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Darth Vader: The Empire Strikes Gold (Again)

In Business This Week: HEADLINER


The force is still with George Lucas. Hollywood studios will vie early in 1998 for rights to distribute the long-anticipated "prequels" to his Star Wars films. In the works: a trio of features, starting with the story of Anakin Skywalker, which begins when the future Darth Vader is 8 and ends after he marries and fathers twins Luke and Leia.

Lucas already has cashed in with a multimillion-dollar promotional deal with PepsiCo for the first installment. And he is selling the merchandise rights to Hasbro and Galoob Toys for $235 million in stock--giving him an estimated 5% of Hasbro and 20% of Galoob.

Twentieth Century Fox Film has collected an estimated $636 million from the movies since the 1977 release of Star Wars. It's expected to get first crack at the new series, due to hit theaters in May, 1999. "This will not be a difficult decision to make," says Fox studio chief Bill Mechanic. Disney, which has rides based on Star Wars at its theme parks, is a long shot to get the flicks. Lucas pal Steven Spielberg also may bid on behalf of his DreamWorks SKG studio.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLAND By Ronald GroverReturn to top


GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS, allergy sufferers. Under pressure from regulators, Hoechst Marion Roussel is pulling its allergy drug, Seldane, off the market on Feb. 1. The drug has been linked with liver problems and, in people who take Seldane with certain antibiotics, potentially fatal heart arrhythmias. After the Food & Drug Administration approved Allegra, a similar but safer Hoechst anti-allergy drug in 1996, it asked Hoechst to take Seldane off the market. But while Hoechst marketed Allegra as a replacement, it kept selling Seldane until the FDA also approved a version of Allegra containing a decongestant. That drug, Allegra-D, won FDA approval on Dec. 29, paving the way for Seldane's removal.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top


BILLIONAIRE SAUDI PRINCE Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud is getting hooked on high tech. In November, he bought stakes in Netscape Communications and Motorola and added to his 5% holding of Apple Computer. And Alwaleed paid a call on wireless phone pioneer Craig McCaw in late December to consider putting $200 million into McCaw's satellite telecom startup, Teledesic. With backers such as Microsoft's Bill Gates and AT&T, Teledesic isn't hurting for cash. But an international partner like Alwaleed could help Teledesic sell its data-transmission services in hard-to-reach markets in the Middle East and Africa. Teledesic won't comment.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top


SIMON DEBARTOLO GROUP, already the nation's largest mall owner, gave itself a dozen new malls for the holidays, adding more than 150 million square feet of leasable retail space in 34 states. Simon formed a joint venture with Santa Monica (Calif.)'s Macerich to buy the malls for $489.5 million, plus almost as much in debt, from ERE Yarmouth, an institutional real estate adviser that sold them for its pension fund clients. Its new properties, says Simon, will bring in 100 million mall visitors a year.EDITED BY KELLEY HOLLANDReturn to top

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