Friday, May 27, 2005

Star Wars. Some more Articles of Interest.




'The Force' lived long, prospered
'Star Wars III' may be our last trek into final frontiers of big-budget epic fantasy
May. 23, 2005 12:00 AM
Tantalizing the faithful, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert guesses that Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith may not be the last installment after all.

The certainty of a Star Wars movie earning so many near-billions of dollars, figures Ebert, may bring Darth Vader and Co. back again.

We'll see.

For the fantasists among us, that hope must hold faint. Six movies over 27 years is a long time for any series of movies to be held dear by mass audiences. And it seems plausible to wonder if it isn't just Star Wars that has run its course at last. Maybe the whole genre of blockbuster, imagination-capturing, epic movie series has run out of gas. EDITOR'S NOTE: I THINK EP3 HAS PROVEN...WHINERS AND NON-BELIEVERS NOT WITHSTANDING...THAT THE STAR WARS THANG HAS IN NO WAY 'RUN OUT OF GAS'. (AND IT HAS DRAGGED THE BLOCKBUSTER INTO ANOTHER YEAR OF HEALTH ALONG WITH IT, I GUESS).

The purported last installment of Hollywood's other major space opera series, Star Trek, went dark recently. The last vestige of what fantasy writer Gene Roddenberry once wrought, a retro-style TV prequel called Star Trek: Enterprise, has been deemed the last of its kind. At least the series went off with some style, as reviewers often viewed Enterprise with a lot more kindness than some other incarnations.



Note to production bosses: Don't ever, ever give William Shatner a big budget to direct a movie.

If the nadir of Star Wars was Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the dropcloth beneath the Star Trek movie banquet was Shatner's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Yuk. Even the obnoxious Jar Jar Binks was more interesting. EDITOR'S NOTE: QUIT MESSIN WITH MY HOMEBOY JJ.

It isn't just space operas that have fallen into a black hole.

The series of movies that many reviewers say defined the concept of wide-screen fantasy epic - the three film installments of The Lord of the Rings - sprung from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien. That is, the late J.R.R. Tolkien.

Hollywood rumor has circulated for a couple of years now that Harrison Ford may dust off his fedora one more time for the Indiana Jones series. Ford and director Steven Spielberg keep dropping hints that way. While that sounds interesting - at least Ford has kept fit, as opposed to a certain rotund James T. Kirk who shall remain nameless - true fans must wonder if Indy's whip hasn't lost a bit of its snap.EDITOR'S NOTE: HEY. EVEN STARSHIP CAPTAINS GOTTA EAT! (AND KIRK COULD STILL COMMAND A SHIP WITH APLOMB EQUAL TO PICARD.....SEXY OLD BALD GUYS FOR 100, ALEX...OR SISCO, OR JANEWAY OR BACULA'S CHARACTER, WHO'S NAME JUST ESCAPED ME).

No, for fans of big-screen epics, the last series that seems to still possess some vigor would be the Harry Potter movies. But while the Potters have filled the screen with joyous wonderment, at heart they are about schoolkids getting into trouble at recess.

When we think of bigger-than-life fantasy epics, there just has to be a universe at stake. Or at least a Middle Earth. Or, OK, a Nazi takeover.

At their best, such movies took on cosmic principles of right and wrong.

Just prior to the release of Sith, Republic movie critic Bill Muller tracked down a classic Star Wars fan: a 34-year-old APS customer service rep and owner of two $120 electronic light sabers.

Said fan Mark Rude: "The Force, if you can call it anything, would be an extension of human will and human desires."

It would be telling if the era of movies that prompt such fundamental reflection ends.

Muller gave Sith 4 1/2 stars. And as Ebert and other critics point out, the battle scenes rock. If the era of movies that took viewers where no man or woman had gone before is gone, at least they are going out on a high note.


Confessions of a fan girl
How Star Wars provided connections to a community in this galaxy

I'm ready to come out of the closet. EDITOR'S NOTE: COME ON OUT. THE WEATHER IS GLORIOUS!

Mild-mannered newspaper editor by day – Star Wars fan at night.

By the time you read this, I have seen the latest installment of the Star Wars movie franchise three times. I caught the 12:01 a.m. earliest-possible showing at Montpelier's Capitol theater Thursday morning, then hopped on a plane to see it twice with friends in Washington, D.C.

It was the third time in six years that I've seen a midnight showing of a Star Wars movie.

I've seen the other five movies countless times, in theaters, on VHS and now on DVD.

I own more than 150 Star Wars books – fiction, nonfiction, adult and young adult, even ones written in French, Japanese and German.

I have a modest collection of other Star Wars paraphernalia, including a stuffed Ewok and a mechanical 18-inch R2D2 that responds to voice commands. A map of the Star Wars galaxy is tacked to the wall behind my computer. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS THE SIGN OF THE TRUE FAN...SOMEONE WHO CAN FIND THEIR WAY TO CORUSCANT EASIER THAN TO BEAUMONT! (OF COURSE, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO GO TO BEAUMONT, ANY WAY?!)

I've broken a piñata with a lightsaber.

And yet you'd never know any of this upon meeting me. I have a responsible job, volunteer at my daughter's school, exercise regularly, dabble in quilting and photography. I love Broadway musicals, James Taylor, Sabra Field and "The Great Gatsby."

I am not your stereotypical Star Wars fan.

The media like to portray the Star Wars fan as a greasy-haired, bespectacled adolescent male geek who has no life. I'm coming out of the closet to help shatter that myth. EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU GO, GIRL!! ME TOO, ME TOO!!!

This weekend, an era comes to a close. With the release of "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith," the last Star Wars movie, the on-screen saga of the Skywalker clan ends.

Conceived by writer/director George Lucas, Star Wars changed the movie industry, invigorated the science fiction genre and spawned legions of devoted fans.

But Star Wars is more than a Hollywood blockbuster. Something about its story and imagery continue to appeal to many.

The first Star Wars movie, now known as "Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope," was released in 1977, just after my freshman year of college.EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. I THINK THIS WOMAN IS ME. (ONE YEAR OLDER, IT SEEMS). While it may seem sacrilegious to admit this, I was not besotted with the movie originally. I liked it, but I didn't see it multiple times. I didn't join the fan club or buy themed items such as C3PO towels.

So how did my transformation into a full-fledged fan happen?

My "focus" started 10 years ago when I was looking for something to read at the beach. I stumbled across "Heir to the Empire," a novel by Timothy Zahn, which continued the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia five years after the Death Star blew up in "Return of the Jedi."

I loved it and started trolling bookstores for others. Then, as a relatively new Internet user, I experimentally typed Star Wars into AOL keywords and stumbled on a parallel universe – an online fan community. Even better, I discovered a subset of that community made up of literate, articulate women. I joined an e-mail list, essentially an online book group whose focus was Star Wars. We've expanded our discussions since then, but our group of about 100 remains strong (and expanded to admit some men, too). We meet in person at least once a year, keep in constant e-mail contact and yes, watched episodes I, II and III together.

My husband wondered what was happening to his wife.

I hid my interest from friends, telling them I was going to a wedding instead of a gathering of Star Wars enthusiasts I met on the Internet.

I'm not the only one who kept their devotion secret. One of my friends (a partner in a Washington, D.C., law firm) stuffed her books in her underwear drawer and tore their covers off if she took them out in public. Another (an economics professor) hides her themed material in a closet when her mother comes to visit.

If I told the truth, I reasoned, people would think I was crazy. When I did tell, I'd have to endure a bemused, somewhat patronizing reaction. Eyebrows are raised. Weird glances follow.EDITOR'S NOTE: BOY HOWDY HAVE I SEEN THIS REACTION A TIME OR TWO. OR A THOUSAND. BUT I'M OUT OF THE CLOSET AND FOR A LONGO TIME. IF NOTHING ELSE, DWEEBING HELPS YOU EMBRACE YOUR DESTINY. IT IS VERY EMPOWERING AND CONFIDENCE BUILDING. THE CONFIDENCE THAT COMES FROM JUST BEING YOURSELF.



Since I started this story, my coworkers take joy in making fun of me.

What's interesting, of course, is that other, equally bizarre hobbies are considered legitimate. As my friend Shelba put it, "I don't understand why it is OK that people who paint their faces blue, or red, or green polka dots to cheer on a sports team are just enthusiastic, but we're weird."EDITORS' NOTE: THIS IS SPOOKY. THIS WOMAN'S EXPERIENCES ARE SO LIKE MINE. AND THIS SPORTS ANALOGY IS ONE I'VE MADE NUMEROUS TIMES TO THE SCOFFERS. (TO LITTLE EFFECT).

Golfers play all weekend and decorate their house with golf-themed pillows. There are avid genealogists and Civil War buffs, birdwatchers and Phish fans.

But say you're into Star Wars, and people think you are out of touch with reality.

Tish Pahl, 43, that Washington lawyer who now decorates her office with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings posters, hopes the tide is changing. "I think people have come to see that whatever your passion, there's a niche for you, and it's easier than ever to find it and be a part of it. I really don't think it's considered any more odd than the people who are devoted to baseball and cruising eBay for memorabilia."

Part of the skepticism comes from the bad rap given to science fiction and fantasy. As poor stepchildren in literature, they haven't gotten a lot of recognition from the intellectual elite.EDITOR'S NOTE: YEP. I GOT THIS SAME REACTION AS A NASCENT DWEEB IN MY DISTANT YOUTH. PRE-STAR WARS, I READ A LOT OF PRINTED/BOOK SCIFI. FORTUNATELY, I HAD AN ENGLISH TEACHER WHO WAS JUST GLAD FOR A STUDENT WITH A PASSION FOR READING. SCIFI COUNTED.

