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'Star Wars' parody short 'George Lucas in Love' strikes back on iTunes

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TORONTO - A long time ago, in a galaxy without YouTube or Facebook, a group of young aspiring filmmakers wanted to release a short parody film.

The year was 1998 and friends Joe Nussbaum, Joseph Levy, Dan Shere and Tim Dowling were struggling to launch their careers. They noticed that other wannabe directors were making names for themselves by creating short mash-up movies, like "Swing Blade" and "Feeding Las Vegas."

And so "George Lucas in Love" was born — a nine-minute parody of "Shakespeare in Love" that focuses on a young George Lucas (Martin Hynes) struggling to write a screenplay. He winds up finding inspiration in some familiar characters, including a stoner roommate obsessed with a "cosmic force," and an attractive young lady with a distinctive bun hairstyle.

Without many of the tools available to young filmmakers today, the four friends produced the film in two months and sent some 300 VHS tapes to studio executives in May 1999. It went on to win praise from big-name directors — including Lucas himself — and to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival later that year.

Now, "George Lucas in Love" is celebrating its 15th anniversary and will be re-released in high definition on iTunes and select video on demand platforms on Tuesday.

"It changed my life in every possible way. It launched my entire career," said Nussbaum, who directed the short. "I was hired to direct a movie within a month of us making those VHS copies. It was unbelievable."

"Star Wars" fans quickly embraced it for its affectionate nods to beloved characters, like a sage professor who can't stop speaking backwards. Those strong in the force will also appreciate nods to Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Han Solo, droids and Jabba the Hutt.

When "George Lucas in Love" was released online in September 1999, it reportedly became the most-viewed Internet short film of all time. The VHS also became a top seller on Amazon, holding the No. 1 position for nearly three months.

Nussbaum said he never imagined that the film would attract so much attention — or that it would make it into the hands of Lucas himself. Steven Spielberg reportedly sent Lucas a copy personally.

"Within two months, I got a letter from George Lucas saying he thought it was great and he thought it was so funny and he wished me luck on my career," said Nussbaum. "I ended up meeting him about five years later and he echoed the same thing. He remembered the short and he loved it. It was very cool."

The short was among the first of its kind to "go viral," before the concept really existed. Asked whether he thought the film would have been lost in the shuffle had it been released today, Nussbaum said no.

"If 'George Lucas in Love' were to come out today and to get the same reception, I think Twitter and Facebook and stuff like that would probably make it explode even bigger," he said.

"It might have a shorter shelf life because the next thing would come along. But even with all the people who saw it, it's nothing compared to the kinds of numbers you could get with all the reposts and embedding."

The re-release of the short film arrives as director J.J. Abrams begins shooting "Star Wars: Episode VII," which has a tentative release date of December 2016.

"I'm definitely excited for 'Episode VII,'" said Nussbaum.

"I hope it's a great story with great characters and that's really it. I just want to be along for the ride and rooting for the good guys to win, and enjoying it as I do."

Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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