Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Star Wars. The Countdown. 1 Day!!! (A little more of everything.........)




'Star Wars' film may zap US economy for 627 million dollars
The latest "Star Wars" film opening this week has a dark side, according to one analysis it will cost US employers as much as 627 million dollars in lost productivity.EDITOR'S NOTE: LET'S FACE IT....NO ONE IS THINKING ABOUT WORK THIS WEEK, ANYWAY!

Consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas said the buzz around the new movie will likely prompt many people to skip work to be among the first to see "Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith."

"Already, we were looking at huge opening weekend audiences who have long anticipated the grand finale in this 28-year journey," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the firm.

Challenger researchers calculated the loss from workplace absenteeism assuming that attendance on the first two days of the last in the series will at least match that of the previous Star Wars movie.

About 9.4 million people attended "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" on the first two days of its release in 2002.

Challenger researchers estimated that about 51 percent of those likely to attend the movie this week are full-time workers.

Based on the average daily pay of 130.60 dollars, the cost in terms of lost wages and productivity resulting from 4.8 million absences would be 626,880,000 dollars.

"Of course, these estimates are probably on the conservative side in light of the great reviews the moving is receiving. Absenteeism may even start on Wednesday for those who want to see the first screening a midnight on May 19," said Challenger. EDITOR'S NOTE: WOOHOO!!!

"There is, of course, a very positive economic impact from the movie opening. It will result in increased consumer spending on movie tickets and refreshments, increased foreign and domestic tourism, and increased business in shops and restaurants near the movie theaters."

Bettors Believe EP3 Will Set Records
After becoming the first bookmaker to accept wagers on the box office success of Star Wars: Episode III, has seen bettors backing the film to set new box office standards while having the most successful opening in history.

Although originally opened betting with Revenge of the Sith as a 6/1 long shot to break the three-day opening weekend box office record of $114.84 million held by Spider-Man, a surprising 80% of all bets placed to date have backed the film passing the wall crawling crime-fighter.

As a result the odds on Episode III breaking the three-day box office record have been slashed to 11/5.

Bettors are also backing Revenge of the Sith to eclipse the $134.28 million four-day opening record currently held by The Matrix Reloaded with 60% of all bets placed on the film setting a new four-day standard.

The odds on the film becoming the new record holder for the Thursday through Sunday box office gross have also been moved from opening odds of 2/3 to 5/9 currently. In addition, has seen an influx of bets placed on the film grossing over $101 million for the three-day opening weekend of Friday to Sunday suggesting that the film will surpass industry estimates. has discovered that bettors at the company have been an accurate indicator of current events including correctly predicting who would become the new Pope and winners of several reality shows.

If this trend continues, the final Star Wars could be well on its way to becoming the most successful film of all-time.EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, I BET(GIGGLE) THAT WON'T BE THE CASE. THAT PINNACLE OF PABLUM "TITANIC" IS UNLIKELY TO BE KNOCKED OFF IT'S THRONE.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi sex symbol
This hot, young Jedi gave the ‘Star Wars’ saga a dose of sanity

By Mary Beth Ellis
MSNBC contributor
We have been waiting for you, Obi-Wan.

We’ve watched you twirl, we’ve watched you die, we’ve watched you sit in a gigantic soup ladle and maintain a pleasant expression while learning of colossal, badly-aiming clone armies.

Now we anticipate “Life Lessons With Obi-Wan, Episode III Edition.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi — mentor, mentee, master of all things wonderfully dour — stands at the dawn of his day in the Tatooine suns.

Sex symbol

The “Star Wars” prequels plunge into several aspects of character development, among them the deeply vital information that Obi-Wan Kenobi was, in his youth, fully hot. If the ladies are lovin’ us some Obi-Wan, it is perhaps because we have no one else’s brown robes to cling to, here in this galaxy where behemoth spaceships have hyperdrives but, apparently, no bathrooms. EDITOR'S NOTE: HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN? SAMUEL L. JACKSON? WATTO?

There simply aren’t a lot of men to lust after in the “Star Wars” universe. Han Solo is taken. Luke Skywalker is a sister-kissing feebEDITOR'S NOTE: HEY HEY. NONE OF THAT! until the last 15 seconds of “Return of the Jedi.” Everybody else is consumed by evil, quick to be exploded or a curious shade of green. EDITOR'S NOTE: LIKE THESE ARE BAD THINGS?

Yes, we have much to treasure in this chrysalis form of young, hot Obi-Wan Kenobi, who, as portrayed in “Episode I,” has been waved aside as a tight-braided, lightsaber-up-his-butt sort, devoting a disproportionate percentage of his life to standing very still and occasionally declaring “Yes, Master.” It is an intergalactic tour de force of Sideshow Bobism.

It is also a grand-slam exploration of the vast emotional range lying within “Yes, Master.”