Star Wars mixes science fiction and fantasy. While it features the advanced technology common to science fiction, it takes place "a long time ago," a hallmark of the fantasy genre.

Michael Stanton, a now-retired professor who taught science fiction and fantasy for two decades at the University of Vermont, said, "People who don't read science fiction think of it as one-dimensional characters using ray guns. Realistic fiction tries to show us more about our world, about us; it shows us as we are," he explained. "Some better works of science fiction do that by showing us the alternatives." Good science fiction, he says, includes the study of complex characters and has thematic value.

Science fiction and fantasy literature is one thing, but what about Star Wars the movies?

John Christensen, who has taught science fiction classes at the Community College of Vermont, said Star Wars is weightier than many people think. "The mythic elements of a quest, coming of age, finding yourself, facing an unknown enemy. It is a story about unraveling the mystery of your past. It echoes timeless stories that humanity has told as long as we have been conscious of ourselves."EDITOR'S NOTE: I'VE TRIED TO EXPLAIN THIS TO THE HEAD-SCOFFER IN MY LIFE, MY MOM. BUT I GUESS SHE'D HAVE TO HAVE STAYED AWAKE FOR A STAR WARS MOVIE TO KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.

My friends are passionate about the value of these genres.

Paula Rosenberg, 37, of Atlanta who fell in love with science fiction when she was in elementary school, explains that it can "take issues common in our current society and put them in such a way as to allow them to be examined without our current prejudices." A science fiction novel may explore racial prejudice by looking at the interaction between two alien species, for example. Rosenberg points out that "Return of the Sith" asks a question pertinent today, "How many personal liberties do we give up in exchange for protection from a threat?" EDITOR'S NOTE: AND AT WHAT POINT DO GOOD INTENTIONS GET SUPERCEDED BY BAD ACTS? AT WHAT POINT DOES TRYING TO CONTROL/LIMIT THE BAD OUTCOMES, BECOME THE BAD THING ITSELF?

Science fiction, explains Kelly Frieders, 37, "puts a comfortable distance there so we can take a more objective view of ourselves.""It's sort of a test market, really, for where humanity is headed," said Missi Nussbaum, 32, a mother of two from Louisville, Ky. "And not just in the manner of what sort of technological advances we will face, but sociological changes as well."Pahl put it this way: "It's all about possibilities, thinking of things beyond our every day lives, and respect for a well-made story."EDITOR'S NOTE: ULTIMATELY, IT'S LIKE ALL GOOD FICTION....BOOKS OR MOVIES. IT'S ABOUT CHARACTERS WE CARE ABOUT LEADING US, THROUGH OUR INVESTMENT IN THEIR STORIES, TO LOOK AT OUR HUMANITY AND OUR INTERACTIONS AND THE WORLD AROUND US.

A month ago, Lucasfilm held Celebration III, a four-day gathering in Indianapolis for fans. More than 20 of my friends volunteered to work the convention. I helped assemble the archive, a collection of artifacts like costumes and props from the movies and then staffed the exhibit during the show.Thousands of fans stood in a very long line to file through the room. They walked around in reverence. There were as many women who walked through that room as men, as many little girls as little boys.

Myth #1: Star Wars fans are either little boys or geeks who live in their parent's basement.

Not true, says Steve Sansweet, who heads fan relations in Lucasfilm's marketing department. "The demographics are sort of stretching," he said. "Instead of the 8- to 21-year-old barrel, the barrel has gotten bigger. Our fans are in their 30s, 40, 50s and above. That is women as well as men." Plus, he noted, "We get a lot of professional people, people who have an expendable income."

Middlebury professor Jason Mittell, who specializes in film and media culture, cites a study showing that there is a "huge female participation in science fiction fandom. The assumption is that science fiction appeals to people who are into science, which are assumed to be male. But that's not true.""It's a stereotype and it's essentially false," said Christensen. "It's changed largely because so many good and serious female authors entered the genre. Some of the best science fiction novels have female protagonists and a female perspective."

Myth #2: Star Wars fans have no life or need therapy to regain their grip on reality.

For the record, none of my friends believe they are married to Luke Skywalker. We have successful careers and can distinguish between reality and fantasy just fine. There's an economist for the U.S. Justice Department, a public health adviser for the Centers for Disease Control's Bioterrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response Program, high school English and science teachers, an emergency room doctor, an editor for a major metro newspaper, a minister, an Emmy-winning TV producer, a rocket scientist.

We knit, rave about Jane Austen novels and figure skate competitively. We have active social lives. We bathe frequently. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH. BATHING! I KNEW I FORGOT SOMETHING! (GIGGLE)

Mittell mused about the misunderstood science fiction enthusiast: "People who criticize science fiction fans are being counterproductive and hypercritical," he said. "Theater and art buffs are considered legitimate. Why are they any different than someone who is passionate about Japanese animation? Consumer culture in general exists on a set of hierarchies of legitimacies and values. Stamp collecting is legitimate, but why? Why is it any more legitimate than a story world, which is a much more productive consumption. You can make your own meanings, invest your own ideas and values into the story world."He adds, "Star Wars fans get a community and a rich fantasy world which has its rewards in terms of fulfilling stories, faith in something that is broader than our universe and the small worlds we live in. It's an engagement in vast story world. In some ways it's an escape, but in other ways it's a way to keep yourself engaged."EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, I'M DEFINITELY COPYING THIS ARTICLE AND SHOWING IT THE SKEPTICS AND SCOFFERS IN MY LIFE. THIS PARTICULAR QUOTE IS WONDERFUL...THAT OUR PARTICIPATION IN DWEEBING IS BOTH INSULAR AND UNIFYING. LOVELY!

An unheralded aspect of this fandom is its generosity to charity.

The 501st Legion, a national organization of fans who dress up in various costumes, participates in numerous charity functions around the country. raises money for breast cancer research.

My group of friends regularly donates to efforts that promote literacy.

Myth #3: Star Wars is just about special effects.

For many women, the original pull of Star Wars came from a strong female character. The original trilogy had Leia – a princess, but one who grabbed the gun from the hero and saved the day.

"Princess Leia was a feminist role model before I knew there was a need for feminism and role models," said Lynanne Schweighhofer, 34, a preservation specialist for the Library of Congress. "I was six for crying out loud. … She was a Princess, and a Senator! She could glower at Darth Vader and not look scared. Don't underestimate what she symbolized to little girls who like to climb trees in dress-up clothes with cap guns tucked into their hem."EDITOR'S NOTE: SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN JUST ABOUT THE ONLY FEMALE IN THE WHOLE OF EP4, BUT SHE LOOMED VERY LARGE. I WAS A BIT OLDER THAN 6, BUT SHE STILL HAD AN ENOURMOUS IMPACT ON ME.


The new movies have Padmé, a queen who dresses in elaborate clothes but is a shrewd negotiator and respected politician.

The books by Zahn introduced a strong female character called Mara Jade, a kick-ass brilliant tactician who (many books later) marries Luke Skywalker.

Women are also attracted by the fantasy elements of the stories. "Star Wars was a fairy tale in an unusual setting," said Nussbaum. "Star Wars resonated with me in the way that mythology always does. Larger than life heroes and heroines, set against impossible odds, doing superhuman things."EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THE LITTLE GUYS (AND GALS) BANDING TOGETHER, THE ORPHANS AND THE MISFITS. AND AS A GROUP, CHANGING THE UNIVERSE.

Christensen describes Star Wars as a "20th century mythology … a modern myth that addresses our fears and hopes and dreams the same way classical or ancient mythology did."

Delve beneath the special effects and a story emerges that uses the same plot elements and archetypal characters as the generations of myths studied by the late Joseph Campbell.

And so, my friends treat the books and movies seriously, analyzing themes and motifs, character motivations, continuity problems. EDITOR'S NOTE: WE ARE NOT ALONE! (NO ONE IS ALONE. SONDHEIM MOMENT....)We are probably some of the galaxy's harshest critics.

We have lengthy discussions about, for example, the nature of evil. (Is it true that once you "go down the path of the dark side forever it shall control your destiny"?)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention another important factor explaining the attraction of Star Wars.


The original gave women a choice between farmboy Luke (Mark Hamill) and the roguish Han (Harrison Ford). EDITOR'S NOTE: AND LET'S NOT FORGET LANDO. AND CHEWBACCA.

Now, when Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and even serious Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) flourish their lightsabers, strut in their boots and drop their robes, well, be still our hearts.


A virtually galactic fandom
What has kept me returning to this galaxy for 10 years?

First off, I have great fun. This is a community that likes to laugh. Fans parody the movies in songs, stories and videos – displaying impressive creativity in their interpretation of the galaxy far, far away. It's hard not to love a group of people who play Sithball with Styrofoam asteroids as the bases and a lightsaber as the bat.

"It's an excuse to be silly and laugh, a lot," comments Nancy Lutz, 44, an economist with the National Science Foundation. "Adults don't get enough chances to do this, so I treasure the ones I have."

Most important, though, Star Wars has connected me to people like me. We are avid readers and good writers, listmakers and snarky commentators.

OK, it's true that many of us probably were the last chosen in gym class.

Despite our differences — we come from both red and blue states and have disparate opinions on religion and politics – our passion for this galaxy binds us together.

We may not live in the same place, but we are a strong community.

