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Next ‘Star Wars’ may have ‘the force’

Veteran horror star Christopher Lee adds excitement

SHARE Next ‘Star Wars’ may have ‘the force’

Quick, someone shoot me down before I get too excited about this.

As you may or may not be aware, like many of my fellow critics, I was not the biggest fan in the world of the first "Star Wars" prequel, "The Phantom Menace." But there's definitely reason to have hope for the next one.

"Star Wars" universe creator George Lucas finally admitted that he may need help in the story department and recruited screenwriter Jonathan Hales (TV's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles") to lend a hand on the script for the upcoming prequel, which has finally started shooting Down Under.

And then there's the casting, which may be even more of a cause for celebration.

Admittedly, Lucas (who's directing, big surprise) already has a good returning cast to work with, which will include stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson.

He's also made a few intriguing additions. Lucasfilm Ltd. has already confirmed the casting of Canadian actor Hayden Christensen as the now teenage Anakin Skywalker and Emmy-winning actor Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa (whom "Star Wars" fanatics will recognize as being Princess Leia's adoptive father).

British stage actor Joel Edgerton has been confirmed as playing Owen Lars (Luke Skywalker's ill-fated Uncle Owen from "Star Wars: A New Hope"), Aussie actress Bonnie Piesse is playing Beru (Luke's similarly doomed Aunt Beru) and Maori actor Temuera Morrison will play an as-yet-unnamed bounty hunter.

But the most exciting newcomer of the bunch thus far — stress the thus far part, since the full cast hasn't been disclosed yet — is that of veteran British actor Christopher Lee, whose character has been cryptically described as "a charismatic separationist."

I'm not exactly sure what that means, but the Hammer horror-film veteran (best known for his take on the Dracula character) is playing a villain, and that's good enough for me.

Meanwhile, the Internet gossip sites are still reporting that actors Christopher Walken and Gabriel Byrne may be involved in the movie as well, possibly as a Sith lord and Jedi master, respectively.

You know, if the script's anything approaching good, this could turn out to be a goof-proof film for Lucas, who has a lot to prove . . . to the critics at least.

(And before anyone points this out, I'm well aware that Ahmed Best and his ultra-annoying, on-screen alter-ego, Jar Jar Binks, will be back as well. Do we dare hope for a quick-and-painful death?)

WELL, DUH! Movie industry analysts are having a hard time figuring out why this summer's movie season, which was predicted to be one of the biggest and most competitive in box-office history, has fizzled.

Though a handful of movies that have already reached or seem destined to reach the magical $200 million mark — including "Mission: Impossible 2," "Gladiator" and possibly "X-Men" and "Scary Movie" — few have been outright smashes.

(By the way, for those wondering why $200 million has become the new industry standard of success instead of $100 million, consider this — at least a fourth of the movies coming out of Hollywood these days cost at least $100 million, meaning they need to make nearly twice that just to recoup their total costs.)

There are a couple of easy answers staring them right in the face. For one thing, there's been no one film that has captured the moviegoing public's imagination, no "Phantom Menace," no "Men in Black."

Then there's the even more obvious, even more truthful answer — it hasn't been a very good summer for movies.

Think about it. How many of this summer's films will be worth revisiting in future years? How many of them would you actually buy on video or DVD and watch with your children and grandchildren?

(And no, that doesn't include a sure-to-be camp classic like the awful "Battlefield Earth," which will stand as an example of moviemaking incompetence and celebrity egomania run wild.)

Of course, if the industry would just bother to make movies about interesting characters and situations and less about special effects and gimmicks, people would probably go in droves. But that's a little too easy, isn't it?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It seems like today it's all about young people in movies. I'm not a gazillionaire, so it would be naive to just check out. Or, pretend like (I'm) going to be in demand for the rest of my life." — Twentysomething actress Natasha Lyonne, telling Entertainment Weekly why she opted not to go to college as yet.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com