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After the hype, Star Wars finale finally unveiled By Mike Collett-White
2 hours, 46 minutes ago


CANNES, France (Reuters) - "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ..."

It was 28 years ago that the famous words first scrolled down movie screens. On Sunday, arguably the world's most successful film series draws to a close with the premiere of the sixth and final episode of "Star Wars."

In one of the most eagerly awaited and widely hyped film releases in years, "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" gets its first official screening at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France.

Director and creator George Lucas will be in the glamorous Riviera resort on a whirlwind round of interviews, honors and promotional events, including one on an ocean liner moored just off the coast.

Sith ends the cycle of three prequels, and explains the transformation of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, the heavy-breathing, black-masked warlord who first loomed over audiences in the 1977 "Star Wars" original.

"I think these three films are about the evolution of who we know as Darth Vader, and I guess now looking back on the other films you also have a different view of who he is," actor Samuel L. Jackson, who stars in the latest trilogy, told Reuters.

"We used to see him as just pure evil, because we didn't know that much about him. Now we know how he got to this particular place, so he seems more the tragic figure than an evil figure now."

REDEMPTION FOR LUCAS?

A casual search of the Internet shows how Star Wars fans often speak of the films in religious terms, so strong are the passions evoked by the galactic clash of Good and Evil.

Few would dare admit to being "heretics" in Cannes, but many have turned from fanatics to agnostics since the second trilogy began to be unveiled from 1999.

A slower storyline, heavy reliance on computer graphics and what has often been described as "wooden" acting by leading characters have seen the first two episodes panned by critics, even if commercially successful.

And so for Lucas, and his army of fans around the world, Sith is his final shot at redemption.

That is not to say Star Wars will disappear altogether. Comic books, television versions and other spinoffs are being planned that will continue to fill Lucas' coffers.

Star Wars has earned more than $3.5 billion at the box office and an estimated $9 billion in merchandise sales.

Fans and experts still hotly debate Star Wars' legacy on movies, but few would disagree that the films are among the most important to hit movie screens since World War II.

"Star Wars returned the idea of awe to the cinema," said film critic and author Mark Cousins. "Moviegoers are human beings and they should want to be thrilled," he told Reuters in Cannes.

Lucas succeeded in making the score a central part of the film and reinvented the special effects industry.

Yet he also created a commercial monster that has smashed box office records, leading many to hark back to the cinema days before "Jaws" and Star Wars, the ultimate blockbusters.

Director Paul Schrader once said the Lucas series "ate the heart and soul of Hollywood."

That will be far from the minds of the director, his cast and the thousands of fans who will be in Cannes, and elsewhere around the world, to mark the passing of a cinema phenomenon.
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