A 'Star-gazers' guide to 'Attack of the clones'

Perhaps you've heard that there's a new "Star Wars" movie? The summer blockbuster season swung into action May 3 with the record-breaking run of "Spider-Man," and if Spidey can earn $114 million in three days, grosses for "Star Wars: Episode II � Attack of the Clones" should really go skywalker-high. If you're planning to be among the 25 million or so people who will see "Attack of the Clones" this weekend, our guide to all things "Star Wars" will help you avoid an attack of cluelessness.

The Plots

"Episode I � The Phantom Menace": The die is cast for this series: Somebody gets captured; somebody saves him or her. We meet Jedi master Qui-Jon Ginn (who is killed, or maybe not) and Darth Vader as a grade-schooler/slave named Anakin Skywalker, who encounters an early version of C3PO. It's also the first appearance of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Everybody helps Queen Amidala fend off Darth Maul (she's queen of a land called Naboo, and her conflict with the nefarious Trade Federation is nearly identical to the later conflict between Luke, Leia, Han Solo and the Empire). Ewan McGregor, as another Jedi master, mostly cowers on the sidelines.

"Episode II � Attack of the Clones": This one has to do with the growing attraction between Amidala and Anakin, who we already know will end up being the parents of Luke and Leia. Too bad the movie doesn't find more for Samuel L. Jackson, as Jedi Council Leader Mace Windu, to do (he had about as much presence as a wind chime in "Episode I"). This also is the one where Anakin becomes a Hero with a capital H.

"Episode III": We're just guessing here, but it seems likely that Luke and Leia will grow up in this episode. Also, that their father, Anakin, will become disillusioned with the Force and cross over to the dark side, much to the dismay of Obi-Wan Kenobi (their twisted dynamic is likely to be the focus of this film, which Lucas characterizes as the darkest of the six "Star Wars" movies).

"Episode IV � Star Wars (A New Hope)": We meet all the most beloved characters: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, C3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca. The story follows Luke, a rural kid who is told he's destined for greatness, and who rescues Leia from the Empire. With the help of Han Solo, they defend their land against Empire forces.

"Episode V � The Empire Strikes Back": Luke meets Yoda (it's sort of a blind date, arranged by Obi-wan Kenobi). Meanwhile, Han Solo and Leia, who definitely seem to be falling in love, are imprisoned by Darth Vader, and Luke gets his first chance to use the schooling he was given in The Force by Yoda when he goes to rescue them. In addition, a paternity issue is resolved.

"Episode VI � The Return of the Jedi": Everybody saves everybody else. Leia, who rescues Han Solo, takes a more active role, at least until she's captured by Jabba the Hutt (in scenes that George Lucas subsequently revealed disappointed him because Jabba looked so fake). When Luke, who's still in training with Yoda, is captured by Darth Vader, Han Solo has to rescue him. Freedom is restored to the galaxy with the help of Episode Six's new characters, the cuddly Ewoks (because of their adorable marketability, they were the most controversial "Star Wars" characters until Jar-Jar Binks eased their burden). We also end the which-guy-will-Leia choose stuff when we find out she's Luke's sister. And Luke has the Oedipal moment to end all Oedipal moments.

The Creator

George Lucas has said he's anxious to wrap up the current cycle of three "Star Wars" movies so he can move on to other projects. Not so fast, George.

Yes, whenever Lucas makes a "Star Wars" film, his touch is as golden as C3P0. All four existing chapters are among the most successful films of all time (the original "Star Wars: A New Hope" is second, "Episode 1" is fourth, "Return of the Jedi" is ninth and "The Empire Strikes Back" is 13th). They're joined in the Top 60 by the three Indiana Jones movies, which Lucas produced, and Lucas also has been an innovator in technology, pioneering sound and visual effects techniques that are used in virtually every film that gets made. But it's not as if all of Lucas' outside projects are successful. Anyone remember "Howard the Duck?"

That 1986 comedy frequently shows up on all-time worst lists. And, if anyone could remember "The Radioland Murders," the 1994 farce that was Lucas' last non-"Star Wars" movie, they'd probably mention it as an all-time low, too. Lucas' most recent TV series, "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," never caught on with audiences and his collaboration with Michael Jackson, "Captain Eo," has few admirers.

But audiences are fond of the "Star Wars" movies, even when they're not fond of them. The Jar-Jar Binks-bashing began before "Phantom Menace" was released and the bland characters put the "wan" in Obi-wan, but that didn't stop approximately 80 million people from plunking down their money to see it. And even before the two final "Star Wars" movies are released (at one point, Lucas had planned a nine-film series, but now says it'll stand at six), it can be confidently predicted that both will earn spots on the all-time box office chart, too.

It's understandable that Lucas, 58, wants to allot himself time to do non-"Star Wars" movies, particularly since, at the time "Phantom Menace" began a cycle of three new movies in 1999, he said, "I didn't want to do it. It's a nine-year commitment." On the other hand, what's true now will be even more true in 2005, when "Episode Three" is scheduled to hit theaters: No matter what else he does, George Lucas' lasting contribution to film will be the "Star Wars" movies. In the meantime, send in the "Clones" already.

The Buzz

Even before "The Phantom Menace" was released, word on the Internet was that the movie was the most kid-friendly "Star Wars" and that it wasn't great. So, what's the word this time?

� Early buzz was that "Attack of the Clones," the most adult of the "Star Wars" movies, would be the first to be rated PG-13. Not so. It features the first honest-to-gosh love scenes in the series, but this "Star Wars" is, like all the others, rated PG. On the other hand, because its concerns are more mature � falling in love and starting a family, as well as how to properly store a light sabre � "Attack of the Clones" may still play better to older audiences.

� When Lucas made "Phantom Menace," he announced that he was so pleased with the strides made in digital filmmaking that he intended to shoot the next one entirely digitally, instead of on film, and he has done that. Next step: Lucas has already announced that the only way theaters will be allowed to show the final "Star Wars" film in 2005 is if they are equipped to screen it digitally (he wants them to install equipment to enable them to project from a disk of stored information, instead of from a strip of film, something only a couple of dozen theaters in the U.S. can currently do). Audiences may not even notice the difference, although digital images are supposedly sharper.

� There are no fast-food tie-ins for "Attack of the Clones," reportedly because the movie skews older than the previous "Star Wars" films.

� "Attack of the Clones" is the first "Star Wars" movie designed to appeal to the girl-heavy "Titanic" demographic.

� Expect a different Yoda than you've ever seen. This time around, he's computer-animated, not a puppet. And, believe or not, he gets medieval on a bad guy.


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