Anger, thoughtfulness, disapproval, slight nausea: Obi-Wan has a “Yes, Master” for all seasons.

For the bulk of the film, Kenobi barely cracks a smile, instead allowing his occasionally furrowed brow and his cha-cha lightsaber twirls to do the talking. And when he does break down, when the pain of losing a loved one overwhelms his careful training as his mentor dies in his arms, it is with one... final… sobbing… “Yes, Master.” The man has consistency, if not a thesaurus.

He speaks for all of us

A beacon of skepticism and frowning, the Obi-Wan of “Episode I” glided through the film as the hushed conscience of the now clearly deranged George Lucas. Within his nicely muscled bod, Obi-Wan carried purely flanneled Original George — the George of real live midgets in real live robot costumes. Every time Obi-Wan scowled at a Gungan, an echoey, primordial form of George Lucas cried from deep within: “What hath I wrought?”

Kenobi seemed to realize, for instance, that things were not going to go well when young Anakin and his L.L. Bean backpack first skipped into the Jedi Temple. “That boy is dangerous,” he snapped. He knew — he knew — that the child would grow up to be the type of person who used “Sand is rough” as a pickup line, a person who Kenobi actually had to remind that use of one’s Jedi powers to feed fruit to one’s girlfriend qualifies as an outrageous case of Force abuse.

And when presented with Jar Jar Binks, Obi-Wan seconded the reaction of the Earth section of the universe. We recoiled into our jumbo-sized boxes of Junior Mints: What is this … thing?
Only one man knew, and he immediately attempted to usher it from our lives. That was no comic relief … that was a ragingly misguided attempt to flog officially licensed party hats.

“Why do I get the feeling we’ve just picked up another useless life form?” Kenobi asked on behalf of all mankind. He was so right that I wanted to hug him, to throw myself against his haughtily crossed arms with a sobbing, “You tried, young, hot Obi-Wan. You tried.”

“Episode II” Obi-Wan is a study in hard-edged maturity, a measured and stately Jedi Master intensely at one with the Force. We knew this because he had a beard.

Kenobi knows best?What we did not know is where Kenobi went so horribly awry in the training of young Skywalker, which is a fairly major facet of the films’ narrative arc in the sense that the entire saga pretty much wouldn’t exist without a Vader to stomp about, billowing his cape and lethally pointing at bureaucrats.

It is indeed mysterious, as Obi-Wan offered himself as a highly responsible role model in “Episode II.” He didn’t like reckless driving; he disapproved of being chained to a big pillar as large animals with pincers approached; he just said no to deathsticks.

Where did he go wrong? Did he not give Anakin enough "Super Job!" reward stickers on his seatwork? Was he too strict? Too soft? Was it the way he shoved his apprentice into a flaming lava pit and left him for dead? What happened?

All we are sure of is that just as Kenobi reached an age when he was on the brink of going AARP-raving mad, his former student whacked him in half, at which point Obi-Wan completely vanished, leaving nothing behind but his faboo robe, his lightsaber and a damp sense of “Well, that can’t have been fun.” Obi-Wan Kenobi was, if nothing else, a man who cleaned up after himself.

“This will be a day long remembered,” intoned Darth Vader in “A New Hope.” “It has seen the end of Kenobi; it will soon see the end of the rebellion.”

Boy, did Darth enjoy a good intoning. He also loved to intone with a great degree of inaccuracy.

Rather than accepting a forced-by-death retirement with dignity and a mobile home in Tampa, Kenobi then took to popping up every now and then in a translucent manner to issue incidental asides to Luke, gently revealing, for instance, the fact that the lad recently stuck his tongue down the throat of his own twin sister. EDITOR'S NOTE: NO HE DIDN'T.

But in “Episode III,” we will indeed see the end of Kenobi. The next time we behold Obi-Wan, he will stride out of a sand dune in order to pinch Luke in the face. There are worse ways to pass one’s golden years.

All hail Kenobi and his massive, near-galaxy-ending screw up! For there is no “Star Wars” without him. Fare thee well, sweet, sweet Obi-Wan. Whenever we needed a shot of sanity and a good strong brow-furrow, you really were our only hope.

Freelance writer Mary Beth Ellis publishes, where she recently referred to the Popemobile as “B-16's new hoopty.”

Interview : Rena Owen
Rena Owen’s seen quite a few fights – most notably, the one her character fought on home soil in the acclaimed New Zealand hit “Once We’re Warriors”.

In “Star Wars Episode II”, She witnessed the ultimate battle in the stars, and now she returns to the world of Wookies, Windu and Watto to see how the book closes on the fierce Clone Wars.

Clint Morris caught up with Owen to talk “Star Wars Episode III : Revenge of the Sith”.

Straight up, how cool was it to be a part of “Star Wars Episode III”?

