An article about film director George Lucas in today's preprinted Life, etc. section incorrectly refers to the first "Star Wars" movie released. The film, originally released as "Star Wars" in 1977, was retitled "Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope" at its reissue in 1997.
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SAN RAFAEL, CALIF. -- George Lucas looks relaxed, sitting in his plush Skywalker Sound facility -- the best such facility in North America.
While "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," the third film in the most popular Hollywood saga ever made, chronicles the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the birth of the Empire, it was "Episode I: A New Hope," that built Lucas' own empire.
Skywalker Ranch is a gorgeous piece of heaven -- 6,500 pristine acres that includes a huge Victorian home, Lake Ewok, its own fire department, an underground parking garage and enough facilities (mostly hidden to make you feel as if you're one with nature) to offer work space for more than 1,000 employees.
Lucas is quiet, polite and completely at ease as he deals with the reporters who have gathered from around the world to see his last "Star Wars" movie, a film that was completed just a week before.
"The important part for me is that I finally get to see all the pieces together ... everything that I've ever written about 'Star Wars' is now on screen," Lucas said. "I'm relieved I made it through and I'm happy with the way it turned out, as a whole saga. The films are not sequels. They're part of a whole."
The first three movies tell the story of how Darth Vader was redeemed by his children. After a 16-year hiatus, Lucas returned to tell the back story of Darth Vader and his eventual fall to the Dark Side.
"I was fascinated by the fact that if you know what his [Vader's] story is, it changes the first three movies ... it makes them more intense," Lucas said. "Ultimately, he's a sad, pathetic character who makes a pact with the devil and pays for it the rest of his life."
Respect for Vader
Actor Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in Episode II, morphs into Darth Vader in "Revenge of the Sith." The tortured character has become one of the greatest villains in movie history.
"It was very cool to get inside Vader's outfit," Christensen said. "I enjoyed watching people react to me. People I had been friends with paid respect to Darth Vader, either looking down or stepping away."
Ian McDiarmid, who plays Palpatine, said, "Everyone had a strange reaction. I gave him a hug. People wanted to touch his helmet."
The first scene that Christensen spent in costume was memorable to the cast and crew. Christensen bulked up for this role, gaining 25 pounds of muscle to fill out the hefty costume.
Executive producer Rick McCollum picked him up in a golf cart to drive him to the soundstage for the scene where he rises as Vader.
"After spending 20 minutes getting Hayden into the golf cart in costume, we arrived on the set and 1,500 people are there because they knew this was the moment," McCollum said. " 'Star Wars' was a seminal moment for them and they came to pay their respect to Vader. So we crammed 500 people into the soundstage and George did two takes and was happy. I then ordered all the champagne and beer we could find and we partied until 2 a.m."
After enduring Episodes I and II -- which McCollum admits many fans were disappointed with because they were waiting for the events that make up Episode III -- moviegoers will not be disappointed in "Revenge of the Sith," those involved say.
"It was necessary to have Episode II to present the choices Anakin must make in Episode III," Christensen said.
That "Sith" brings to a close one of the most beloved science fiction stories ever told wasn't lost on the cast.
"It's hard to get my head around the fact that it's over," Christensen said. "It's been a large part of my life for the last five years. The nostalgia in the air was tangible on that last day on set. It's bittersweet. I'm an actor who wants to tell other stories and do other parts, so from that perspective it's exciting."
McDiarmid, who first appeared as the Emperor in "Return of the Jedi" more than 20 years ago, said, "It's been a huge part of my life for short periods of time, and an enjoyable part. It's great to see my character's climax. It's great to see him go out with a bang."
Lucas, though, seems ready to move on.
"I enjoyed doing these films, and I'm looking forward to doing other things," he said.