Holy Sith!

“A long time ago, in a country not so far away, I was eight years old, doing my best Darth Vader imitation,” says Hayden Christensen, sitting in Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, where he’s enjoying a breakfast of eggs Benedict. Although the 24-year-old Canadian actor doesn’t remember when he first saw the original Star Wars movie, the pop-culture phenomenon permeated his consciousness enough to provide an excellent means of scaring his little sister during trips to New York City. “It doesn’t seem like much has changed,” he says.
But he knows full well that’s far from true. In the 28 years since George Lucas’s Star Wars exploded on the scene, the science-fiction genre has been reinvigorated, actors’ careers have been launched or have languished, film technologies have been revolutionized, a new paradigm for the event film has been created, and the movie industry itself has been transformed.
The first trilogy of films to be released (Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope; Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back; and Episode VI—Return of the Jedi) told the story of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, twins (we eventually discover) who fight the evil Emperor and his minion, Darth Vader, for control of their distant galaxy. Then, after a 16-year intermission, Lucas created a prequel trilogy about the twins’ father, Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi warrior who falls from grace to become Darth Vader (Episode I—The Phantom Menace; Episode II—Attack of the Clones; and, to be released May 19, the saga’s final installment, Episode III—Revenge of the Sith). The first five films have grossed more than $3.4 billion theatrically worldwide.
Of all the people—from the series’ hard-core fans to Anthony Daniels, the only actor with a speaking part in all six installments, as C-3PO—whose lives have been changed by Star Wars, none has felt the impact more than Lucas. Once a filmmaking geek under the tutelage of Francis Ford Coppola, he now commands an entertainment empire that generates more than a billion dollars in revenue each year. With Episode III, he completes his vision—a feat unparalleled in movie history and one made possible because of the deal he cut on the first Star Wars, awarding him the series’ merchandising and sequel rights. “There is definitely a certain satisfaction with seeing all the pieces fall together,” Lucas says over the phone from his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, just before flying to London, where he’ll work on the film’s score with John Williams. “A lot of my life has been wrapped up in this one thing. I can walk away from this now ’cause I feel it’s the best I could do. I’m happy with it.”
But what makes Lucas happy hasn’t always made his fans happy. In 1997, the director remastered the original trilogy, inserting computer-generated effects, digitally cleaning the prints, tweaking some scenes, and generally horrifying the Star Wars faithful. Then, with episodes I and II, he disappointed them again, by going heavy on the exposition and goofiness (see Jar Jar Binks) and light on the badass charm of the original films (with the notable exception of Darth Maul). “If mistakes were made—and I don’t think [they] are the same mistakes that everybody else thinks they are—then I made them, and I will stand by them,” Lucas says. Although you can find a sizable chorus of Episode I and II detractors, Lucas stands virtually alone (among adults) in believing that it’s the original trilogy, especially Episode IV, that is flawed, rather than the prequels. One has to wonder: Which trilogy will Episode III most reflect?
Caught up in the maelstrom of hype and disappointment has been Christensen, the actor who plays the young adult Anakin Skywalker in II and III. Previously best known as the troubled teen in Life as a House, he was criticized for wooden acting and, more to the point, for not being worthy of playing such a famous villain. Sitting in a crowd of colorfully clad Angelenos, Christensen has a Darth-like presence, wearing a long black overcoat, with a black hood poking out. And although he talks warmly of the appreciative children who approach him on the street, he is, like us, eager for Episode III to close the circle. “This is the story of Anakin becoming Darth and the story of a republic becoming an empire, meaning, this is the movie that will have all the payoff,he says.This is the film that people want to see.

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