It was a lot of fun for me personally and professionally. When I first did Episode 2 as [the character] Taun We, I really had no idea of the world I had become a part of, let alone the fact that I would become an action figure! But now, with the passing of time, and having done a few Conventions, I can say I am honoured to be a part of a world that means so much to so many people around the world. I play a Senator in Episode 3. Senator Nee Alavar.

I imagine working on a film like “Star Wars” would be a lot different than something that, well, isn’t shot on a stream of blue screens?

There is really no difference in the acting process whether it is a big budget or a small one. The mechanics of the craft are the same and I do like to give my best to every role I play. The really major difference between a big and small film is in the size of the crew and security, which of cause on Star Wars, was enormous. And whether you’re working with George Lucas or a first time director, I believe in treating all the same and with respect. Ultimately, an actor is there to serve the director’s vision and I aspire to keeping my focus on doing a good job.

But studio vs. indy – there’s definitely some differences there, right?

The most obvious difference is high art, low budget films, feed and fill the soul, whereas big budget films fatten the wallet. But both have their place and neither is better then the other. As an actor I aim to learn and grow through all creative journeys and I do like to do a little of everything and keep it diverse. My ultimate project is high art with a big budget!

So how have you enjoyed the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy yourself.

Some of the actors involved haven’t been very fond of the films, funnily enough. I’ve enjoyed them. I thought Ep 2 was better then Ep 1, and I believe Ep 3 will be ‘da bomb’!

George Lucas says the final instalment is very dark - what do you think?

Yeah, I agree.

So how is George?

I’ve so much respect for George Lucas, a genius and a gentleman. He’s a privilege and pleasure to work with.

Why do you think “Star Wars” is still so popular? I mean the first film was released in 1977!

My humble opinion is that the essence of Star Wars epitomizes the essence of being human and our struggle as a species, between the light and the dark side within each of us. We all want to be in tune with the Force/God. In simple terminology, it is an old fashion, good versus evil, action love story, in space! Star Wars has given our imaginations a place to go where we can all be a good Jedi hero or explore the darkness of Darth Vader. For many, it has given them hope. For me, Yoda is my favourite character, oh to be Yoda for a day! Also when it first came out, it was so ahead of its time. Its advanced technology and special effects have captured many. George Lucas is a visionary with a capital V!

Lucasfilm are doing a "Star Wars" TV series next - would you be keen to get involved?

Absolutely! I have also been doing voice over work for the new game, Republic Commando.

"The Crow: Wicked Prayer", which you have a role in, is finally getting a release in July. Are you disappointed it didn't go to theatres though?

As an actor you can’t be invested in the outcome, as you have no control over that aspect of the film making process. You go in and do your bit, and move on. Some films are hits and some are misses. I am disappointed for the director, Lance Mungia and Producer, Jeff Most, who worked so hard and put so much of them selves into the project. I personally believe the film deserved a cinematic release, but them’s the breaks!

Did the offers come-a-flooding after 'Once Were Warriors'?

Yes I did get many offers, and I chose a film that was to be shot in Australia. The shooting date changed half a dozen times in a year, meanwhile, I'm turning down good work, to save myself for the project, which eventually lost its budget and never got made! I learnt then, that one can only take a project for granted once you're on set and hear the director say, "Action". It is a common occurrence in this industry, to have films delayed, canned, and then some do get made and never get seen. I've learnt to say yes to good work when it is offered and the future is always uncertain.

Episode III Emperor Speaks
Ian McDiarmid, who plays Emperor Palpatine in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, offered SCI FI Wire spoilerish (EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT REALLY) details about his mysterious and malevolent character, who rivals Darth Vader as the most evil character in the saga.

"I think the Emperor is the incarnation of evil, and he's only really interested in power and manipulation," McDiarmid said in an interview. "Nothing else gives him any pleasure. He's a Sith from way back, and they don't have a moral universe. They want to create power for themselves by destroying others. It's very interesting to play a character that is irredeemable.

There are even real people that have that kind of motiveless malignancy. It's like watching [former Yugoslavian president Slobodan] Milosevic, somebody that only seems interested in power and manipulation."

Scottish-born McDiarmid first appeared in the Star Wars films as the Emperor in Episode VI—Return of the Jedi in 1983, and he said that creator George Lucas brought him back for the series of prequel films.

"When I heard George was going to do prequels, I kind of hoped he would give me a ring, and he did," McDiarmid said. "I knew he was in town, and I went in and had a 10-minute meeting. I hadn't seen him in 20 years, and he looked exactly the same to me. I had a glass of water. He asked, 'Do you know anyone that would like to play an Emperor?' I said, 'It's funny you should say that.' … He said, 'OK, you can give the water back,' and that was that," McDiarmid said with a chuckle. "He told me a little about the progress of Palpatine through the prequels and what the journey would be like. He said he would start quiet and end big, and that's exactly what's happened."

