OK, "Star Wars" fans. You can stop holding your breath. George Lucas has made it official.

The lead story on the front page of Variety this week, under the headline "The Force Is With Him," says Lucas is back on track with the next "Star Wars" trilogy.In case you've forgotten, Lucas made "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" as the middle trilogy of a proposed nine-film saga. In other words, we've seen episodes "IV"-"VI."

Next up are episodes "I"-"III," which will comprise a three-film prequel, relating events that lead up to the 1977 film we know as "Star Wars."

No word on casting or any specific storylines, although Lucas has said in the past that the only two characters who will remain unchanged in all nine movies are those lovable, squabbling robots, R2D2 and C3PO. And since he has not directed a movie since "Star Wars" in 1977, it is assumed Lucas will not take the reins for these.

What's more, Lucas is still waffling a bit, saying that although the scripts are not yet written the three movies will be filmed simultaneously over the next four years. He stops short, however, of outlining a possible release pattern for the trilogy.

Presumably, this four-year deadline means he is aiming for 1997, which would be the 20th anniversary of the first "Star Wars" movie. If he doesn't speed up the pace a bit, it will be 2017 - and Lucas will be 73 years old! - before we see the final trio in this series.

In recent years, Lucas has spent a good deal of his time expanding his Industrial Light and Magic special-effects business, with moves into video games and television.

His efforts to bring down movie production costs through the use of digital effects is said to be one of the reasons he has delayed gearing up for the rest of the "Star Wars" films. Lucas doesn't want the cost of making those movies to soar to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" levels. ("Terminator 2" may be the most expensive film ever made, with a negative cost speculated to be in the $80 million range - before advertising and promotional expenses!)

Variety also reports that Lucas' "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" TV series was in part a laboratory designed to showcase experimental special effects. (The program was canceled by the ABC network, but it won an Emmy for digital matting.)

One of Lucas' primary goals is to bring digitized backgrounds to such a level that when blended with live action they will offer movie audiences a seamless, realistic appearance, so that the movies may be shot in a controlled environment, without having to worry about weather and other problems that accompany films shooting on location. It worked well for "Young Indy" but is apparently not yet at a point where it will work for theatrical films.

"I'm trying to advance the technology to a point where a film like `Star Wars' becomes feasible," Lucas told Variety.

As a result, he has refrained from starting work on the scripts until he can see where he will be in terms of effects.

But he'll have to start soon if he's to maintain that four-year deadline for three new "Star Wars" films.

The capper to all this is that Lucas will be rolling in dough if they achieve any part of the success of the earlier films. According to Variety, Lucas himself owns the franchise lock, stock and barrel. He doesn't even have to go back to 20th Century Fox as the distribution agency if he gets a better offer elsewhere.

- AS IF THAT'S NOT enough, Lucas also told Variety he is preparing to produce another new "Indiana Jones" movie, with Harrison Ford back as the archaeologist in the leather jacket and fedora, and with Steven Spielberg once again in the director's seat.

You may recall that when "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" was released, Spielberg, Ford and Lucas all said it was indeed the last crusade.

In June of 1989, Ford told the Deseret News, "I think it's reasonable to get out while you're ahead. The three of us (Lucas, Spielberg and Ford) agreed from the beginning to do three, if we could all agree on the scripts. And we did three (films) and were well-served by the idea. And now I think it's time to get out and do something else."

But Ford added later in the interview, "If they (Lucas and Spielberg) were to come together and decide to do another one I would likely be interested, depending on whether or not the script pleased me."

The script isn't finished yet but the idea apparently pleased him.

What is that idea? Who knows? But Jeb Stuart, one of the screenwriters on Ford's current hit, "The Fugitive," has been hired by Lucas to write it. (Stuart also co-wrote "Die Hard.")

No word yet on the story, the time frame or other characters.

Could Sean Connery also be coming back as Indy's dad?

Stay tuned.

- MEANWHILE, LUCAS IS also involved in at least two other theatrical ventures, "Radioland Murders," a low-budget romantic murder mystery set at a radio station in 1939, and "Red Tails," about a black Air Force unit in World War II. "Radioland" starts shooting in November, while "Red Tails" is scheduled to begin production next year.

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Robert De Niro, whose next acting assignment will be opposite Kenneth Branagh in the umpteenth adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein":

"He's going to play the doctor. I'm playing the other guy."

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Sophia Loren, whose many famous films include "Two Women" (for which she won the best actress Oscar), "Boy on a Dolphin" and "El Cid," talking about sexism in Hollywood:

"I'm the same generation as Robert Redford, but his films came later. Even Robert De Niro is only a little younger, and Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.

"There always seems to be a lack of good ideas, a lack of good stories, particularly for women. Somehow, men always manage to put together a story that can work for them."