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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

'Star Wars' Saga Is Headed Back to the Future

November 25, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

Just about everybody feels a rush of excitement about a long-awaited new movie, especially when the other movies currently playing at your neighborhood cineplexes are movies about a bug, ants, rugrats and a talking pig.

I'm no exception.

So a few days ago, when a long-awaited--and I mean LONG-awaited--new movie was finally sneak previewed at a local theater, I got goose bumps. And it wasn't even a movie about a talking goose.

In fact, it wasn't even a movie.

It was two minutes of a movie.

A trailer for "Star Wars: Episode 1, the Phantom Menace" was shown to eager audiences, who erupted with such a loud cheer, some of them must have spat up their Milk Duds.

Not since 1983 have we seen a new installment of the "Star Wars" saga. I know George Lucas must be a busy guy, but hey, you'd think he could crank one out faster than every 15 years or so. The last one was so long ago, I think Luke Skywalker drove a '79 Volkswagen Rabbit.

And this one is Episode 1?

Let's go, George. By the time you get to Episode 3, some of us are going to be so old, we won't be able to chew a Milk Dud.

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A lot has happened since the original "Star Wars" film, which was made in 1977 and co-starred the budding superstar Mark Hamill with some obviously going nowhere actor named Ford.

For one thing, an entire system of national defense was named after "Star Wars," which was certainly a better name for it than "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines."

I remember back when I saw a Preview of Coming Attractions for the first "Star Wars" film.

My first reaction was that it was good to see Alec Guinness again, even if he appeared to be co-starring with a couple of very small robots with British accents and a very tall creature with more hair on his torso than anybody Guinness had ever worked with, with the possible exception of Peter Sellers.

The film was obviously science fiction, but I couldn't tell if it was a drama or a comedy. At first I was sure that it was a drama, but then I saw Carrie Fisher's hair.

"Star Wars" took America by storm.

It was the story of an orphan in his late teens or early 20s who lives on a broken-down planet called Tatooine, which is not a planet I am familiar with, but John Glenn will probably want to go there on his next trip.

An evil emperor has taken over the galaxy, not unlike what happened during the 1990s to our U.S. House of Representatives.

Teaming up with an adventurer named Han Solo and a royal pain named Princess Leia Organa, our young hero Luke sets off in search of truth, justice and the mystery of why his enemy sounds exactly like James Earl Jones. In the film, we encounter a saloon full of grotesque and oddly costumed characters, much like Green Bay's bars on Super Bowl Sunday.

The film was a mega-hit.

It made more money than "Gone With the Wind," which would have done a lot better business if it had taken place in outer space. "Star Wars" was a smash with kids and grown-ups alike, even though it had virtually no bloody violence, virtually no vulgar language and, in short, virtually none of the things Hollywood gives us in film after film after film.

Two sequels followed. The first was "The Empire Strikes Back," which introduced us to Yoda, a little know-it-all who had so much advice on how to live a better life, it was like listening to Martha Stewart.

Later came "Return of the Jedi." Among the Jedi who returned was Darth Vader, an evil warlord who looked like a gigantic Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. In the climax, we discovered that Darth Vader not only was Luke Skywalker's father, but that he owed Luke's mother over $100,000 in back child support.

*

I have been waiting 15 years to find out what happens next. Instead, we are going to find out what happened first.

The new film, due out in May, will be a "prequel," which means we go backward in time rather than forward.

(They should try this with "Casablanca," so we get to see Humphrey Bogart's character as a boy, possibly played by Adam Sandler.)

For his new film, Lucas has hired new actors and rounded up the usual robots. I can't wait. I hear in this one, "Titanic" director James Cameron proclaims himself "king of the world," only to have Darth Vader destroy him.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail mike.downey@latimes.com

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