Episode III marks the end of the Star Wars saga, and McDiarmid admitted that he is sad to see it end. "I'll miss it, and it was great the last six years going to Australia to make a film," he said. "I think it's terrific for me that the final film is also my character's apotheosis. He really explodes in all his unbridled evil. Hypocrisy goes to one side and you see this creature for what he really is. It's been interesting to play the character in the last two movies on the sidelines, and now he moves into the middle. It's a very satisfying personal climax and a privilege."

Star Wars: Episode III opens May 19. EDITOR'S NOTE: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On 'Sith's' coattails
The hottest place in Hollywood is the trailer bank preceding "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith."

By John Horn and Chris Lee, Special to The Times
Where's Hollywood's most coveted real estate? It's not a Malibu beachfront compound or a ski-in, ski-out Telluride chalet. The hottest frontage this week is in the trailer bank preceding "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith," the film every studio is banking on to energize a listless box-office year.

All the major studios are jockeying for the opportunity to use George Lucas' final intergalactic prequel to tout their coming attractions — including the dystopian thriller "The Island" and Steven Spielberg's invasion drama, "War of the Worlds."

In an effort to improve their chances, some are even slashing trailers into 60-second previews and lobbying exhibitors, who have the ultimate say in trailer placement.

But securing even a brief plug is proving to be tough: Several distributors say Lucas has forbidden theater owners from running more than five trailers before his movie. Some chains also try to cap the number of trailers shown, but others will sometimes show as many as eight trailers, especially if they are shorter than the standard 2 1/2-minute preview.

"Revenge of the Sith" is expected to debut in more than 3,700 theater locations when it opens Thursday, with an estimated 9,000 individual film prints, making it one of the widest releases ever.

The first two prequels each grossed more than $100 million in their four- and five-day debut weekends.

Studios and exhibitors consider trailers crucial to drumming up business for future releases, an important goal with box-office revenues down 7% from a year ago.

"It's one of our best marketing tools, especially when you can program them in front of so many moviegoers," said Dick Westerling, a spokesman for Regal Cinemas, the nation's largest chain with 6,273 screens.

Moreover, those ticket buyers will include legions of young boys, the driving force of many summer blockbusters. And once in their multiplex seats, these teens are a captive audience.

"Of course, I want to be on it," said New Line Cinema marketing chief Russell Schwartz, who's trying to get his big summer release, "Wedding Crashers," on the trailer playlist.

Only one studio, 20th Century Fox, has guaranteed trailer positioning because it is distributing the movie. The studio chose to attach a "Fantastic Four" trailer to the "Revenge of the Sith" print, but it is also submitting a preview of its other big summer release, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

The film can appears to be getting pretty crowded, though. As is industry practice, several studios will also be including their trailers in the "Revenge of the Sith" shipment to exhibitors.According to one studio, the delivery will include no fewer than seven other trailers contending for placement.

Bruce Snyder, Fox's president of distribution, said he knows of only three: Walt Disney Studios' "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Paramount's "War of the Worlds" and Sony's "Stealth."

Others in the mix, according to another studio: New Line's "Wedding Crashers," DreamWorks' "The Island," Universal's "Cinderella Man" and Warner Bros.' "Batman Begins."

And some studios are also sending trailers for other films directly to exhibitors in hopes of screening with "Revenge of the Sith."

Sony, for example, is distributing a new "teaser" trailer for "The Da Vinci Code," even though the movie doesn't come out for a year.

But for those movies hoping to ride in the film's wake, the five-trailer rule, which was implemented on at least one previous "Star Wars" prequel, could leave any number of previews on the projection booth floor.

Several distributors said the rule emanates from Lucas.

A spokeswoman for Lucas referred phone calls to 20th Century Fox, Lucas' longtime distributor, which contends that the trailer cap is voluntary and was created to avoid a logjam of promotional spots cluttering the "Revenge of the Sith" screenings.

The studio also says the rule comes from Fox, not Lucas. "It's my request to exhibitors," said Fox's Snyder. "It's not an edict; it's a request."

But one person familiar with the agreement between Lucas and Fox disputes that characterization and said theaters can be penalized for violating the cap.

One such exhibitor, John Logan, chief executive of Logan Luxury Theatre Corp. in South Dakota, confirmed that those who violate the order risk losing their copy of the film.

"No one's ever pushed" Lucasfilm to contest the cap, he said. And if a theater chain did? "I think you'd get the phone call. In the contract, it says they could pull your contract and feasibly pull your print."

For the exhibitors, deciding which trailers to project is more art than science. Furthermore, the studios are certain to call and plead for their own coming attractions, sometimes offering financial incentives.

"We try to put trailers with movies that are going to have the same appeal, the same demographics," said Peter Dobson, chief executive of Mann Theatres. "In addition to that, we get recommendations from the studios. It's a very delicate balance."

