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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Lucas feels the Force
Lucas (left) and  Harrison Ford
Lucas (left) receives an award from Harrison Ford
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By Peter Bowes
in Los Angeles
line

The consensus among critics is that the Force has returned to director George Lucas.

His latest movie, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, has seemingly answered many of the criticisms levelled at his previous movie, The Phantom Menace.

The film, which is the second prequel to the original 1977 Star Wars, opens around the world on Thursday.

C3PO and R2-D2
Back at the farm: History repeats itself in Clones
Lucas, who started writing Episode III a month ago, dismisses the notion that Phantom Menace was a let down.

"That's a media perception," he says.

"I don't think I was off track - I loved that last movie and it was the most successful Star Wars film of all time."

He adds: "Sixty per cent of the reviews were great."

Lucas acknowledges that a hard core of fans will always be disappointed. He says their views receive more attention now that they can sound off on the internet.

Unpopular decisions

"Normally you'd have to go to a fan convention to hear all this stuff and nobody ever bothered," he explains.

Attack of the Clones is set 10 years after Phantom Menace. As an independent-minded director, who refuses to take a focus group approach to film-making, Lucas says he knew he had to make some unpopular decisions in setting the scene in Episode I.

Yoda
Yoda: Half-puppet, half-computer image
"I knew when I made the film that I was doing something that was not commercially wise - but I had a story to tell and to me this is one big movie. It's one 12-hour movie in six parts and it's a story," he explains.

"When I started with a nine-year-old boy I knew there's a certain core of fans that when you have a none-year-old hero - forget it.

"It suddenly becomes a Disney movie - they won't have anything to do with it."

Many Star Wars fans are proud to say that they have grown up with the movie - it has become part of their lives.

Lucas suggests such attitudes may explain why some have been disappointed with the prequels.

"It's harder for them to accept the fact that these are made for adolescents - they're movies for young people they're not movies for 30 year old and 40 year olds," he says.

'Abyss'

In Episode I, Jake Lloyd, played the role of Anakin Skywalker.


The key issue was to replicate Yoda

George Lucas
"I was telling a story about a nice kid who becomes a Jedi and later falls into the abyss," says Lucas.

"We knew we were taking a chance."

The director explains that in making Episode II it was easier to develop the character of Anakin when "the plot thickens".

He says he auditioned hundreds of young actors before settling on Hayden Christensen to take over the role.

Part of the selection process involved assessing the "chemistry" between Christensen and Natalie Portman who plays his forbidden love interest, Senator Padmé Amidala.

'Key issue'

"I needed an actor who could play the boyish young Anakin who is now the impatient, apprentice Jedi but still could carry off this dark side - to have the brooding fits of anger and that sort of thing," says Lucas.

A number of early reviews have praised the special effects in Episode II. Lucas says a key reason why he decided to "finish" the Star Wars movie was the opportunity to develop the characters digitally.

Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen
Annakin Skywalker shows his dark side
Initially, Lucas says disposing of puppets in Phantom Menace proved more difficult than he had expected.

"We weren't really able to accomplish the key issue which was to replicate Yoda - we got a long shot of him walking around but we ended up having to jump back to the puppet," he says.

"Everyone was working frantically in between the movies to get Yoda up to a level where he would look like the other Yoda.

"It's one thing to create a digital character from scratch but to take a puppet who we already know and everybody loves and you know every little nuance about that - to replicate that digitally was a huge huge challenge."

Such attention to detail appears to have paid off. Most critics agree that the little green Jedi master appears as a more agile and expressive computer-generated character than he was as a puppet.

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