Movies: Dark Side Rising

The first three Star Wars were epic. The next two, not really. Now George Lucas has pulled out all the stops and finished the cycle with Revenge of the Sith

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Techies love working for Lucas because his movies introduced them as kids to the wonders of effects work; he was their Obi-Wan. He's savvy enough about the mechanics that he knows what's possible and so trusting in his staff that they will try to visualize the impossible for him, like the giant lizard Obi-Wan rides or the lava in Mustafar, where Anakin and Obi-Wan do battle. Lucas can mix all those elements in the editing room after the live-action scenes have been shot. "In postproduction," says visual-effects supervisor Roger Guyett, "he is creating the movie in his imagination, using visual effects."

Ben Burtt, who has designed the sound effects for every Star Wars film, says of Lucas, "He's always been more comfortable working in a private creative space than a public one. In the editing room, you have the time to try new things, and if they fail, nobody knows. That's how the creative issues are worked out. On a movie set, there are a lot of people and a lot of pressure, and you're paying a lot of money for every moment."

There are also actors, who may feel stranded as they stand before a green screen and try simulating eye contact with a monster that hasn't yet been created. "There's more imagination required than for regular movie roles," says Portman, "because it's not just imagining what's going on inside you. You're also imagining the environment you are in. A lot of times, you are working with a tape-marked X and imagining a blue sheet as a universe." Christensen adds, with a smile, "I wish they taught classes in green-screen acting." As for the veteran McDiarmid, he shrugs off the green-screen ordeal. "Movies are strange things with their own mad rules," he says. "You're always in a corner of a room, and the rest of the room is filled with lots of people."

In two weeks, lots of people will fill movie houses around the world to judge the latest and last Star Wars episode. True believers will debate and deliberate over each scene with the severity of a Jedi Council. The rest of us will breathe a sigh of relief that Lucas found the skill to make a grave and vigorous popular entertainment, a picture that regains and sustains the filmic Force he dreamed up a long time ago, in a movie industry that seems far, far away. Because he, irrevocably, changed it. --Reported by Desa Philadelphia/Skywalker Ranch

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