By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff
UK retailers are set for a battle of almost intergalactic proportions with this month's DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy.
May the price be with you - retailers have a hit on their hands
Its appearance on 20 September marks the arrival of one of the most eagerly awaited home entertainment products in recent years.
Sales of the box set of George Lucas's remastered sci-fi classics are expected to reach about half a million in the first week alone.
By Christmas that figure could have tripled - making it far and away the biggest selling DVD box set ever produced.
Some of the best deals for the customer can be found online. HMV is selling it £5 cheaper on the web than in its high street stores.
Online retailer Amazon.co.uk has reported pre-orders of more than 60,000, smashing by 10,000 the previous record held by last year's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - despite a considerably higher cost.
HMV £34.99 (Online store £29.99)
Virgin Megastore (and online store) £29.99
CD Wow £34.99
HMV has also reported its largest ever pre-order of any kind, with about 20,000 sales expected by the time of its midnight launch on Sunday.
Many retailers have abandoned its original recommended retail price of £44.99 to offer huge discounts, with a typical price of well under £30.
Some sellers appear to be prepared to work on small margins - or even offer the box as a loss-leader in order to encourage people to do business with them.
The Star Wars movies are among the most popular ever made
Retail analysts told BBC News Online that the wholesale price of the box set was £30.16 in the UK, and $50.49 in the US.
It is retailing for significantly less than this figure on both sides of the Atlantic.
"This shows what a good discount some multiple retailers get for bulk purchasing, or maybe they use it as a loss leader," said one home entertainment expert.
Some major DVD specialist retailers have planned marketing campaigns in an effort to boost sales.
Some retailers are discounting the box set heavily
HMV has a limited "gold" packaged edition and is staging a midnight launch with C3PO actor Anthony Daniels, while Virgin has signed up Darth Vader star Dave Prowse to sign copies.
Supermarket chain Asda - part of US retail giant Wal-Mart - accounts for up to a quarter of all CDs and DVDs sold in the UK and is expecting brisk business.
An Asda spokesman said it would not be revealing its Star Wars price "until the last minute". Tesco, Asda's main competitor, was unavailable for comment.
HMV's spokesman said some online and non-specialist retailers were technically selling it cheaper than they could buy it wholesale.
Retailers are staging special promotions to market the DVD
"Supermarkets and others will put up with losses on certain products if it suits their purposes," he said.
"As a specialist we can't compete on price alone but we do offer added value, with events such as the official UK midnight launch and an exclusive version of the box set."
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are being released as a four-disc box set, with bonus footage and improved picture and sound quality.
Although George Lucas has previously re-edited and repackaged the films for cinema and video release, this marks their long-awaited digital home release.
The set contains a bonus disc filled with new features, including a feature-length documentary said to be the most comprehensive ever produced about the Star Wars saga.
The DVD trilogy is expected to sell about 1.5m copies in the UK
It also includes previously unseen footage from the making of all three films.
Each film has been digitally restored and remastered for superior sound and picture quality.
'Cleaned every single frame'
Total Film magazine critic James White said most fans would be delighted with the results.
"The films look wonderful, there are brilliant visuals, Lucas has totally cleaned every single frame of the film and remixed the sound.
"It's the best looking film you will hope to get; every single colour and balance is perfect."
The original Star Wars films are coming out on DVD for the first time
He said Lucas had again re-edited certain sections, which may not please fans seeking the original cinema versions.
But Mr White said the extras, including two-and-a-half hours of documentaries, were exhaustive and revealing.
"Most people will find it satisfying. It's the best version you are going to see."
The trilogy is out in the UK the day before its release in the US and Canada.