My husband remarked the other day how incredibly supportive we all are for each other. We've held virtual wedding showers and baby showers. On 9/11, we frantically checked in, making sure everyone was accounted for. If someone is hospitalized, we send flowers and gifts.

"I love Star Wars, but I think it's the friends I've made that keep me a huge fan," said Frieders, of Tucson, Ariz., who relied on our online discussions for company when homebound with newborn triplets. "It's just a lot more fun when you have people to share it with."EDITOR'S NOTE: TRUE OF MOST EVERYTHING, BUT DWEEBING MOST DEFINITELY. (AND NOW, I'M GETTING A BIT MISTY-EYED THINKING ABOUT ALL OF YOU. SNIFFLE).

Middlebury professor Mittell reinforced my observations that the Internet has changed the definition of community."Community in its traditional sense was tied to a neighborhood that was geographically based. It had to be. There was no other way of maintaining contact," he told me. "As geography has changed, the sense is that where you live is interchangeable. … People had been civically engaged. This shifted post war with suburbs, when we became a commuting culture. There has been a shift in where people find community. They are finding it less in their neighborhood. The Internet allows neighborhoods to exist virtually, to create communities based on your interests."

Universal lessons from a fictional universe
While I enjoyed the first two prequels, they lacked the humor and brio of the original trilogy.

All six movies suffer from bad dialogue and wooden acting; the more recent ones were not able to overcome those faults as easily.

"Revenge of the Sith," though, brings texture and complexity to the entire saga."A New Hope" was very black and white. Luke, in his sand-colored tunic, was good. Darth Vader, in his ebony machine-like outfit, was bad. Good triumphs over evil; end of story.

"Revenge of the Sith" is not as clear-cut.

Here are some conundrums to ponder:
That a good man can do evil things for honorable reasons.

That an evil man can use fatherly compassion to cause utter destruction.

That "guardians of peace and justice" can follow a misguided, stagnant philosophy that leads to the end of liberty.

One of the most powerful moments of the movie has a character noting, "So this is how liberty dies. To thunderous applause."

There is a scene at the end of the movie that makes my blood run cold and brings tears to my eyes. It's when we see Darth Vader in his helmet and cape for the first time. His first words come as a total surprise. They serve to (metaphorically) lift off the mask and reveal a villain that is quite different than the one we had come to fear 28 years ago.

I now watch "Return of the Jedi" with a totally different perspective. When Vader watches the Emperor torturing Luke, his face covered by that expressionless black mask, I can imagine what he is thinking. I understand his choice to save his son and kill the Emperor, even though it means his own death.

My friends and I have already had lengthy discussions about the choices these characters make and what universal lessons we can draw from this fictional universe. So I have to credit my friend Liz DeHoff, 25, here, because my view of this world is shaped by my community. She wrote: "In the end, when it counts once again, Anakin chooses correctly. And that's what I love about this galaxy, with all its horrible choices and shades of gray and wrenching decisions. Good is possible. It just has to be chosen, whatever the cost." EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. NOW I AM WEEPING OUTRIGHT. THAT IS BEAUTIFUL. I THINK I HAVE TO EMAIL THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE AND SING SOME HUZZAHS AT HER. BRAVA!

Lucas talks about Anakin's good side
By DAVID GERMAINAssociated PressSAN RAFAEL, Calif. --
The father turned evil. The son didn't. Was Anakin Skywalker the proverbial bad seed, or did he just have a tougher upbringing than his boy Luke?

George Lucas' chronicle of the Skywalker family, which concludes with "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," makes a nice cinematic case study of the old nature vs. nurture debate.

Are good and evil are bred in the bone, or cultivated through life experience?

"Revenge of the Sith" completes Lucas' prequel series about the roots of Anakin, a dashing pilot and Jedi knight who turns to the dark side and is transformed into Darth Vader.

How about it, George? Was Anakin born bad?

"No," Lucas told The Associated Press. "That's why most people got upset about `Episode I.' They said, `Well, he should be a monster.' But he's not a monster. He has sort of heightened skills and awareness, and he's smarter than most people, but at the same time, he makes rather bad decisions."

Lucas chose to start with Anakin's boyhood, showing him progressing from cheery, precocious innocent in "Episode I — The Phantom Menace," to churlish, lovesick puppy in "Episode II — Attack of the Clones," to twisted terminator in "Revenge of the Sith."

As a prodigy with skills beyond his years, Anakin became seduced by the thought that he was destined for greater things than the average Jedi, said Lucas pal Steven Spielberg."I think it was simple ambition that turned him to the dark side," Spielberg said. "The trilogy says to me it's the dangers of that ambition. Look, he was in pod races at too young of an age. In this case, it was sort of the evil result of ambitions, being too ambitious for his own good." EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, NOT JUST AMBITION. FEAR. ANGER. NEED. EMPTY HOLES INSIDE WHERE HIS MOTHER WAS, WHERE HIS FATHER SHOULD HAVE BEEN. STARTING OUT A SLAVE WITH THAT SENSE OF POWERLESSNESS. AND THEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU YOU HAVE ALMOST UNLIMITED POWER? MESSES WITH YOUR ALREADY FRAGILE PSYCHE A BIT, DONT' IT?

Born into slavery on the desert planet Tatooine, Anakin was a mama's boy raised in a single-parent home never knowing who his father was. Identified by the Jedi as the next big thing, Force-wise, Anakin is whisked away to grow up under the tutelage of such galactic godfathers as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Mace Windu.

As a teenager, Anakin returns to Tatooine and slaughters a band of nomadic "sand people" for killing his mom, the Jedi apprentice's first steps toward a life of malevolence.

"Anakin comes from a single-mother upbringing. He had such an extreme attachment to his mother, and because of that, losing her obviously had massive impact on him," said Hayden Christensen, who plays Anakin.

In "Revenge of the Sith," Anakin's fear of losing the person he most loves — his wife, Padme Amidala — makes him an easy mark for the evil emperor-to-be, who tempts the young Jedi to the dark side with promises of boundless power that would allow him to save his woman.

"It really had to do with greed and the flip side of greed, which is possessiveness," Lucas said. "If you're a Jedi, you can't have possessiveness. You can love people, you can care about people, but you can't hold on to them. As a result, that's where he goes wrong, and it takes him down a path of gaining power, and that power corrupts itself. And pretty soon, he's thinking about becoming the emperor of the universe."

No one is born with a Napoleon complex. Yet our genetic raw material does establish tendencies for how each person will respond to environmental factors, said Alan Hilfer, a child psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in New York."We come into the world with a personality, a character. Some kids are more irritable, some more sensitive, some kids are easygoing," Hilfer said. "We all come in with a particular set of biological pieces to make up who we are. How things act on those pieces determine how we navigate the rest of our lives."

Anakin does have a biological predisposition to great power in his sky-high level of "midachlorians," the microscopic mojos from which Jedi and their evil counterparts, the Sith, derive their potency.

Then, so too does Luke, who inherits Dad's innate powers."The Force is strong with this one," Darth observes on his first encounter with Luke in the original "Star Wars," during a dogfight in space."The Force runs strong in my family," Luke comments in "Return of the Jedi," hinting to Princess Leia of her own hidden powers as he reveals they are brother and sister.

Luke grows up with a better support system, raised in a stern but loving home by his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, Anakin's step-kin, on their Tatooine moisture farm. EDITOR'S NOTE: LUKE HAS LOVE. HE HAS A RELATIVE AMOUNT OF FREEDOM. AND HE HAS A FIRM HAND. DESPITE THEIR NOT TRUSTING HIM AND EVEN FEARING HIM, THE JEDI COUNCIL DOES NOTHING TO DISCOURAGE ANAKIN'S BUDDING MEGLOMANIA. THEY SCOLD HIM, BUT HALF-HEARTEDLY. I MEAN, HE'S THE 'CHOSEN ONE'. HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU NEED TO HEAR THAT BEFORE IT GOES TO A BAD PLACE IN YOUR HEAD? EVEN UNDER THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. (WHICH SIDIOUS THEN MAKES CERTAIN TIMES ARE NOT).And unknown to him, he has Obi-Wan watching over him from a distance, biding his time until young Skywalker is ready to learn the ways of the Force.

Of course, Luke's aunt and uncle are slain by Vader's thugs. And he faces a similar threat of loss — in Luke's case, his sister — yet resists the temptation to chuck his altar-boy ways and sell his soul to the emperor.

At the end of "Episode VI — Return of the Jedi," Luke's good heart is so strong, he draws his father back to the side of right as Anakin renounces decades of depravity and dies with a loving gaze fixed on his son."However Luke managed to become selfless, because he wasn't really trained in the same way a Jedi would be trained, but in the end, when push came to shove, he made a decision to be selfless," Lucas said. "He did not want the power to control the universe. He didn't want to be the emperor's right hand. He didn't want to destroy his father, and he refused to go along with the program."

Put simply, Han Solo once carped at Luke, "Don't get cocky."Luke got the message. Anakin didn't.


But Anakin believed the hype. He thought he was the chosen one. That's a much different level of wanting something more. Absolute power, that's not something Luke wanted."

And it was not something Lucas wanted for Luke. For all the nature-vs.-nurture theorizing, Lucas has the easiest answer on why Luke doesn't follow dad down the path of evil."It makes a good story," Lucas said, laughing. EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE YA GO, UNCLE G. BRINGING US BACK TO THIS UNIVERSE!

