"Star Wars" is over, but Lucas is far from his end
Director George Lucas feels like a college kid setting off on a new adventure.
His final film in the long-running, multibillion-dollar series of six "Star Wars" movies is due in cinemas in less than two weeks, after a string of global premieres that start on Thursday.
"Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" wraps up nearly 30 years of storytelling about space battles waged in a galaxy far, far away. It tells how a young Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker, is transformed into evil warlord Darth Vader, father of eventual Jedi hero Luke Skywalker
"I'm relieved it's finished and I made it to the end," Lucas said. "It's like going off to college. You miss your parents, and you'll see them on holidays. But at the same time, you're glad to be out on your own. You got your whole future ahead of you."
"Revenge of the Sith" is, at once, the most complicated "Star Wars" and the simplest to tell. It features more than 2,200 visual effects shots -- more than the last two episodes combined and far more than the 350 for the original "Star Wars" in 1977.
But the wizards at Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic effects studio said that unlike previous "Star Wars" films, no new technology was needed for this latest instalment.
There are no major new characters, either, and fans who hated the pidgin-English-talking Jar Jar Binks from "Episode I" will be glad to hear that.
In a word, if "Revenge of the Sith" is anything, it is@-- more light sabre fights, more spaceship battles, more lush landscapes of far-away planets and a bit more romance. It is a "Star Wars" formula that, after $3.5 billion in cumulative worldwide box office receipts and $9 billion in merchandise sales, does not need alteration.
"It's not like I could change the story and say, 'Oh yeah, Anakin was a good guy the whole time, and Darth Vader was a figment of your imagination,'" Lucas said.
So getting to where Anakin (Hayden Christensen) forsakes his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and dons Vader's black mask is the major focus of the new film.
"I had a lot of fun going to the dark side," Christensen said with a mischievous grin.
Anakin is torn between his love for the Jedis, his love for the Republic that governs the galaxy and his love for his wife, Padme (Natalie Portman).
Jedi Master Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson, suspects Republic leader Chancellor Palpatine of wanting to assume too much power. Palpatine believes the Jedis want to unseat him from his rule.
Both try to persuade Anakin to their side, which causes him to question the differences between good and evil. Only Anakin's love of Padme seems true, but even that love is called into question when he has a premonition she will soon die.
It is love, ultimately, that drives Anakin to hate.
"They turned out the way I wanted them to turn out," Lucas said of his creations.
STILL MORE TO COME
This is the final "Star Wars" movie, of course, but it is not the last word on the series for hard-core fans. There will still be new novels and comics featuring the key characters.
Two television shows also are in the works: an animated series and a live-action adventure that involves the Jedi Knights fighting in the Clone Wars.
A DVD for "Revenge of the Sith" will feature scenes that were deleted from the final movie. And a DVD set of all six films will eventually be packaged and sold, but when that may happen is still undecided, Lucas said.
One thing that has changed since 2002's "Episode II" has been the exponential growth in the DVD market -- so much so that even at a cost of $113 million, the film can turn a profit with a domestic box office of $200 million.
That figure is well below the $300 million "Episode II" -- which cost $115 million to make -- had to gross back in 2002 to make money. DVD sales make up the difference, Lucas said.
While "Revenge of the Sith" may not be the final curtain for "Star Wars," it is the end of an era for Lucas, he said.
He will help produce the television shows, but for the most part Lucas, 60, is off on a new adventure. He said he wants to go back to his roots and make art films that are concerned@with visual style than Hollywood storytelling.
Nearly 30 years ago, Lucas said, "Star Wars" was to be his final big-budget Hollywood movie before he delved deeper into the life of an auteur. Only, it wasn't to be.
"That's the way life is," he said. "You go north and end up south." Now, he has a chance to head north, again. May the force be with him.