want more disease? I thought everyone did.

The people who want more ads are the companies who gain revenue from them. And consumers are the ones who have to decide how much they can tolerate. We live in a commercial society and it seems like marketing is becoming more prevalent in many places, not just movie theaters. I think the only way to have a real impact is by voting with your wallet. If the ads don't work, the companies won't want to spend money on them.

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Washington, D.C.: I saw the movie last night at Georgetown (where everyone is far to pretentious and preppy to dress up), and in my opinion, if it were not part of the Star Wars trilogy, it would not do very well at the box office. The love scenes tucked in between the action (which was really all I cared to see as the story built up to the masking of Darth Vader) were so lame I almost walked out of the theater. George Lucas exemplified the stigma of Sci-fi nerds not being tuned in with reality, and having any clue about relationships or a healthy social life. And I feel bad for Natalie Portman, who was forced to put up with such terrible lines, coming from an actress who starred in films such as "Closer" which were excellent and who's focus was centered around relationships.

Jen Chaney: I wasn't a huge fan of "Closer," but I thought Portman was terrific in "Garden State." I think she deserved an Oscar nod for that instead of the other movie.

George Lucas doesn't well with love scenes, that's for sure. It's so weird because if you look back at a movie like "American Graffiti," which is a movie that's solely about relationships and dialogue, Lucas does a great job of guiding his actors into real and heartfelt places. Somewhere along the line, it seems like he forgot how to do that.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey, Don't you think it tied in a little too nicely? Shouldn't they have left something upto our imaginations or left something unfinished?

Jen Chaney: I don't know, I think it's hard to do that with a prequel. I will say that part of the conclusion wrapped up a bit quickly. Again, don't want to spoil it, but one of the comments made by Jimmy Smits regarding little Leia struck me as hilarious. (Several critics at the screening I attended laughed during that moment, too.)

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Bowie, Md.: $9.50 is considered "down"!?

How about you really turn our stomachs, and tell us how much you reckon ticket prices would be WITHOUT the ads in the beginning?

Jen Chaney: Some have suggested tickets would be as much as $12 or $13 without the revenue stream from commercials, but I think that's just speculation. I do think it's true that the theaters need that revenue stream. It wasn't long ago that many of them were facing bankruptcy. It would also help if more Americans were going to the movies -- that will change this summer, obviously, but up until now box office revenues have been down by six or seven percent compared with last year. I do think more and more people are opting to watch movies in the comfort of their own living rooms, where the high-tech sound systems, plasma and DLP TVs and DVD players provide as good, if not maybe better, quality than what you see at a cineplex. Plus you can watch trailers before starting the movie on In HD, so the experience is practically the same.

At the same time, I think there's something very special about seeing a movie with a large audience. "Star Wars," for example, isn't the same unless it's on a big screen and you're watching it with a huge, enthusiastic crowd.

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Washington, D.C.: I was lucky enough to see "Sith" twice on Wednesday evening. I got tickets to the 7 p.m. showing at the Uptown and saw it again at midnight over at Gallery Place.

First of all, the movie was great. The ending was perfect and exceded my expectations completely. The final 45 minutes (just like Clones) really overshadow the low points of the movie.

Next, I reject the idea that seeing this movie at the Uptown is better than other theaters. There is so much going on in the first 30 minutes of the movie that it is impossible to see it on that big screen. The light-sabre duels are so quickly paced, and much of the action is, that you can't comprehend and focus on them on that screen.

The view at the Gallery Place theater was much more satisfying -- I'll see it plenty more times, never again at the Uptown.

Jen Chaney: I haven't seen it yet at the Uptown; interesting that you felt that way. That wrap-around screen can be overwhelming sometimes, it's true. But it also has an uncanny ability to turn bad movies into tolerable, and even good ones. I remember seeing "Independence Day" there and being blown away even though it's not a very good movie. But it looked amazing.

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Tampa, Fla.: I resent ads. They'd be OK if the movie was free. But I pay a nice chunk of change to see the movie, not ads. I feel free to talk during ads and to move around. Of course, I stop as soon as the trailers (coming attractions) start. I once saw someone filming a movie with a camcorder. But since I had to sit through ads, I didn't say a thing.

Jen Chaney: Interesting comments, Tampa. Especially about the camcorder. If anyone from the MPAA is reading this, I'm sure their hair just burst into flames.

Since we've run way over, I'll answer one or two more and close up shop.

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Redlead, Ariz.: Help! I see the image of Chewbacca in my toast. Should I eat it, be annoyed at the advertisement in my breakfast food or sell it on eBay? (BTW -- It did not affect the start time of my first meal of the day).

Jen Chaney: Funny, Redlead. You raise a whole other issue here about movie product tie-ins and product placement in general. A lot of people get fired up about that, too. But again, I'm not sure what consumers can do because the companies have the right to market things in this way.

Maybe you can beat them at their own game. Start marketing your Chewbacca toast so it competes with the Yoda Pop-Tarts.

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Comment about Leia?: Argh!; You're driving me crazy. I can't figure out which comment you meant about Leia that made you laugh. I don't remember there being any dialogue in the scene I think you're thinking of. Give me a hint?

Jen Chaney: It has to do with deciding what will happen to Luke and Leia. Does that help?

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Arlington, Va.: It's strange that some folk resent "ads" yet they like the comming attractions-- which are also ads. Doesn't make sense to me.

Jen Chaney: Again, I think it's a question of what people are used to. When they come to the movies, they like to know what other movies they might want to see. But commercials for other products -- a newer phenomenon, at least in America anyway -- seem distasteful. It's like flipping through a magazine about home decor and enjoying the ads for home furnishings because they fit in seamlessly and are related to the content you paid money for. But if you saw an ad for, say, Red Bull in a magazine like that, you might find it distasteful because its incongruousness makes you more aware that you're being sold.

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Petworth: I love movies.

I love previews.

I hate ads.

Still, I find myself sitting through ads because otherwise I will have to find a seat in the dark. And probably all the good seats will be gone. Hmph.

Ads before the movie time strike me as the best solution, if you MUST have them at all. But I hate them lots and lots and lots, and ignore them. I'll even talk through them, and I am militant on the don't talk during the previews and never ever talk during the movie thing.

Ads in movie theaters are simply evil.

Jen Chaney: So would you say that ads use the Dark Side of the Force?

And with geeky joke No. 3, I must bring this discussion to a close. You guys had great questions and comments. It's been fun and educational -- one might say "fun-ucational."

Sorry to those of you whose questions I couldn't address. Hopefully we can do this again sometime. Enjoy the weekend, enjoy "Sith" and give my best to Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy.

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