'Sith' brings 'Star Wars' saga to end
But its pull-out-the-stops battle scenes and greatest-hits parade of sidekicks, from C-3PO to Chewbacca, give it an air of finality.

The film's juicy themes inspired Lucas as a director, Hayden Christensen says."I did notice a significant change in him" from "Clones," the actor says. "He was genuinely excited about the story he was telling this time around, and he was up from behind the monitors to talk to the actors between each scene."

The physical shoot established basics before animators filled in backgrounds and details. Which meant that Christensen, a "Star Wars" fan since he was in high school in Canada, didn't see his hero Yoda, with whom he shares a scene, until he watched the finished film.

"There was a big 'X' where Yoda was supposed to be, and a first assistant director doing his best impersonation of Yoda," Christensen says with a grin.

In other instances, the old rubber Yoda stood in for his now fully digital self to give actors something to focus on. Formerly a spry 800-year-old, the rubber Yoda is slumping a bit after more than two decades of service, and didn't make it into the final film.But actors in rubber monster masks and Wookiee suits did. Lucas and his ILM artists resisted the urge to go completely digital.

"George wanted to put people in rubber heads so there (would) be a sense of continuity" between the first "Star Wars" trilogy, which began in 1977, and "Sith," said the film's animation director, Rob Coleman.Even with ILM artists saving some of their arsenal, the more than 2,000 special-effects shots in "Sith" dwarf the 60 effects shots in the first "Star Wars."

Almost every frame of "Sith" seems to contain a few extra visual elements, and that's by design, says Rick McCallum, Lucas' longtime producer."There's so much stuff in it, you can't see everything on the first viewing," he says. "Sith," which cost $113 million to make plus many millions more in marketing expenses, needs repeat viewers to turn a profit.EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH SHOULDN'T BE A PROBLEM, I WOULDN'T THINK.

You can bet that Lucas, who finances the "Star Wars" movies himself, had a say in every one of the special-effects shots in "Sith.""He's an auteur in the truest sense, in that he has written the thing and understands the technology and is very specific in what he wants to achieve," says Roger Guyett, visual-effects supervisor for "Sith."

The ‘Star Wars’ that almost wasn't Director George Lucas and the original cast remember the glitches that marked the making of the first 'Star Wars'
"Revenge of the Sith" is the movie “Star Wars” fans have been waiting for, and it finally hit

theaters Thursday. This billion-dollar franchise had fans around the world waiting in line for days just to grab a seat at the very first showing. But what has become one of Hollywood's most successful epics was originally a low-budget film whose director could only afford to pay relatively unknown actors. The Jedi master himself, George Lucas, and some of the original cast sat down with “Today” to talk about the new movie and how this six-part saga nearly didn't get made.

"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" marks the culmination of arguably the most successful film franchise in Hollywood history. And for George Lucas, an independent, avant-garde filmmaker from Modesto, Calif., who'd never intended to work in Tinseltown, it marks the end of a three-decade detour.

It was basically a lark to say, ‘Well, yeah. I did a big studio movie on soundstages and stuff,’ " said Lucas. “And, it turned into — I say it was a slight whim that turned into my life.”

A whim that built Lucas an empire of his own. To date, "Star Wars" and its two sequels and two prequels have grossed $3.5 billion. And let's not forget the $9 billion in Star Wars merchandise.

But a long time ago, 30 years to be exact, "Star Wars" was a low-budget project barely getting off the ground, let alone out of this world.

The difficulty with 'Star Wars' was, I had a very short schedule, very little money. And I was really trying to do more than was humanly possible,” said Lucas.

When pre-production began in 1975, Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, was the only star Lucas could afford. So began a casting call of virtual unknowns. But the would-be stars of "Star Wars" might surprise you.

The heroic role of Luke was almost played by Freddie Kruger, also known as Robert Englund. Princess Leia? Cindy Williams was a hopeful. And the renegade Han Solo was almost played by Christopher Walken.

Christopher Walker was the second in line, after Harrison [Ford],” said Lucas. EDITOR'S NOTE: EEK. THERE'S A SCARY THOUGHT.

Lucas finally decided on Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, as his terrestrial trio. But even they weren't completely on board.

I mean, yes, you have Sir Alec Guinness sitting there,” said Hamill. But you also have this eight-foot-tall dog, basically, with headphones on, flying your spaceship.”

I'd say to Mark Hamill, you know, ‘How can you say this rubbish?’ ” said Anthony Daniels, who played the part of C-3PO. “And he said, ‘Well, you have to say that.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but I have this mask on my face. None of my friends know I'm in here.’ ”

We had endless problems, which is why I was behind schedule from the very beginning,” said Lucas.

“Harrison didn't believe,” said Daniels. “None of us believed. And then of course, we were all wrong.” EDITOR'S NOTE: JUST THE FIRST GROUP OF MANY MANY MANY TO DOUBT UNCLE GEORGE. (GOOD THING HE'S TENACIOUS AND OBLIVIOUS, EH?)

Now, “Star Wars” filmmaking is almost like a well-oiled machine. Which is one reason Lucas won't be going over to the dark side anytime soon.

The future of 'Star Wars' — we're working on an animated series called 'Clone Wars,' ” said Lucas. “We're going to do a live-action 'Star Wars' TV show, which deals with spin-off characters that aren't main characters in the films. You know, I'm still going to have to live with 'Star Wars' for the rest of my life.” EDITOR'S NOTE: THANK YOU UNCLE G. WE ARE TRULY GRATEFUL.

So it sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi was right after all. As he says in the movie, "The Force will be with you. Always."

Emotions of 'Sith,' Carried by Score
Though there are vocal dissenters, most film critics and "Star Wars" buffs seem pleased with the last installment of the epic, "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." George Lucas has received his highest praise since the first "Star Wars" film in 1977. Some critics have even conceded significant improvement in the acting of the handsome Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker.

But the member of the creative team whose contributions are largely being taken for granted is the composer John Williams. Music plays almost throughout the entire movie, and much of the emotional resonance critics are finding is stoked by Mr. Williams's surprisingly subdued and murky score, especially during the scenes of intimate human drama, such as they are.

If you get involved in the fretful exchanges between Anakin and his love-struck young wife, Padmé (Natalie Portman), or if you are hooked by the dilemma of the Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who yearns to believe in his disciple Anakin but senses the young warrior's rebellion, Mr. Williams deserves much of the credit.

Although Mr. Williams became a household name for "Star Wars" in the late 1970's, many critics poked fun at him for the comic-book excess of his scores. True, he was no Bernard Herrmann or Elmer Bernstein. But even in Mr. Williams's pre-"Jaws" days, when he was churning out disaster-flick music ("The Towering Inferno"), his work was thoroughly professional. At a time when synthesized film music was ascendant, he re-embraced the symphonic film score.

Still, with all their bombastic blather, the early "Star Wars" scores invited kidding.

Mr. Williams has grown since then. The score to "E. T." shifted mood effortlessly, from tenderness to wonderment to opulently lyrical and unabashed emotion.

In "A. I." Mr. Williams made savvy use of metrically fractured rhythmic writing and percussion instruments to evoke the android world. The music during the film's "Hide and Seek" sequence, when the robot boy David plays games with his adoptive mother, who at this early stage of the story is still smitten with him, is especially ingenious. Built from gentle melodic riffs, including children's piano-practice tunes, quizzical harmonies and asymmetrical phrases, the music is at once beguiling and unsettling.

The score to "Catch Me if You Can," in keeping with its story about an ingenious young charlatan, is like jazzy, elusive chamber music. Here Mr. Williams proves adept at the less-is-more approach to film scoring.

Mr. Williams, with his suction-cup ear, has always been better at evoking existing styles than at conveying an original voice - a voice like that of Thomas Newman, the classiest current film composer, whose richly harmonic and often quirky music ("The Shawshank Redemption," "Finding Nemo") is unmistakable.

Still, evocation is one way to practice the film music craft, and in "Revenge of the Sith" Mr. Williams demonstrates his acute evocative skills.

The film begins, as it must, with his swashbuckling "Star Wars" theme playing as the credits roll by. But soon into the story (the second track on the Sony Classical recording of the score) you hear the haunting music for "Anakin's Dream." Seized with nightmarish premonitions that his pregnant wife will die in childbirth, Anakin sleeps fitfully while the quietly ominous music stirs primordially in the background.

There are hints of Ligeti-like atmospherics (surely Mr. Williams's homage to "2001") and echoes of Samuel Barber in the pungently chromatic harmony. A lacy theme is passed back and forth between solo string instruments. You may not remember this elusive melody when you leave the theater, but it conveys Anakin's inner doubts and longing for repose.

In an episode called "Battle of the Heroes," Mr. Williams has his "Carmina Burana" moment, complete with pummeling rhythms and a distant chorus intoning mournful ah's and ritualistic oh's - a hokey device. In "Palpatine's Teachings" he evokes, or so it seems, Tibetan Buddhist chanting, with sustained moans in low male voices, tinkling percussion (like finger cymbals) and ruminative string writing.

The whole "Star Wars" epic has been likened to Wagner's "Ring" cycle. In the earlier films Mr. Williams certainly adopted the Wagnerian technique of using identifying themes (leitmotifs) to mark the appearances of specific characters, symbols and plot lines, though in the most thumping and heavy-handed way. EDITOR'S NOTE: MUSIC CRITCS ARE SO PISSY.