A profound effect on the face of cinema
Beginning with his original Star Wars, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic has been a force in Hollywood
By ANDREW DANSBYCopyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Forget Generation X, Generation ILM is a better fit.

Regardless of where film fans stand on George Lucas' Star Wars space saga, filmgoers age 35 and younger know no cinematic world removed from the imagination of Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Industrial Light and Magic, the effects company Lucas started 30 years ago.

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith opens at midnight tonight, and theaters will soon begin spilling over for the next four days, and again later this summer with the release of Spielberg's War of the Worlds. The two filmmakers have largely defined tomorrow's cinema for a quarter century.

"(Sith) is definitely the best of the three prequels," says Scott Chitwood, one of the co-founders of, a Star Wars fan site. "It's good to have everything connect between the classic trilogy and the prequels. When Darth Vader appears, it was the first time I thought, 'Wow, I'm watching a Star Wars movie.' "

In Houston, Sith will appear on 104 screens at 25 theaters.

You can thank, or blame, ILM for the cinema madness. Lucas started the post-production effects company in 1975, and the first film it vivified was his own Star Wars.

More than 200 films, including Poltergeist, Field of Dreams, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Titanic and Men in Black, have used Industrial Light and Magic's services during the past 28 years, but Lucas and Spielberg remain its greatest, and certainly its most successful, champions.

Revenues tell the tale
If there's any question about these two filmmakers' influence, eight of the top 20 grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation) were created by Spielberg and/or Lucas. Sith, which the film industry hopes will kick-start a sluggish season, could easily be the ninth.

Lucas' oeuvre is itself a fine example of not only how film has changed, but how a generation's expectations of film have changed. Director Jean-Luc Godard once said that "cinema is the truth 24 frames a second." With ILM, Lucas and Spielberg have achieved a cinematic sleight of hand: Illuminated swords, melting faces and fleet-footed dinosaurs have put a dreamlike stamp into those 24 frames. Where postproduction was once the dominion of film editors, the two directors have made it a crucial component of modern film.

Spielberg's Jaws is often cited as the first of the big summer blockbusters. It wasn't without trial, with the film's faulty rubber shark failing to operate properly throughout production.
On the positive side, it forced Spielberg to think differently and develop stylistic tools to create tension and terror in the absence of his dysfunctional Great White.

Two decades later, Spielberg admitted that his shark would have been digitized and more agreeable. "(Today) the shark would be fully CG," Spielberg told the Chronicle in 2002, "and it wouldn't be a better movie. I would have abused the digital tool and had too many shark shots, instead of letting the unknown be the threat."

Plot still matters
Where the ship veers off course is when the special effects swallow a film. That's where Lucas, much more than Spielberg, draws flak.

For all of its razzle-dazzle, Star Wars' allure to a wide-eyed generation at the time was equally because of the simplicity of plot, one of the oldest plots: Man goes on a journey.

There has been a sense of letdown at the new trilogy thus far, if not by a new, younger generation, then certainly by those who were wowed between 1977 and 1983. The attrition has been quantifiable: Episode I grossed $100 million more than Episode II in the United States. The flash was there, but the story has been cumbersome.

"(Computer Generated Images) dull the impact if every single scene has something so extraordinary you can't top yourself," Spielberg said. EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S A WONDER HE AND UNCLE G STILL SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER!

Which might explain the bigger buzz around Episode III.

Some of the residue from Episode II's relatively convoluted plot remains, and the film does use a record 2,151 shots featuring visual effects. But at its heart, Sith is a mirror image of the original.
Effects like those created by ILM remain the biggest cinematic development since color and they are being used to tell cinematic truth of different stripes. Legitimacy, beyond box office, has also arrived.

The critical success of Lord of the Rings, which admittedly had a strong central story, marked a sea change in how CG films are received.

Where visual effects were once rewarded, appropriately enough, in the visual effects category, films like Master and Commander and Gangs of New York, both of which featured ILM's touch, achieved acclaim beyond space-age spectacle.

Long after Lucas and Spielberg are gone, generations will see films — magical and mundane — influenced by their strange truth.


Science facts catch up with movie sci-fi
3-D teleconferencing, sassy robots ... but no lightsabers yet

By Alan Boyle
Science editor

"Star Wars" never did let scientific facts get in the way of a good story: Fans just accept that X-wing fighters fly through outer space as if they were jets in an atmosphere, that huge spaceships could float on antigravity drives or zoom faster than light, and that lightsabers cut through virtually everything except another lightsaber (why don't they just make the darn things longer?).

But in the 28 years since the first "Star Wars" movie came out, science and technology have gone in directions that reflect some aspects of that galaxy long ago and far away: Particularly when it comes to space weaponry, robotics and communications, there are increasing parallels between "Star Wars" science fiction and science fact.

