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    Star Wars Episode 3


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    George Lucas has promised to keep this final film in the latter-day Star Wars trilogy dark. Darth Vader, Chewbacca, the rise of the Empire, the fall of the Jedi. Bring it on

    George Lucas didn't exactly endear himself to fans when he decided to charge them for the privilege of reading exclusive news about Star Wars Episode III on the film's official website - but as he's no doubt aware that if the film delivers, all will be forgiven. Detailing exactly how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, the final instalment (in production terms) of Lucas's epic six-part saga is the film every Star Wars fan is desperate to see.

    Of course, it's still almost two years away and doesn't even have a title yet (erroneous reports have called it 'An Empire Divided' - the subtitle of the recent LucasArts online PC game 'Star Wars Galaxies'). Principal photography started on June 30, 2003 at the Fox Studios in Sydney and is scheduled to last 12 weeks, though, unlike with the previous films, Lucas is not doing any location work. With one pivotal scene already in the can - filmed while making Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones - ILM will fill in the blue screen blanks in the 18 month interim between the end of shooting and the May 2005 release.

    So what's in store? Official plot details are predictably scarce (Lucas only delivered the final script five days before filming started) but producer Rick McCallum confirmed that the action "will take place three years or so after Episode II" and will feature "the most lightsaber action of any Star Wars film". That means we can look forward to a climactic showdown between Obi Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) that should end with Anakin falling into a pit of molten lava. As Lucas sketched out Vader's origins in the 70s, we know this is the event that leaves Anakin horribly disfigured and in need of the Sith Lord's heavy breathing apparatus. There's no word yet on whether Christensen (who was ordered to bulk up to be more physically intimidating) will sport the classic black outfit but James Earl Jones did let slip that he will supply Vader's vocals for the final five minutes.

    As for the rest of the plot, it's a matter of joining the dots to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Padme (Portman) will give birth to Luke and Leia, Palpatine (McDiarmid) will declare himself the Emperor and most of the Jedi (including Samuel L Jackson's Mace Windu) will be wiped out, forcing Obi Wan to hide out on Tattooine and Yoda to flee to Dagobah.



    It's going to be interesting to see exactly how Lucas bridges the two trilogies, though. After telling 'Premiere' magazine back in 1999 that he didn't think Chewbacca would make an appearance in any of the prequels, he made the surprise announcement that the Wookie will be in Episode III. Played once again by Peter Mayhew, one unsubstantiated report has him delivering Luke and Leia to Obi Wan. Christopher Lee returns as Count Dooku, so the Death Star plans tantalisingly glimpsed in Attack Of The Clones should figure prominently. The Kaminoans are back too, so expect Obi Wan to get to the bottom the Clone army mystery (a favourite rumour currently circulating the net is that one of the saga's major characters is a clone).

    Lucas does have some narrative hurdles to negotiate and the decision to film extra scenes to insert them into DVD versions of the original trilogy has enraged purists, particularly since there are no plans to release the first three films in their original format. But the good news is that Lucas seems to be sticking to his vision by making Episode III the bleakest part of the saga. As he confirmed on American TV in April 2003: "It's not as dark as a Quentin Tarantino film, but for Star Wars it will be pretty dark."



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