In the new film, when Anakin is on the brink of becoming Darth Vader, you know what's coming, and it comes: the treading "Darth Vader" theme, as much a trademark of the "Star Wars" enterprise as Han Solo action figures. But in general, Mr. Williams uses the leitmotif technique with greater subtlety here. Hints of themes thread through the score - in inner voices, in wayward bass lines. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUT IF MR. W HADN'T SO WELL ESTABLISHED THOSE THEMES IN THE PRIOR MOVIES....IN MOVIES THAT BY THEIR NATURE CALLED FOR MORE OVERT MUSICAL STRUCTURES...THAN WOULD THE SUBTLE INTER-WEAVING OF LEITMOTIF IN ROTS HAVE BEEN SO EVOCATIVE OR EFFECTIVE? NOPE.

There is even an episode called "The Immolation Scene," an overt reference to Wagner's "Götterdämmerung." Having lost the ultimate light saber duel to Obi-Wan, Anakin starts slipping into a molten pool of volcanic muck. The Jedi master watches in despair as he allows the student he once loved, the chosen one who has turned to the dark side, to meet his fate (or so he assumes). Mr. Williams sensitively underplays this scene, writing wistful, aching music, a sort of sci-fi Sibelius.

The score is marred by formulaic bits. I wish Mr. Williams didn't signal every scene change with an orchestral crescendo. But since the story is told in innumerable scenes that come and go abruptly, Mr. Williams may be hoping that a sudden rush of intense orchestral music will make the constant scene shifts seem inevitable.

Some film composers command your attention - with sweeping grandeur (Maurice Jarre's score for "Lawrence of Arabia"), with wistful lyricism (Elmer Bernstein's melancholic music for "To Kill a Mockingbird").

Mr. Williams is at his best when he thinks no one is paying much attention.

His concert pieces, like "Soundings," composed for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, tend to be bustling, extroverted and eager to please. But film music can offer a composer an artful way to stay in the background. Mr. Williams practices that art admirably in "Revenge of the Sith."

Darth Vader's Family Values

Wherever you are, Adam Smith, call your agent. Darth Vader is stealing your best stuff.

The new installment of "Star Wars" has set off the usual dreary red-blue squabble, with liberals using the film to attack Republicans, and some conservatives calling for a boycott. But - and I know this is hard to believe for a movie with characters named General Grievous and Count Dooku - there's actually a serious bipartisan lesson about the dark side of politics.

If you can sit through the endless light-saber duels and robotic dialogue, you finally see what turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. He set out to become a Jedi knight who will use the Force for good, but he's traumatized, first by the murder of his mother, then by a vision that his wife will die in childbirth.

His fears are manipulated by Chancellor Palpatine, the leader of the Senate (who's being compared to Senator Bill Frist in commercials). When this oily politician extols the power of the dark side of the Force, Anakin at first protests that those who use it think "only of themselves," whereas the Jedi are "selfless" and "only care about others."

He says he could never betray the Jedi because they're his family, but then the chancellor puts the family question in perspective: "Learn to know the dark side of the Force, Anakin, and you will be able to save your wife from certain death." Anakin promptly recognizes the limits of altruism, just as Adam Smith did in the 18th century.

Smith knew that some people professed love for all humanity, but he realized that a man's love for "the members of his own family" is "more precise and determinate, than it can be with the greater part of other people." Hence his famous warning not to rely on the kindness of strangers outside your family: if you want bread, it's better to count on the baker's self-interest rather than his generosity.

This has never been a popular bit of advice because selfishness is not admired in human societies any more than among Jedi knights. We know it exists, but it feels wrong. We are born with an instinct for altruism because we evolved in clans of hunter-gatherers who would not have survived if they hadn't helped one another through hard times.

The result is an enduring political paradox: we no longer live in clans small enough for altruism to be practical, but we still respond to politicians who promise to make us all part of one big selfless community. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS TURNS UP INSIDE CORPORATIONS AS WELL. WHENEVER THE HEAD BOSS STARTS TALKING ABOUT HIS COMPANY AS A 'FAMILY', HEAD FOR THE DOOR. QUICKLY. (BEFORE THEY INSTALL THE CAMERAS IN THE HALLWAYS AND THE COMPUTER-SENSOR LOCKS ON THE DOORS) INSTITUTIONS....POLITICAL OR BUSINESS...ARE FAMILY THE SAME WAY THE ARMY IS. YOU ARE NURTURED AS LONG AS YOU ARE SERVING SOMEONE ELSE'S PURPOSE. ADAM SMITH WAS RIGHT ON THIS ONE.We want everyone to be bound together with a shared set of values, a yearning that Daniel Klein, an economist, dubs the People's Romance in the summer issue of The Independent Review.

The People's Romance is his explanation for why so many Americans have come to love bigger government over the past century. Their specific objectives in Washington differed - liberals stressed charity and social programs for all, while conservatives promoted patriotism and spending on national security - but they both expanded the government in their quest for a national sense of shared purpose.

The result, though, has not been one happy community because America is not a clan with shared values. It is a huge group of strangers with leaders who are hardly altruists - they have their own families and needs. Tocqueville recognized the inherent problem with the People's Romance when he described citizens' contradictory impulses to be free while also wanting a government that is "unitary, protective and all-powerful."

People try to resolve this contradiction, Tocqueville wrote, by telling themselves that democracy makes them masters of politicians, but they soon find that the Force is not with them, especially if they're in the minority. Republicans used to rail helplessly at Democrats for taxing them for destructive social programs and curtailing their economic liberties; now Democrats complain about the money squandered on the Iraq war and the threat to civil liberties from the Patriot Act.

For those Democrats, the signature line in this "Star Wars" is the one spoken after the chancellor, citing security threats, consolidates his power by declaring that the republic must become an empire. Senator Padmé listens to her colleagues cheer and says, "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."

She's disgusted with them, but their enthusiasm is understandable. The chancellor has tapped into their primal desire to unite in one great clan with a shared purpose. They're in the throes of the People's Romance.

For further reading:
“The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (As Much As They Do)” by Daniel Klein, Santa Clara University (working paper).
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley (Penguin Books, 295 pp., 1998).
The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

Darth shadows
Brides and grooms dressed as "Star Wars" characters? Jedi ethics as a religion? It’s not a movie. It’s a galaxy not so far away.
By Dean KuipersSpecial to The TimesMay 19, 2005

Aaron Mosny poses with a light saber in full Jedi costume. He's one of the many fans who have embraced "Star Wars" fully into their lives.In the parking lot next to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, amid throngs of tourists and cruisers lingering deep into a recent Sunday night, preparations continue for an ongoing cosmic battle between good and evil.

Cloaked against the dazzle of Hollywood Boulevard at night, Jedi master Aaron Mosny, 21, is training his apprentice, or padawan, Elliot Evans, also 21, in the ways of the Force.

The two stand among a dozen or so people camped out to see the first showing of "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith."

Mosny and Evans wear neutral-colored Jedi robes and hold realistic-looking lightsabers. "A lesson can be as simple as a question," says Mosny, a sharp, well-spoken guy with close-cropped hair. "I will ask him a question, and if he doesn't answer it correctly, I'll ask it again, at another time. The lesson is to meditate on your answer."

"I hate that lesson," laughs Evans, a big man with hippie-ish mannerisms and a padawan braid falling out from his long blond mane. The red tie on his braid means he started training after age 16, but Evans says Jedi lessons and saberfighting for the last year have already redirected some of his youthful rage, allowing him to get along better with his mother. He points out that the "Star Wars" lineup at Grauman's — a likely vain effort by die-hards to persuade moviemakers to premiere "Sith" at the venue where the series began — raises money (through sponsorship) for the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, which provides resources for seriously ill children.

Mosny and Evans might be anomalies at the "Star Wars" encampment — there are no other Jedi lined up here — but they are far from alone.

To thousands of similarly passionate followers around the globe, the "Star Wars" franchise is great entertainment and upbeat future mythology. People want to do more than watch it or read it; they want to live it. EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH. SIGH.....

Sure, you may go to Dodger games with your face painted blue, or stand outside the Michael Jackson trial holding a sign declaring your support. But in the "Star Wars" "expanded universe" — a term used by Lucasfilm to describe the books, films, video games and fan-generated ephemera surrounding the Vader saga — fandom can be a way of life. An ethos. Even a path to enlightenment, or at least getting along better with your mom.

With "Sith" opening todayEDITOR'S NOTE: OK, SO A LITTLE BEHIND ON MY POSTING.... and "Star Wars" turning 28 this year, the expanded universe is glowing like a lightsaber.

Its adherents are not only studying Jediism, but also having "Star Wars" weddings, naming their children after principal characters, making unofficial books and movies, fashioning expensive costumes of their own, and trudging to conventions such as the recent Celebration III in Indianapolis, where George Lucas addressed a crowd estimated at 30,000.

A couple of hooded Jedi knights don't stand out much on this stretch of Hollywood, peopled as it is with wizards in tall black hats, nearly-nude 7-foot-tall demons with wings, and the occasional Elvis impersonator wandering over from Grauman's.

But like the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine, that suits the Jedi. It gives some cover to the seriousness of their mission.

For Mosny and Evans, being a Jedi — the warrior order fighting the evil Emperor and the dark side of the Force in the "Star Wars" movies and books — is their professed religion and life philosophy.

"People say to us, 'Lucas is your pope,' or, 'You worship 'Star Wars,' " Mosny says, flipping his lightsaber on and off. "No. In fact, the religion does not come from 'Star Wars.' Jediism, if you had to sum it up, is close to Buddhism, Taoism and Bushido, the samurai way of the warrior."Lucas, Mosny says, didn't have to invent a religion. He just gave a cool new name and heroic powers to a compelling syncretism of three existing disciplines — philosophies and practices already followed by millions in what we'd like to call "real life."