That doesn't mean engineers looked to the movies to figure out how to design a modern-day Death Star. Rather, the visions reflected in the movies had an impact on how real-life technologies were presented.

The concept for a national missile defense system, which was nicknamed "Star Wars" during the Reagan administration, serves as a prime example. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH UNCLE GEORGE SUED ABOUT, AS I RECALL?

Final frontier for weaponry

Space warfare was pure fiction when the first "Star Wars" movie came out, but now Pentagon policy is considering scenarios for monitoring missile launches from orbit, shooting down missiles with interceptors, or knocking out enemy targets using ground-based, airborne or space-borne lasers.

However, military planners haven't made as much progress on their version of "Star Wars" as they expected to back in the 1980s. In fact, the missile defense system's scope has been scaled back to defend merely against smaller-scale threats from the likes of North Korea, rather than the doomsday scenario of a U.S.-Soviet conflict.

"The expectations have been radically scaled back," defense policy expert John Pike, director of, told "It has achieved a degree of reality that it didn't have 20 years ago, but it has been constrained by reality in a way that it was not 20 years ago."EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH. POLITICAL DOUBLE-SPEAK FOR 'TRUTH'S A YOUKNOWWHAT'.

Slow progress on propulsion

In the field of spacecraft propulsion, researchers haven't yet gotten the faster-than-light hyperdrive to work (even Han Solo sometimes had trouble in that department).

But they have developed distant cousins of the ion drive that "Star Wars" spaceships used for sublight-speed travel. A solar-electric ion drive was used successfully on NASA's Deep Space 1 probe in the late 1990s, and yet another powered the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft into lunar orbit last year.

The only trouble is, it takes months for these real-life engines to build up a head of steam — so the fusion-powered ion drive on Luke Skywalker's X-wing fighter would leave SMART-1 in the interplanetary dust.

The same drawback applies to space sails, the real-life analogs to the getaway spacecraft that the evil Count Dooku used at the end of "Episode II." Sure, they should work just fine, as the Cosmos 1 solar sail is expected to demonstrate next month. But it would take a long time for a solar sail or even a magnetic sail to reach appreciable speeds.

The upside to space sails is that once they get moving, they should continue moving faster and faster — and that's why Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, believes such sails could represent one of the best bets for interstellar travel. Friedman, whose group is one of the backers of the Cosmos 1 project, pointed out that the solar-sail concept originated in Russia in the 1920s and has appeared in science fiction for decades.

"I've always felt that the link between science fiction and science is definitely two-way," Friedman told "That's the way it should be."

Then there's the "repulsorlift," the antigravity drive that keeps pod racers and other conveyances hovering over the ground (or, in "Episode III," hovering over the lava pits of Mustafar).

Three years ago, NASA spent some money and research time looking for anomalous gravitational effects that, if verified, might have pointed the way to a real-life repulsorlift. But the idea didn't pan out and faded back into the scientific fringe.

Other repulsorlift candidates include the lifter effect, which causes lightweight, highly electrically charged objects to rise into the air, apparently due to a phenomenon known as "ion wind"; and diamagnetic levitation, which can make frogs and other small objects float within magnetic chambers. But for now, these are physics-lab curiosities rather than practical methods for countering gravity.

Robot revolutions

Robotic technology is one of the areas where "Star Wars" really shines: Science-fiction author Nick Sagan, the son of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, recalled how he and his father quibbled over the first movie's scientific slips. But he also paid tribute to the way "Star Wars" portrayed the various breeds of robots.

Sagan said the assorted shapes and sizes of "Star Wars" robots — some suited for industrial purposes, others for service or entertainment — helped blaze a trail for contemporary machines that will vacuum your carpet or serve as a sassy, pint-sized companion. "The goofy commercial robots owe a lot of their visual design to the 'Star Wars' robots," Sagan said.

Meanwhile, the movie saga's central character, Darth Vader, was a walking advertisement for body-part replacements, if not the ideals of the Jedi order. Real-life prosthetic limbs are starting to take advantage of advances in neuroscience and engineering, to catch up with the vision sketched out in the "Star Wars" movies.

3-D is your destiny

"Star Wars" has also been ahead of the curve in communication technology. The most common medium in the movies is the 3-D interactive display — for example, the holographic message projected by R2-D2 at the beginning of the original movie, or the interactive star map manipulated by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Jedi Archives in "Episode II," or the virtual telepresence of Jedi knights at the council meetings in "Episode III."

The same kind of displays can be seen nowadays in other sci-fi movies such as "Minority Report." But could they really work the way they do in the movies?

Yes, but it's not as simple as "Star Wars" makes it out to be: You'd either have to be looking into some sort of holographic screen, or using virtual-reality headsets and haptic gloves. Virtual-reality 3-D technology is actually old hat: Several years ago, engineers used VR to work on virtual prototypes for the U.S. military's Joint Strike Fighter before the plane was even built.
Those real-life experiences are catching up with science fiction, Sagan said.

