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‘Star Wars’ takes over Cannes

Fans — and critics — cheer during out-of-competition screening at annual film festival
/ Source: Reuters

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ...”

It was 28 years ago that the famous words first scrolled up movie screens. On Sunday, the world’s most successful film series drew to a close with the official launch of the sixth and final “Star Wars” movie.

In one of the most eagerly awaited and widely hyped film releases in years, George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” had a glittering red carpet premiere in Cannes, complete with Darth Vader and Storm-Trooper look-alikes.

Director George Lucas was accompanied by his cast of stars, having received an award from the Cannes Film Festival earlier in the day on board the luxury liner Queen Mary 2, which docked off the Riviera resort especially for the occasion.

Even though Sith, which cost $115 million to make, is not in competition in Cannes, all other events were forgotten as the famed waterfront ground to a halt to mark a cinematic milestone.

Hundreds of screaming fans surged to touch hands with Lucas and Natalie Portman, who plays Padme Amidala in the second trilogy. The day was one of emotion as well as glamour, with more than a few tears shed among audiences who watched the film.

After an early press screening in the packed Grand Theatre Lumiere, fans and journalists cheered and clapped, some expressing surprise at the darkness of the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader.

The odd grisly scene means the film received a PG-13 rating which may dissuade some parents from taking pre-teens, probably the only obstacle to the film becoming a smash hit.

For many Star Wars fans, it was a sad farewell to a series which pushed the boundaries of cinematic special effects and sound.

One reporter said he felt “empty” after seeing the film. Because it was bad? “No, because it is over.”

Early reviews have been generally positive, arguing that with Sith Lucas redeems himself somewhat after two previous episodes which were critical, although not commercial, flops.

Variety said Sith was “considerably more satisfying than the disappointing Episodes I and II and provides the series with the kind of finale that some fans had almost lost hope of seeing”.

Generation gapLucas told reporters he was not too concerned by the negative reaction to Episodes I and II of the prequel trilogy.

“We’ve discovered in the last few years ... that we have two fan bases,” he said. “One is over 25 and one is under 25.

“The films that those people (over-25s) don’t like, which is the first two, actually are very fanatically adored by the under-25-year-olds.”

Sith explains how Jedi Knight Skywalker is tempted over to the dark side. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Skywalker is rebuilt from a limbless, burning man barely alive to the towering, black-caped Vader.

In Cannes, applause broke out when he took his first, sinister breaths through the respirator, taking people back to 1977 when Vader first towered over audiences.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Mace Windu in the most recent trilogy, said Sith would change the way we viewed Vader.

“Now we know how he got to this particular place, so he seems more the tragic figure than an evil figure now,” he told Reuters in Cannes.

Die-hard British fans paid up to $464 per ticket to attend an all-day showing on Monday of the six episodes back-to-back. The 501st UK Garrison of Storm-Troopers will be there to open the doors at a central London cinema from 6 a.m.

Some critics will be happy to see the back of Star Wars, which, they feel, commercialised cinema and made it too reliant on special effects rather than strong plots and acting.

Star Wars has earned more than $3.5 billion at the box office and an estimated $9 billion in merchandise sales.