"Star Wars" was simply a vehicle to bring these Eastern beliefs to Western people. The Jedi saga is a story, a grand allegory, but it's a story that's no different, he says, than the Bible. The fact that we're sitting about 50 yards from the L. Ron Hubbard Gallery — named for the science fiction writer whose nonfiction work spawned Scientology — adds weird context to our discussion.

The Jedi orders, loosely affiliated practitioners of the philosophy, now reportedly number in the thousands worldwide.

When Mosny's boss at respected software firm Genex questioned his professed Jediism, two other workers there came forward and also identified themselves as students of Jedi. He ended up funding Mosny's start-up company, Saberology, which makes "duelsabers" — lightsabers with aluminum handles and illuminated, hard-plastic blades.

In fact, though "Sith" may be the last "Star Wars" movie, it could be only the beginning for the Jedi.

Not that Lucas himself is encouraging this kind of fanaticism. "This is what George says: If it helps you in your life, super. But it shouldn't take over your life," says Steve Sansweet, director of content management and head of fan relations at Lucasfilm. Sansweet, for nine years the Los Angeles bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, began working with Lucas after amassing one of the world's largest collections of "Star Wars" toys and memorabilia."There's lots of mythological underpinnings in 'Star Wars:' the journey, the hero's quest, the mentor," he adds. "And if people want to adopt something that helps them in their daily lives? Great. Jediism as a religion? No. That's a bunch of hokey."

Yeah, they're a little like Trekkies, those who love the "Star Trek" universe. But few Trekkies have proposed that their philosophies earn federal recognition as an actual religion.

Theresa Brown, who was on the "Star Wars" line at Grauman's with her 16-year-old son, says that few take it quite that seriously. "There are some very die-hard fans who believe in that whole philosophy," she says. "And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a good code of ethics to live by."EDITOR'S NOTE: EXACTLY. WHO ARE THEY HURTING? (AND ARE THEY KILLING PEOPLE IN THE NAME OF RELIGION? I MEAN, THAT HAS SOME PRECIDENT BY LESS-'HOKEY' CALLINGS, HMMM?)

Mosny says that religious recognition is an important step for the Jedi."The reason it's not a nationally recognized religion yet is that there has not been any singularity to the movement," Mosny says. Evans points out that thousands of people write "Jedi" as their religious affiliation on the census reports in Australia and England, and that there are major Jedi temples in London and Romania."Someone needs to take all of them and compress them into one thing," Mosny says. "And then it will become an actual religion, where people can have the tax write-off and all that good stuff. That's the goal."

Stormtrooper 501stSan Pedro resident William Miyamoto was 33 when he felt the shift in the Force that transformed him from a die-hard "Star Wars" collector to a man who would be married in his costume. He had collected toys and memorabilia since the original Star Wars in 1977, but around 2000 he ran across a custom-made suit of Stormtrooper armor on the Internet and felt something he hadn't felt before: He wanted not only to collect this, but to wear it everywhere. He wanted to make this part of his identity.The website, it turns out, belonged to a member of the 501st Legion of Imperial Stormtroopers, a nonprofit costuming club that claims 2,500 members worldwide. Soon, Miyamoto was commanding officer of the Southern California Garrison, and his armor had become a huge part of his life.

The 501st was started by a North Carolina "Star Wars" fan named Albin Johnson in the late 1990s, bringing together those who made their own costumes. According to the official charter of the 501st, "the Legion's aims are to celebrate the 'Star Wars' movies through the wearing of costumes, to promote the quality and improvement of costumes and props, and most importantly to contribute to the local community through charity and volunteer work."

The number 501 itself was not taken from the "Star Wars" lore; Johnson simply made it up.

And anyone selling costumes using the "Star Wars" name will receive a cease-and-desist order. However, in a sign of the symbiotic relationship between Lucas and his fans, Lucasfilm's Sansweet now contacts the 501st when costumed promotional help is needed at events, premieres — even Burger King commercials (Miyamoto did two print ads for Lucasfilm). The 501st has also been written into Timothy Zahn's "Star Wars" novel "Survivor's Quest," as well as "The Visual Dictionary of Star Wars, Episode III."EDITOR'S NOTE: HOW COOL IS THIS!? UNCLE GEORGE LOVES HIS DWEEBS, DON'T HE??!!

Miyamoto's garrison works closely with City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, as well as the March of Dimes and other charities, putting on events and fundraisers for children. Right away, his fantasy life as a Stormtrooper became emotionally connected to real children in real trouble.

"When I do these events for children, you've got like these 5- and 6-year-olds coming up to you, hugging you, looking you right in the eye and saying, 'Oh, I love you,' " says Miyamoto, 38. "Even when I'm wearing the Darth Vader costume. You get this pure love from them. That's why I do it."Sometimes, he says soberly, his troopers visit kids who are terminally ill. "Their parent will run up to you and say, 'Oh my God, thank you so much. I haven't seen her smile in over a year.' It's stuff like that that makes it worth it."

Cindy Brandon, 37, was only 16 when she first went out dressed as Princess Leia to promote "Star Wars" at the Mall of Orange. Her dad would go too, in a shiny C-3PO costume borrowed from a guy they met at a convention. There was no such thing as the 501st back then, but she and her Garden Grove family would often meet other freelancers who'd turn up randomly in malls, at charity events and at film premieres, often doing it on their own for free movie passes. A family tradition was born, and Brandon is still doing events now, for the launch of "Sith.""What I got out of 'Star Wars' was just that it was all about love," Brandon says. "It's good versus evil. Luke Skywalker sacrificed everything to save his father. And that was all love. You always think: What problems do I have? Look at poor Luke!"

One of the people Brandon and Miyamoto would run into was Michael Senna, who built a remote-controlled R2-D2, always a hit with the kids. When Senna makes appearances with his R2, he stashes the remote in a bag, giving the impression the little 'droid is making the rounds on its own. An electrical engineer by training and now a computer programmer, the model took him 11 months and about $5,000 to build.

Part of the fun, he says, is tapping into the networks of R2 builders (there's a Yahoo group, for starters) who make custom parts. He also believes "Star Wars" poses no conflict at all with his Christian beliefs, but brings important moral lessons to the kids.

For all of them, "Star Wars" is more than a hobby — it's their community.

William Miyamoto and his wife, Nicole, decided to make it part of their lives forever.The two met at the touring Magic of Myth exhibition in San Diego, where she asked to sketch him in his Stormtrooper costume, and as things got more serious, he jokingly suggested a themed wedding. He assumed his bride-to-be would want something more traditional. She did: They ditched the Stormtrooper armor and modeled their wedding costumes after a princess and a Jedi.The party favors for their Long Beach wedding were 150 tiny teddy bears in hand-made Jedi robes. The centerpieces were 4-foot lightsabers. The entire wedding party and most of those attending were in full costume. An ordained friend then married them dressed, of course, as Obi-Wan Kenobi. All on May 25, 2003, the 26th anniversary of the Star Wars debut. EDITOR'S NOTE: SIGH.....MY DREAM. MEET A FELLOW DWEEB AND LIVE HAPPILY...AND DWEEBISHLY...EVER AFTER. ALAS AND ALACK......

"All our friends' weddings seemed to kind of meld together, and some of them we don't even remember," Miyamoto says. "But this wedding, people are still talking about it."

Good always wins
At some point in his life, young Anakin Coté will probably want everyone to stop thinking of "Star Wars" every time they hear his name.

But his dad, 33-year-old Steve Coté, a lifelong "Star Wars" memorabilia collector in Glendale and a stage technician on the soap opera "Passions," is proud, saying it's unique.

"In my school, there was always like two or three Steves," Coté says, "so I got tired of growing up with a bunch of Steves. I said, I'm going to name my kid something that you're not going to find on a cup at Disneyland. Anakin is a cool name."

Anakin is 5 now. His 19-month-old brother is named Jacen (pronounced jassenEDITOR'S NOTE: ISN'T THE NAME PRONOUNCED 'JASON'? ANY OTHER EU FANS OUT THERE WITH THE NOTION THAT IT WAS PRONOUNCD WITH THAT OTHER, SOFT 'A'? JUST CURIOUS. THAT HAD NEVER OCCURED TO ME.), after Princess Leia's son with Han Solo in the "Star Wars" books.

But — Anakin? The guy who turns into Darth Vader, the super-villain of six of the best-known movies ever made (with, apparently, all to come out soon in 3-D), killer of the Jedi?

Yes, says Coté, and most people's reaction is overwhelmingly positive. Anakin may be a little dark, but he is the Jedi who not only is the father of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, but the messiah, the chosen one who will bring back "balance" between the light and dark sides of the Force when Luke finally brings out his paternal love.

"Ultimately, that's the point," Coté explains. "It's said in 'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Once you start down a dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.' He was able to actually break that rule, and come back to the light side by throwing the emperor down the shaft. Unfortunately, they have to go through 40 years of terror for that to happen."

This, in fact, may be one of the common threads among "Star Wars" superfans, those who have made the tale part of their life: It satisfies an urge for salvation.

Like the "Lord of the Rings" cycle, or "Star Trek," good triumphs in the end, after much bloodshed and loss.

Love prevails.

Children smile.

The whole story seems to appeal to those who like their morality served up with a little action.

