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Lucasfilm is going with a low-budget ad plan for its big-budget "Star Wars: Episode I the Phantom Menace," opening May 19.

The studio started airing five commercials last week, each written from the point of view of one of the main characters.

Tom Sherak, chairman of Twentieth Domestic Film Group, said there is so much awareness for the movie that Lucasfilm and Fox Filmed Entertainment, the distributor, don't need to do a typical level of advertising, which can average about $20 million to $23 million for a big release.

Other executives wonder about the strategy.

"This is incredibly unusual," said Bobbi Blair, president of film marketing and media consultant BBI. "This hasn't happened before."

"Usually, big potential blockbusters will have a least a month of television advertising," another marketing executive said.

A Fox Filmed Entertainment executive insisted "Star War" spots are running, but he wouldn't reveal details of its plan. Lucasfilm executives didn't return phone calls by press time. Lucasfilm is doing media planning, while Fox's in-house unit made the buys.

Last week, NBC's popular Thursday night lineup -- a traditional place for studio advertising in recent years -- carried no "Stars Wars" spots. But two 15-second spots did appear on WB's "Dawson's Creek" May 5.


Because of the publicity and general public awareness of the film franchise, marketing executives said the awareness level for "Star Wars" is at the highest levels ever for any movie since this type of data has been compiled. National Research Group, used by movie studios to predict box-office results, has put the awareness level at 96%, according to one film-marketing executive.

"It'll probably go to 100%, which means that it immediately becomes a cultural icon," said a studio marketing executive. "That means it definitely becomes something moviegoers have to see."

"Star Wars" doesn't seem to be running any outdoor advertising, a growing part of ad plans for wide-release movies.

The movie also won't be buying telephone ads on MovieFone, according to MovieFone executives.

MovieFone is still involved, however. It has been allowed by Fox and Lucasfilm to offer "Star Wars" tickets via phone and its Web site (moviefone.com).

Additionally, this week it will be doing a newspaper ad touting this service, with the copy line "Use the Fone, Luke."

"Star Wars" will benefit greatly from its tie-in partners, of course, specifically Tricon Global Restaurants and Pepsi-Cola Co. (see related item on

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