Back with a vengeance

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am

AGALACTIC MASTERPIECE that drew on Greek mythology or a commercial success that played on racial stereotypes and drove good taste out of American cinema?

Whatever your philosophical leaning on Star Wars, there is no denying that this 1977 science-fiction blockbuster made an enormous impact on a generation of kids, some of whom never outgrew their battery-operated light sabres and now form part of a massive fan base.

This summer, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas's sixth and final romp through a galaxy far, far away will hit cinemas.

Almost three decades since the first Star Wars light show stirred imaginations, chapter and verse will finally close on the space epic and its creators are talking it up as a dark, action-packed finale, a last hurrah that will bring the whole six-part story arc into focus.

Set against the closing stages of a war between the Galactic Republic and an alliance of secessionists, the film will round off what is primarily the tale of Anakin Skywalker's transformation from child slave, to well-intentioned but flawed Jedi knight, to the fearsome villain Darth Vader of the classic series of Star Wars films.

'Obi-Wan Kenobi says in A New Hope [the first film] that the Jedi are all but extinct. In the latest film, we'll see how that happens and, most importantly, why and how Anakin becomes Darth Vader,' said Rick McCallum, producer of the prequel trilogy and longtime Lucas collaborator.

It is an unavoidably dark ending to a film that needs to establish narrative continuity with the original films, but just how dark?

'Remember, Obi-Wan is Anakin's mentor, his Jedi Master - they're as close as brothers when Episode III begins - but by the time it ends they are trying to kill each other. That's seriously dark, tragic stuff,' said McCallum, though he said ultimately it was still a Star Wars and therefore a family film.

The continuity does not stop with the plot. According to McCallum, a concerted effort has been made to bridge the two trilogies visually in the latest film.

'George has had a very clear, solid design for the movies. He has always known exactly where they would go, both from a story and a visual standpoint.

'A New Hope takes place in the middle of a civil war, when the Empire has taken over and things have fallen into ruin. So things went from very opulent [in Episode I] to very functional [in Episode IV] - everything from the way the ships are designed to blasters to costumes.'

There are photographs plastered across the internet showing the Star Wars stars on set with hairdos that hark back to the original films: Hayden Christensen (as Anakin) brooding in a seventies shaggy mullet, Ewan McGregor looking studious with a side parting in the fashion of the late Alec Guinness (the original Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Natalie Portman (Padme) sporting Princess Leia braids.

Such attention to detail is admirable and will please obsessive Star War fans, but there is a lot more riding on this final chapter than seamlessly bridging the new and the old.

A long time ago there was a critically acclaimed and wildly popular science-fiction film called Star Wars. Many fans and critics would say the first two prequels failed to capture any of that original magic.

Almost to a man, critics lambasted Episode I: The Phantom Menace as bereft of dramatic force and muddled in its plot exposition, with the actors playing second fiddle to computer graphics.

Apologists conceded that Lucas might be a bit rusty in the director's chair, but alas Attack of the Clones was described by many as a similarly soulless special-effects extravaganza.

A co-writer was brought in to tweak the scripts before the making of Episode II.

For Episode III, a dialogue coach was added to the crew according to the official website, in a final attempt to bring the Force back.

And the action will ratchet up another level, judging by the noises coming from the studio.

'If Episode II was created as a love story, Episode III is definitely more of a classic action-adventure movie,' McCallum said.

'[There will be] more than anyone's expecting, I hope! Everyone knows about the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, but there's much more than that. A lot more than that.'

And for fans who missed the grand space battles of the original series, he said: 'I don't think Revenge of the Sith will disappoint anyone on that level.'

Perhaps there is hope after all.