Cinema: Cinema, May 19, 1980

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The very first surprise in The Empire Strikes Back comes in the opening credits: the movie is identified as Episode V. Since it is the immediate sequel to the original Star Wars, that opus has been retitled Star Wars: Episode IV, raising a meteor shower of questions. The answers: Lucas has begun his space saga in the middle, and both pictures are the centerpieces of a projected nine-part series. The remaining movies, fore and aft, have not yet been laid out in detail, but Lucas has the framework, a kind of history of what happened in that galaxy long ago and far away. A preview:

For years the universe was governed by a republic, which was regulated by the order of Jedi Knights, who bore a vague resemblance to Japanese Samurai warriors. But eventually the citizens of the republic "didn't care enough to elect competent officials," says Lucas the historian, and so their government collapsed. A sorcerer, a bad counterpart of Yoda, blocked all opposition and declared himself Emperor. He was not seen in Star Wars: Episode IV, but he makes a brief appearance in The Empire,

The Emperor subverts Darth Vader to his side, and together he and Vader betray the other Knights, nearly all of whom are killed in their trap. Ben Kenobi escapes, and after a fierce struggle he does such injury to Vader that forever after Vader must wear a mask and that noisy life-support system. The fall of the republic and the rise of the empire will form the first of Lucas' three trilogies.

The second trilogy, which opened with Star Wars: Episode IV, centers on Luke Skywalker, who, will be seen as a child in Episode III. The Empire continues the Skywalker story, and Episode VI, the next film to be made, which will be called Revenge of the Jedi, will end it, with either Luke or Darth Vader walking away from their final bout. The last three episodes involve the rebuilding of the republic.

Only two of the main characters will appear in all nine films, and they are the robots, Artoo Detoo and Threepio. Says Lucas: "In effect, the story will be told through their eyes."