LAS VEGAS — Two decades ago, George Lucas pulled off the mask to reveal the face of one of cinema’s greatest bad guys. Now, he’s about to slip the mask back on.
Lucas offered a preview Thursday of his final “Star Wars” chapter, which spells out the last dark steps the once goodhearted young Anakin Skywalker takes to become the villain Darth Vader.
“It’s not like the old ‘Star Wars,”’ Lucas told theater owners at the ShoWest convention. “This one’s a little bit more emotional. We like to describe it as ‘Titanic’ in space. It’s a tearjerker.”
Opening May 19, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” brings full circle the mammoth sci-fi saga Lucas began in 1977 with the original “Star Wars,” which shattered box-office records and remains one of the top-grossing movies ever.
Reaction was mixed on “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” many fans grousing that the first one was too much a kiddie flick and the second one too sappy a love story. Calling the latest movie a Faustian tragedy, Lucas said he is unconcerned about whether “Revenge of the Sith” draws more barbs from “Star Wars” fans.
“I feel that I’ve made the movie the best I can and it turned out the way I wanted it to be, so I’m happy,” Lucas, 60, told The Associated Press in an interview. “I never try to anticipate what the world’s going to think or even worry about whether they’re going to like it or not. That’s not my job, to make people like my movies. They either like them or they don’t. That’s completely out of my hands.”
The intensity of the action and themes in “Revenge of the Sith” probably will earn it a PG-13 rating, Lucas said. The first five “Star Wars” movies all were rated PG.
Lucas’ entry at ShoWest was preceded by a parade of 21 “Star Wars” stormtroopers in white armor, followed by an actor dressed as Darth Vader.
Trailer tempts fans
Along with the trailer, Lucas showed the opening minutes of “Revenge of the Sith,” featuring the familiar “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” catch phrase followed by the franchise’s rousing introductory music.
The film immediately launches into a space battle elaborate even by “Star Wars” standards as Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and his Jedi knight master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), lead a mission to rescue the kidnapped Palpatine, chancellor of the Republic.
The trailer sets up the rest of the scenario, with the suspicious Jedi council assigning Anakin to spy on Palpatine after his rescue, while the chancellor — the future evil Emperor of the original trilogy — plots to seduce the young knight to the dark side of the Force.
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“It’s very dangerous putting them together,” warns Jedi master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). “I don’t think the boy can handle it.”
Everyone who has seen the original “Star Wars” knows Mace is right. That film opens in a dark, oppressive age a couple of decades after the action of “Revenge of the Sith,” when Vader and the Emperor have conquered the cosmos, stamped out democratic rule and are hunting down the vestiges of a freedom-fighting rebellion.
The end of a long saga
“Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” recount the rise of Anakin’s farmboy son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who teams with his newfound sister Leia (Carrie Fisher) and brash smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to take down the Empire and ultimately redeem Vader, bringing him back to the side of the good guys.
Amid the climax of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” Luke takes off Vader’s black mask so father and son can see each other face to face in the elder Skywalker’s dying moments.
Luke and Leia’s characters will appear as infants in “Revenge of the Sith.”
The trailer screened Thursday showed what fans have been waiting for since Lucas began the story of Anakin’s journey from good toward evil in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” Namely, Anakin in the guise of Vader: Black cloak, mask and helmet, an outfit rigged with life-support devices for Skywalker, whose battle wounds have left him part flesh, part machine.
Lucas knows many fans wanted the prequel trilogy to introduce Vader early on rather than trace Anakin’s downfall from nice little boy to bratty teen to dark knight of the galaxy. “Revenge of the Sith” presents Anakin in Vader’s black get-up only at the very end of the movie, Lucas said.
“Obviously, fans would love to see a movie about Darth Vader running around killing people,” said Lucas, who also was on hand to receive a “galactic-achievement award” from ShoWest organizers. “I’m not telling that story, and I’m not interested in that. That’s not what the movie is.
“This first trilogy is really about the father, the struggles of a father, or a man, basically, to find himself, and at the same time fall into a trap of wanting certain powers, making a pact with the devil and basically spending the rest of his life regretting it.”