"I would argue that multiuser videoconferencing looks a little sharper than that hologram," he joked. "Of course, it would have been less dramatic if R2-D2 suddenly popped out three headsets to watch the hologram."

In a final twist, the technology will soon be turned on "Star Wars" itself: The next step for the movie franchise is a digital conversion of all the films to 3-D format, starting in 2007. So when you watch the hologram of Princess Leia telling Obi-Wan Kenobi, "you're my only hope" ... you'll actually get the hologram's 3-D effect for the first time.

A few words from the creator
George Lucas surveys his empire

SAN RAFAEL, California (AP) -- A wilted monolith of establishment politics. An entrenched ruling class fearful of change. And one man who stealthily rebels from within, turning the system on its head and bending it to his will.

George Lucas' story is the benign reverse image of the palace coup engineered by the foul emperor of his "Star Wars" epic.

The emperor perverted a tired republic into a fascist state bearing the imprint of his boot heel, standard "Richard III" stuff for which history buff Lucas had many role models to study from ancient to modern times.

Lucas' accomplishments marked a one-of-a-kind revolution. He sneaked into a Hollywood that no longer had the verve or nerve to make the weird, giddy, goofy Saturday matinees of his youth. He found a lone patron among fainthearted studio executives willing to pony up cash for what was essentially an Arthurian sword-in-the-stone fantasy in space.

Then he went off and made the most rip-roaring blast of cinematic fun audiences had ever seen as 1977's "Star Wars" became the biggest box-office sensation of its time.

Where dollar signs twinkle, studios follow, and Hollywood has been lumbering behind Lucas ever since. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND BEING BITTER AND PISSY EVERY STEP OF THE WAY BECAUSE HE HAD THE MOXY TO GET THERE FIRST.

Science fiction and special effects suddenly were back in vogue, and over the ensuing 28 years, Lucas and his visual wizards have led filmmaking into a new age of virtual reality that made possible such effects extravaganzas as "Jurassic Park," "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

In the '70s, there was a "technological ceiling" over fantasy and science fiction films, even epics and period pieces, Lucas told The Associated Press in an interview at his sprawling Skywalker Ranch. "The tools weren't there," he said.

As television chipped away at theater business in the 1950s and '60s, studios folded up shop on the effects departments that helped create splashy historical adventures and otherworldly tales.
"It's like trying to paint pictures without brushes," Lucas said. "Hey, I brought the brush back and said, 'You know, there's a lot of things you can do with this thing. I think there's real power here.' And by bringing that back, I think that was the biggest effect.

"Because it allowed people to do all kinds of movies that were sort of restricted because they were too expensive. That's not to say special-effects movies aren't expensive, but they're much less expensive than if you tried to do it in the old-fashioned way and have 10,000 people out in the middle of the desert with catering cars and all the things you'd have to have." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND EVEN AFTER YOU PUT THOSE 10,000 PEOPLE OUT IN THE DESERT, ALL YOU GET IS TRIPE LIKE "TROY".

An art-house guy
Lucas -- who turned 61 Saturday, just days before the May 19 debut of "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," the final chapter in his six-film saga -- never set out to be a Hollywood pioneer, a sci-fi maven or even a populist filmmaker.

A star pupil at the University of Southern California film school in the 1960s, Lucas adapted a short student flick he made into his feature debut with 1971's "THX 1138," the first film from buddy Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope outfit, a failed experiment meant to give young industry lions the freedom to make movies their way.

Starring Robert Duvall in a dark satire on consumerism and dehumanization, "THX 1138" baffled distributor Warner Bros., which dumped the abstract sci-fi drama into theaters. The film has gained cult status over the decades, largely because of Lucas' subsequent fame, but at the time, hardly anyone saw it.

Coppola challenged Lucas to try something light, so he followed with a comic drama based on his car-cruising days in the '50s and '60s.

With its ensemble cast and episodic story structure, "American Graffiti" was another puzzler for Hollywood. Yet its killer soundtrack, nostalgia factor and the appeal of such young stars as Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard caught the fancy of moviegoers, who turned it into a box-office smash.

Always figuring he would specialize in documentaries and strange art films, Lucas found himself with a narrow window of clout among Hollywood bankers. He decided to take one stab at a grand soundstage production with big sets and visuals while he had the chance.

Impressed with Lucas' youthful drive and his work on "American Graffiti," 20th Century Fox studio boss Alan Ladd Jr. decided to back the filmmaker's space opera about a farmboy named Luke Skywalker, a plucky princess named Leia, and a roguish pilot named Han Solo as they battled an evil galactic empire and black-cloaked villain Darth Vader.

"Star Wars" shot past Lucas pal Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" to become the colossus of the modern blockbuster era the two men helped usher in. Counting rereleases that include the 1997 special-edition version with added footage and effects, "Star Wars" still stands at No. 2 behind "Titanic" on the domestic box-office charts with $461 million.

