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The Force of the Second Wave Is Near

Compiled by Times Staff Writers and Contributors

Remember how you felt about Darth Vader the first time you encountered him? Scared and awed by his all-encompassing power? That’s probably how folks at rival studios feel about 20th Century Fox right about now. Since Fox re-released “Star Wars” on Jan. 31, George Lucas’ 1977 space epic has vaporized the competition and passed “E.T.” to become the highest-grossing film of all time ($400 million-plus in North America alone). And the juggernaut rolls on. Friday brings “The Empire Strikes Back,” the 1980 sequel that will take over 2,106 screens with a restored print, a THX-enhanced soundtrack and new footage and effects, including a better look at the Wampa creature that almost eats Luke Skywalker. Of course, “Empire” isn’t quite as popular as “Star Wars”; the former film has grossed about $223 million so far. But you don’t have to be Yoda to perceive the wide-ranging impact of the “Star Wars” trilogy. By the time “Return of the Jedi” bows March 7, the three Lucas movies could be occupying more than 6,000 screens nationwide. Fox executive vice president Tom Sherak says the trilogy could actually expand box office for the entire industry rather than crimp prospects for new films. Sure. And Chewbacca is really an Oxford don.

The Lava Flows Down to the Small Screen

Last year, two film studios were engaged in a cat-and-mouse game to see who could be first in theaters with its volcano movie. ABC was apparently watching closely from the sidelines. With “Dante’s Peak” heating up the box office and promos for “Volcano” (to be released later this year) already playing, the network gets into the act with its own made-for-TV magma opus this Sunday, “Volcano: Fire on the Mountain,” starring Dan Cortese and Cynthia Gibb. Network programmers have actually made a practice of scheduling movies that can ride piggy-back on promotion for similarly themed big-screen blockbusters, as Fox did successfully last May by televising the movie “Tornado” shortly before the theatrical release of “Twister.” Yet even the networks themselves can inspire such parasitic tie-ins, as demonstrated by the documentaries airing this month on cable channels like TBS and Discovery, which are trying to latch onto the publicity trail of NBC’s miniseries “Asteroid.”

Industry Looks to Live for Signs of Life

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Record retailers are hoping that the Tuesday release of Live’s new “Secret Samadhi” album can jump-start the stagnant industry. The band’s last album, 1994’s “Throwing Copper,” built momentum slowly and has sold nearly 5 million copies, according to SoundScan, and it helped to establish the group as a force in rock, with its sound drawing comparisons to U2. “They’ve done all the things that we wish other groups would do to build a fan base,” says Gary Arnold, vice president of marketing for the Best Buy retail chain. “They went out on the road and worked, and the record grew and grew.” But can Live, which tonight kicks off a monthlong tour that will bring the band to the Wiltern Theatre on March 12, avoid the sales slump that affected two other prominent rock groups, Pearl Jam and R.E.M., in the latter half of 1996? “It all comes down to a simple fact,” Arnold says. “If the music on the disc is meaningful and touches the consumer, over the course of time that record will achieve high levels of sales.”

Tonight’s Special: A Side of Bacon

When actor Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael bring their country-rock act to the Troubadour in West Hollywood for two shows tonight, it will be a homecoming of sorts--at least for Michael, who played there as a solo act in 1970. “I always wanted to play there again,” says Michael, 47, who lives in Manhattan. Michael and Kevin, 38, performed together occasionally as youngsters before Kevin went on to pursue acting (“Footloose,” “Apollo 13"). Michael, meanwhile, became an Emmy-winning composer for television and films. Two years ago, they rediscovered writing and performing as a duo and have been playing on and off ever since. Though they don’t have a record deal, they would like to make an album. Kevin says he is as serious about music as he is about acting, though he acknowledges that audiences may be a bit skeptical. “I don’t want to be a novelty,” he says.

The Award for Best Award Show Goes to . . .

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If there is any doubt that one of Hollywood’s favorite pastimes is patting itself on the back, take a look at network schedules the next few weeks. No fewer than five prime-time award specials air during a 12-day span, beginning tonight with the 11th annual American Comedy Awards and concluding Feb. 28 with another made-for-TV ceremony, the Soap Opera Awards. In between there are the Screen Actors Guild Awards this Saturday (featuring a 20th anniversary reunion of several “Roots” cast members as a highlight), the Grammy Awards on Feb. 26 (not coincidentally the last night of the February ratings sweeps) and the NAACP Image Awards the next night. None of these should be confused, of course, with the Golden Globes, American Music or People’s Choice Awards, which aired last month. Awards shows serve as relatively inexpensive substitutes that tend to do reasonably well in ratings, and finding stars to attend rarely presents a problem, despite the glut. Meanwhile, Hollywood is bracing itself for the granddaddy of them all, the Oscars, on March 24.


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