The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Lucas hard at work on
'Episode II' in Australia


July 27, 2000
By Franklin Harris

While you were sleeping, George Lucas was hard at work in Australia. What he was doing -- apart from filming that next installment of the "Star Wars" saga, of course -- is anyone's guess. And while plenty of die-hard fans are guessing, the hype this time around is conspicuously lacking. So far.

George Lucas
George Lucas
Ignore the wild rumors floating around on the Internet, and all you have are a few tidbits of information, judiciously offered at the official "Star Wars" Web site, www.starwars.com.

First, we have someone new in the role of Anakin Skywalker, the boy destined to become Darth Vader.

Jake Lloyd, the insufferable little moppet with the bowl haircut from "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," is gone. In his place is 19-year-old Canadian actor Hayden Christensen, whom you probably didn't see in the Fox Family Channel series "Higher Ground."

Back this time around are Ewan McGreggor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala, Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine and most of the supporting characters like Yoda (Frank Oz) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).

Unfortunately, Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is back, too, and probably not to die in a gruesome and painful manner.

"Star Wars" fans can also look forward to an appearance by a young Boba Fett, but who will be playing the ruthless bounty hunter is still a mystery.

Then there are the new faces.

Lucas has put together a supporting cast made up largely of Australian locals. For instance, Owen and Beru Lars, Luke Skywalker's ill-fated uncle and aunt from the first -- or is that fourth? -- "Star Wars," will be played by Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse, respectively.

Probably the most exciting casting news is that Christopher Lee will appear in "Star Wars: Episode II" as a yet-to-be-named character, described online as a "charismatic separatist."

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee
Lee has been busy of late. He recently returned from New Zealand, where he played the role of the evil wizard Saruman in director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Before that, he had a small but memorable part in Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow."

That's not bad for a man in his 70s.

Lee is best known for his portrayals of Dracula in a series of movies for Hammer Films in the '50s, '60s and '70s.

(Dracula's nemesis in three of those films, Dr. Van Helsing, was played by the late Peter Cushing, who, of course, played Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope.")

But Lee's casting isn't the biggest surprise so far. That would be Lucas' decision, announced on July 13, to cast former "N.Y.P.D. Blue" star Jimmy Smits -- yes, that Jimmy Smits -- in what appears to be a key role in the new trilogy.

Jimmy Smits
Jimmy Smits
Smits is playing Bail Organa, Princess Leia's adopted father.

While he doesn't actually appear in the 1977 film, Organa is mentioned as the leader of the planet Alderaan, which Tarkin and Vader blow up with the Death Star.

Two weeks after the announcement that he was joining the cast, starwars.com reports that Smits has wrapped his scenes and departed Australia. So, either Lucas works fast -- and certainly no one has ever accused Lucas of possessing anything like the obsessive attention to detail of, say, an Orson Wells or a Stanley Kubrick -- or Smits is falling prey to what I call Terrence Stamp Syndrome.

Terrence Stamp is a great actor who will probably always be best remembered for his scene-chewing turn as General Zod in "Superman II." When Lucasfilm Ltd. announced that Stamp was to be in "Episode I," fans were elated.

Then the film came out, and we learned that Stamp had all of three minutes of screen time. What a waste.

Of course, wasting Smits like that wouldn't be as big a crime. Smits is an Emmy-winning actor, but he isn't in Stamp's league. Plus, Smits has never demonstrated much presence in his few theatrical outings. He's fine on the TV screen, but on the big screen, he's boring.

And speaking of quick finishes, another big star, Samuel L. Jackson, has completed everything but his fight sequences, which he'll return to film in August.

Jackson reprises his role as Mace Windu, the laid-back -- dare I say, "dull?" -- Jedi Master from "The Phantom Menace."

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