Aaron Mosny, who was actually a padawan for several years, says that his master was a missionary in the Mormon Church, and saw no conflict in also being Jedi."In all religions, there is a power, a force, a Zen, or a priesthood or whatever you want to call it. In our religion, it is called the Force," Mosny says. "All those other religions — they don't really have any proof about the creator, but they have proof of this power; that is what they know."

Evans says his mother is fully supportive of his Jedi studies now, and even teases him about it, saying, "That's not very Jedi of you" when he screws up. "Sometimes she jokes that I'm not going to get any presents for Hanukkah," he says, summing up his religious mix by adding, "I'm a Jew-di."EDITOR'S NOTE: GIGGLE. GOOD ONE. I'M THINKING, THOUGH, THAT THIS KID HAS A BROTHER OR SISTER ON THE FAST-TRACK. LAW SCHOOL OR MED SCHOOL OR SOMETHING. AND HE WAS THE CHILD THAT THEY JUST HOPED THEY WOULDN'T HAVE TO BAIL OUT OF JAIL TOO OFTEN. SO JEDI....NOT SO BAD?

The books, he and Aaron Mosny recount, contain all the lessons a Jedi need, and they just keep coming.

Since 1987, when the "Revised Core Rulebook" to the "Star Wars" role-playing game listed some elements of the Jedi Code, many people have written Jedi guidebooks, but Mosny is writing a new one. He's working a little each day on "The Living Force: A Modern Jedi's Guide to the Force" — his title for the collection of short axioms and observations much like Sun Tzu's "The Art of War."

He's hoping it gets the Lucas seal of approval.But if it doesn't, he'll put it out on a website. For the expanded universe. Because he wants to give to that universe. He clearly loves being out on the lineup by Grauman's, wearing his gear. He loves being part of "Star Wars."

He doesn't forget that this is fun."Basically," he says, a little sotto voce, "what it comes down to is we are 'Star Wars' fans. And we are in line to see 'Star Wars,' and that's what this is all about. We're here because of tradition. And because 'Star Wars' is cool." EDITOR'S NOTE: AMEN AND HALLELUJAH, BROTHER JEDI!

Excitement Mounts for Final 'Star Wars
In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Che la Forza sia con te."

What? The Jedi master speaks Italian?

Of course. And Chinese. And French, and an array of other languages that have enabled him and the rest of the characters from the "Star Wars" galaxy far, far away to conquer movie-goers here on Earth.

Around the world, this week's EDITOR'S NOTE: MEA CULPA. ANOTHER DELAYED DWEEBING. opening of the final episode in
George Lucas' sci-fi series — "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" — is eagerly awaited.

In Stockholm, fans camped out for days for early tickets that sold out in less than an hour after the box office opened. In Milan, Italy, fans dressed in Star Wars costumes paraded on a soccer pitch to seek donations for children's hospitals.

The world mania has snowballed since the first Star Wars film in 1977, and the series has ridden globalization and the creep of English terms into foreign languages.

Over the years, as the characters have become more familiar from Buenos Aires to Beijing and beyond, they have undergone at times strange transformations.

In Italy, 'droids C-3PO and R2-D2 had different names during the first trilogy: respectively D-3BO and C1-P8. As their international fame grew, the combative pair are now called by their English names.

In France, Chewbacca was first known as "Chique-Tabac" (literally Chew Tobacco). But he's plain old Chewbacca now.

Some changes have stuck: In Italy, Darth Vader is "Darth Fener." To the French, he's "Dark Vador."

"'Darth Vader' is impossible to say in French," said Patrice Giroud, an organizer of a three-day Star Wars convention in Paris over the weekend that was billed as the first of its kind in Europe.
To the Germans, Yoda remains "Jedi-Meister Yoda." The Swedes call the series "Stjarnornas Krig." In Chinese, the latest episode is known as "Xisi de Fanji."

Britons were treated to an early premiere Monday, capping back-to-back showings of the previous films in the series at a Leicester Square cinema. Tickets to the marathon screening sold out in minutes, and cost up to 250 pounds (US$460) each.

A crowd packed the square in central London for a chance to spot director George Lucas and stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, who were attending the premiere Monday night.

The level of fan frenzy varies partly on when countries gained access to the series — and partly on government willingness to open up to Hollywood.

For example, ticket sales have been only average in the Czech Republic — beyond Hollywood's orbit while a former Soviet bloc state.

The movies were shown there only after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

In authoritarian China, which has a policy of promoting homegrown films, few newspapers have talked about the upcoming release. The official Xinhua news agency's Internet site, picking up a Chinese newspaper report, said last month that 300 copies were going to China — 200 of them in English. The report said it was the first time that the number of Chinese copies had been eclipsed by English ones.

Even France — which has resisted the invasion of English terms and Hollywood's expanding influence — has fallen under the spell. All three major dailies featured front-page photos of Star Wars characters Monday.

"Whatever the language, you could plop down a child in front of a Star Wars film and he'd be thrilled just by the music, sound and images alone," said Giroud, editor of LucasFilm magazine, a French bimonthly which claims sales of 50,000 copies each edition. "Star Wars is for everybody."

One French television network has been broadcasting the five previous episodes each week.

Whether for the French — "Que la Force soit avec toi", Italians — "Che la Forza sia con te" or Portuguese — "Que a Forca esteja contigo", the translations of "May the Force be with you" are known to many. EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE WILL BE A QUIZ FOLLOWING THIS ITEM.

In Ireland, supermarkets spruced window displays with Star Wars toys or masks designed to make kids sound like a breathy Darth Vader. On one Dublin playground, kids battled with toy light sabers received in a cereal box promotion.

In Australia, a dozen stormtroopers were to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge to the city's famed Opera House Wednesday ahead of the first screening there.

Some fans worry about being perceived as fanatics. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHY WORRY? (WORRYING LEADS TO THE DARK SIDE!)

"I don't build my life around it," said Romain Berteau, who was dressed as a Jedi at the Paris convention. "We like Star Wars like some people like cars. It's not like they'll always sleep in the garage." EDITOR'S NOTE: GIGGLE. FRENCH SNARK!

Don't tell that to the kids, though.

"This will be the best Star Wars ever," said Gavin Dowling, a 7-year-old in Dublin, where tickets have been on sale for the last month. "It's going to be a lot bigger."

'Star Wars' fans happy with last episode
NEW YORK -- Jay Greene and his friends had a pact: When the sixth and final "Star Wars" movie came out -- the one that brings the plot back around to George Lucas' original 1977 masterpiece -- they'd be there, on opening night.

Like the legions of other fans who showed up for midnight showings of "Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," Greene, 26, was eager to see how the saga all came together.

"Regardless of knowing what's going to happen, you still get that excitement, and it's closure for you," he said early Thursday after emerging from, appropriately enough, the AMC Empire 25 Theatre in Times Square."What's incredible is seeing him (Anakin) finally become Darth Vader," added Ryan Smith, visiting from San Diego.

Sold-out showings of "Episode III," the final installment of the seminal science fiction series created by Lucas, drew enthusiastic crowds to theaters across the country -- many dressed in full "Star Wars" regalia with Jedi light sabers at the ready.

Both Greene and Smith described the excitement in the theater "like a party on opening night and that's why we're going back in."

Similar scenes played out nationwide ahead of the opening. People waiting for days and in some cases weeks could hardly contain themselves as the clock wound down Wednesday night.

In Chicago, 31-year-old graphic designer Ben Delery said that for him "Revenge of the Sith" was the most widely anticipated of the "Star Wars" epic. He noted it finally explains what drives Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker to embrace the dark side and transform himself into Darth Vader.

Much like the cult-following that emerged with the 1977 debut of the original "Star Wars," many fans said they would be repeat viewers."I could understand why. I would do it myself if it wasn't so late," said Charles Smallwood, of Philadelphia, who joined his mother at the midnight showing in New York.

Renee Portee, 45, added: "It lived up to all the hype. It brought everything together."

A few hours after the movie started rolling on East Coast screens, several Web sites already claimed to offer pirated copies for downloading over the Internet.

In Los Angeles, the line stretched around the block for the midnight showing at the Vista Theater on Sunset Boulevard. A group of cloaked youngsters watched previous "Star Wars" movies on a computer as they sat on the sidewalk.

"It's one of my favorite things, like electricity, fire, medicine," EDITORS' NOTE: CHEETOHS.... said Christian Miller, 27, who makes a living canvassing door to door for politcial campaigns.Miller, dressed as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn, portrayed by Liam Neeson in the film, said "It's proof that myth will have a role in human culture."

Jeff Schiffman, 25, of Burbank, moved to California three years ago for a job as a film restorer who worked on the original "Star Wars" trilogy for DVD.Sporting a "Star Wars" tattoo, he wore a black cloak and sinister Darth Maul contact lenses for the latest film. Even his Yorkie, Zoe, had a "Star Wars" patch.

Schiffman chose the cloak, similar to that of the movie's evil emperor, because "the Dark Side is so much cooler," he said.EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THUS THE NOT-SO MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN.

In Boston, the entire 16-person staff of a Web development firm planned to take Thursday off to see the film. The outing was paid for by the company -- popcorn and soda included.Seth Miller, the president and chief executive of Miller Systems Inc., said the tradition began with "The Phantom Menace" in 1999.

It speaks to our culture. It's the benefit of not working at a giant monolithic -- dare I say 'Imperial' -- type company," he said, referring to the Empire in the "Star Wars" films.