Lucas said he originally envisioned a bigger story arc that revealed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia to be the children of Darth Vader, who finds redemption in his last moments of life through the good heart of his son.

He scaled "Star Wars" back to tell only the first chapter of that chronicle. After the film succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, Lucas followed with "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."

'He had no idea'
In a stroke of blind fortune that now looks like the savviest business decision in Hollywood history, Lucas retained ownership of the films and merchandising. EDITOR'S NOTE: TOYS!!! AND FOOD WITH LOGOS ON IT!!!!! (WOOHOO!!!!)

Lucas was getting paid next to nothing upfront and had to beg 20th Century Fox for more money to get the special effects close to what he had imagined. Ownership of the franchise was a bone the studio tossed him, and Lucas figured he would use it to make T-shirts and posters to promote the movie.

At the time, sequel and merchandise rights were about as valuable as a bucket of sand on the desert planet Tatooine, but the combined bonanza from films, toys and other "Star Wars" products has made Lucas one of the richest men in show business.

"He would be the first to tell you, he had no idea," said Rick McCallum, Lucas' producing partner since TV's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" in the early 1990s. "When you're getting nothing, you'll take anything ... He knew there were sci-fi exhibitions out there that 5,000 kids would go to, so the idea was to go to anything that had to do with science where people would lend themselves to science fiction, and he could sell them T-shirts."

The "Star Wars" movies allowed Lucas to build an empire that includes the visual-effects house Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, which have driven moviemaking into the digital era. Lucas' THX system has become a gold standard for theater and home-entertainment audio.
Even Pixar Animation, the company behind the "Toy Story" movies, "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles," was a Lucas offshoot he sold in the mid-1980s.

Spielberg and Lucas teamed with "Star Wars" co-star Harrison Ford for the swashbuckling "Indiana Jones" movies, the fourth installment of which they hope to begin shooting in 2006.

After Industrial Light & Magic's breakthrough with realistic digital dinosaurs on Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," Lucas realized computer animation would allow him to tweak his three "Star Wars" movies, adding scenes, effects and creatures impossible to produce in the '70s and '80s.
The special-edition releases helped persuade Lucas to go back and tell the backstory of how headstrong youth Anakin Skywalker transformed into malignant monster Darth Vader.

Episodes I and II, "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones," were hits, but they disappointed many fans who wanted to see a full-blown Vader from the outset. Instead, Lucas followed Anakin from precocious boyhood through his awkward teen years and a forbidden romance.

"Revenge of the Sith" finally takes Anakin to the dark side as Vader, whose fear of losing the love of his life leads him into a bloodbath against the Jedi knights who raised him.

Lucas is braced for fresh complaints about the final film, expecting many viewers to gripe that it's too dark, the ending too bleak.

"Half the people like the movies, the other half don't. There's nothing I can do about that," Lucas said. "Nobody is indifferent about them. Even the reviews, we get fantastic reviews or horrible reviews. There's no middle ground. Nobody's saying, 'They're OK, I guess.'

"You can't really worry about it. I make the movie I feel I want to make, telling the story I want to tell, and how it gets received is how it gets received. At least it's my fault. It's totally mine. I don't have to have any excuses about it. I don't have to say, 'The studio made me do this,' or 'I know that was wrong, but I had to do it.' Whatever people don't like or they do like is my fault."

More to come
Millions of fans would love a third trilogy picking up after "Return of the Jedi," but Lucas said he has no story in mind and no intention of continuing the tale on the big screen. EDITOR'S NOTE: READ THE BOOKS AND COMICS, DARNIT!!! (THE EU ROCKS!)

The adventure will live on in an animated TV show and a live-action series Lucas has planned, set among minor characters from the films in the 20 years or so between the action of "Revenge of the Sith" and the original "Star Wars."

Lucas also hopes to release three-dimensional versions of all six movies in theaters starting a couple of years down the road. The 3-D editions would be created using new digital technology that adds depth perspective to two-dimensional film images.

Other than the new "Indiana Jones," the creator himself said he is done with big film productions. Lucas plans to go off and make the sort of artsy little films he would have been making all along if "Star Wars" had not taken off.

With money set aside to cover those film projects into his 70s, Lucas said he can do whatever he wants without worrying if his movies succeed or fail, toiling in comparative obscurity and happy to be free of "Star Wars."

"The analogy I can use is, it's like going away to college," Lucas said. "It's great to get out of the house. You miss your parents a little bit, but you get to see them at Thanksgiving. But it's great to be in college, great to be on your own. It's great to have a new life." EDITOR'S NOTE: HE HAS CERTAINLY EARNED THE RIGHT TO DO ABSOLUTELY WHATEVER HE WANTS FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE, YES?



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