Tickets for the movie went on sale last month, and many fans who couldn't bear the thought of a bad seat began camping out well in advance. "I'm a typical 'Star Wars' geek, trying to see the final episode," said Jimmy Burns, 32, who helped his Rebel Legion fan club be first into a Georgia theater on the outskirts of Atlanta.

"This is a big event for all of us," said Russ Rolle as he waited outside Edwards Big Newport, one of the largest theaters in Southern California. The 23-year-old student had been taking turns with friends since May 8 saving a spot in line to make sure they catch the first showing. His wristband identified him as No. 7 in line for one of the 1,200 seats to the sold-out 12:01 showing.
John St. Clair, of Hopatcong, N.J., recalled going to the first "Star Wars" in 1977. He saw the film five weeks after it opened, then saw it about 10 times."Nobody knew anything about the first movie. Word of mouth is what carried it," said St. Clair, 60."After the first three, you had a lot of questions of how everything came to pass, and this answered all those questions," he said

Fans greet 'Sith' with elation, sadness
By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

With Episode III: Revenge of the Sith finally beamed onto the big screen Wednesday night, Star Wars fans were on top of the galaxy — until reality set in.

Tim Knapp, international president of the fan club 501st Legion of Imperial Stormtroopers, walked out of a Sith screening feeling elated, then deflated.

"I loved it," said Knapp, 45, of Orange County, Calif. "Suddenly, when I walked out of the theater, I felt sad.

"I grew up seeing these movies. I raised my two sons on these movies. I came out of the theater and thought, 'Oh, my gosh, it's over.' "

Ona Brazwell, 34, of King George, Va., saw Sith Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.
"I was 6 years old and we lived in London and I saw Star Wars," said Brazwell, who says she saw the first film 22 times in the theater.

"It makes me feel old, and I'll probably cry. It's just a movie, but you have milestones in your life. Some people remember when Kennedy was shot. I remember Star Wars."

Many fans had similar sentiments as theaters sold out nationwide for the midnight screening.

The final installment of the saga is expected to enjoy one of the largest debuts in history, though few expect it to match Spider-Man, which opened at $114.8 million in 2002. EDITOR'S NOTE: AS IT TURNS OUT...WE'RE NO.1, WE'RE NO. 1!!!!

Adrienne Maul-Sari, 40, of Joppatowne, Md., says she legally changed her name to Maul because of the sense of power and confidence she derived from the series' Darth Maul character. She came to the Washington showing dressed in Darth Maul's signature red and black costume. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK BOB. DOES THIS COMPLETELY THROW YOU OFF? A CHICK MAUL? AND WHERE IS YOUR TRUE DEVOTION? I DON'T SEE YOU CHANGING YOUR NAME!?? HMMMM??!!!
"I was crying most of the movie," she said. "The fact that this was the last one, this is the last time I'll be camping out."

Since the original film opened 28 years ago, fans have enjoyed the ritual of Star Wars: counting down the days until the next installment and, in some cases, camping out for weeks to see the movie on opening night. That ritual dies with Sith, which George Lucas says will be his last film about that galaxy far, far away.

Devin Jacobsen, 19, of Sacramento joined more than 300 fans who began lining up six weeks ago to catch the opening at the Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles.

But it will, and probably on a lucrative note. Box-office analysts predict that Sith will outperform 2002's Attack of the Clones.

"This one has better buzz than Clones and is getting better reviews," says Gitesh Pandya of "But most important, it's the last. Everyone wants to say goodbye."

Latest 'Star Wars' Movie Is Quickly Politicized
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER Published: May 19, 2005
lOS ANGELES, May 18 - For sheer lack of subtlety, the light-saber-wielding forces of good and evil in
George Lucas's "Star Wars" movies can't hold a candle to the blogging, advertising and boycotting forces of the right and left. (Or left and right.)

More a measure of the nation's apparently permanent political warfare than of a filmmaker's intent, the heroes and antiheroes of Mr. Lucas's final entry, "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," were on their way to becoming the stock characters of partisan debate by mid-Wednesday, hours before the film's opening just after midnight:

¶The liberal advocacy group was preparing to spend $150,000 to run advertisements on CNN over the next few days - and to spread leaflets among audiences in line at multiplexes - comparing Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, to the movie's power-grabbing, evil Chancellor Palpatine, for Dr. Frist's role in the Senate's showdown over the confirmation of federal judges. EDITOR'S NOTE: FRIST SHOULD BE SO CLEVER AND INTERESTING AND POWERFUL. HE'S MORE LIKE ONE OF THE GALACTIC SENATORS JOCKEYING FOR PALPATINE'S FAVOR.

¶Conservative Web logs were lacerating Mr. Lucas over the film's perceived jabs at President Bush - as when Anakin Skywalker, on his way to becoming the evil Darth Vader, warns, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," in an echo of Mr. Bush's post-9/11 ultimatum, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." EDITOR'S NOTE: ANAKIN IS CONFLICTED AND TALENTED AND BRILLIANT AND TRAGIC AND BEAUTIFUL. AND THE OTHER GUY IS....UM....NOT.

¶A little-trafficked conservative Web site about film, - for "Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood" - added Mr. Lucas to its list of boycotted entertainers, along with more than 200 others, including Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and the Dixie Chicks. EDITOR'S NOTE: SOUNDS LIKE A FUN GROUP TO BE INCLUDED WITH!

¶Even the Drudge Report Web site got into the act: beneath a picture of Darth Vader, it compared the White House press corps to the vengeful Sith, after reporters peppered a press secretary for pressing Newsweek magazine to "repair the damage" in the Muslim world caused by a retracted report about desecration of the Koran.

There is nothing all that new or imaginative, of course, about politicians borrowing from popular movies to score points; witness Ronald Reagan's co-opting of the "evil empire" metaphor for use against the Soviet bloc, or his critics lampooning his missile defense ideas as something straight out of "Star Wars."

And Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican rebel of sorts, compared his 2000 primary campaign to Luke Skywalker's fighting his way out of the Death Star.

But it is highly unusual for a mainstream Hollywood movie to wind up in the swirl of politics even before it has opened - though that did occur with 20th Century Fox's "Day After Tomorrow," with its apocalyptic vision of global warming's consequences, which advocates including and Al Gore used to protest the Bush administration's environmental policy.

As a rule, Hollywood studios go to great lengths to ensure that their projects - both in the development stage and especially when they are positioned in the marketplace - are free of messages that could be offensive to any great swath of the moviegoing public. Like, say, people who vote for one political party or the other.

All of which calls into question Mr. Lucas's decision to have the premiere of the "Star Wars" finale at the Cannes Film Festival. France is sometimes called the biggest blue state of all, after all. And just what was Mr. Lucas - who could not be reached for comment Wednesday - thinking when he told a Cannes audience that he had not realized in plotting the film years ago that fact might so closely track his fiction?

Alluding to
Michael Moore's remarks about "Fahrenheit 9/11" at Cannes a year earlier, Mr. Lucas joked, "Maybe the film will waken people to the situation."

Apparently in all seriousness, though, he went on to say that he had first devised the "Star Wars" story during the Vietnam War. "The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable," he told an appreciative audience.

Peter Sealey, a former marketing chief at Columbia Pictures, said the partisan tug of war over the new "Star Wars" episode seemed absurd, likening the political interpretations of it to a Rorschach test. But he said Mr. Lucas was probably savvy in adding sizzle and relevance to a movie that otherwise might have earned publicity only by its effectiveness as entertainment.

"He could've come out and said, 'That's ridiculous - this is the white hats and black hats of the 1950's in space,' and quashed it," said Mr. Sealey, who teaches entertainment marketing at the University of California, Berkeley. "Did he do that? No, and it was probably smart. If he can get 'Star Wars' brought into the debate over unilateralism and the Iraq war, it just brings a current spin to it. And I don't think it's going to rule people out."

Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that all the online screeds and boycotts put together will leave so much as a dent in the movie's box office results. Hollywood insiders have estimated that "Episode III" will have ticket sales of $120 million or more in its first four days.

But Mr. Sealey said other filmmakers and marketers might do well to inspect their pictures for latent political messaging before the public does it for them.

He noted that a Universal Pictures marketing executive had given a lecture to his marketing class about
"King Kong," which is coming out later this year.

"Is there a political overtone to it?" Mr. Sealey said. "I suspect he's got to think that through today. The political sensitivities are so great that you have to take that calculus into consideration. Is somebody going to read into 'King Kong' that it's pro-Iraq, or it's going to get PETA upset?" EDITOR'S NOTE: OH FOR CRIMINEY'S SAKE! WHEN THERE'S A REAL-WORLD ELECTION GOING ON, PEOPLE CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO PAY ATTENTION TO ACTUAL FACTS. BUT FILMMAKERS....ARTISTS WORKING IN THE FICTIONAL REALM...HAVE TO HEED THE SIGN-POSTS AND NOT UPSET ANYONE? THIS TRULY IS THE END OF DAYS, ISN'T IT?!

Things We Learned from Revenge
While watching Revenge of the Sith, the staff from TFN and picked up a few important new items from the Star Wars Saga.

Here they are for your reading pleasure:

Chewbacca is probably still picking sand out of his hair from the Battle of Kashyyyk when we see him in A New Hope.

The Emperor isn't bald under his hood.

People from Naboo don't look like beach balls when pregnant with twins.

Despite murdering dozens of children, betraying your friends, and choking your wife, you can still have good in you.EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL. DUH.

While Stormtroopers may not be a great shot, Clone Troopers are!

Even cyborg generals can get Tuberculosis.

The Jedi's health insurance policy does not cover lost limbs, but the Sith plan has you covered.



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