Latest (and final?) 'Star Wars' episode brings galactic joy to young and old alike

A tent city has turned the Tinseltown mall into a plain on the planet Tatooine, maybe. Imperial Stormtroopers loll about insouciantly.

A brown-robed boy jumps into a clearing in the crowd brandishing a light saber. He throws off an Obi-Wan-Kenobi robe.

A boy wearing the black robe and drooping hood of Darth Maul does the same. Clad in tunics, the two fighters square off, weapons glowing.

Lunge, parry and the fight is on. Sweep, block, stab, lunge, cut, jump, punch.
— In their day jobs, Taylor Humphrey and Zach Pasche might be 11-year-old Ashland boys, but in a galaxy far, far away they are Jedi knights.

Several in the crowd acknowledge the Wednesday afternoon fight. They began gathering early Tuesday for today's 12:05 a.m. previews of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but the boys began working on their fighting six weeks ago.

We love 'Star Wars,' Taylor says.

We just started screwing around, Zach shrugs. Then we thought what if we could do these routines at the movie on opening day?

This is the last one, Taylor says.

Writer-director George Lucas has said Revenge of the Sith is the final Star Wars film. The third prequel, it takes the story of Anakin and Luke and Leia back to the start of the first film, 1977's A New Hope.

Taylor and Zach are among a dozen Ashland boys who will descend as a group on Tinseltown today in Star Wars costumes, all Jedi but for two Darth Vaders and a Yoda.

Also present are members of the 501st Stormtroopers, a fan group with a wide following, some clad in full galactic regalia. The group calls itself Vader's Fist.

Tinseltown manager Steve Rhaye welcomes such fans and has invited them to perform inside before shows.

Mike Humphrey, Taylor's dad, says the boys' real Star Wars fete ' Wednesday is a warm-up ' will begin after school this afternoon with pizza, then a stretch-limo ride to the movie.

When they walk in here they're going across the galaxy, Humphrey says. They're just jacked up. It's good versus evil, hero versus villain. I'm just along for the ride.

Taylor began making Star Wars videos at 8, writing dialogue and using models he bought and shooting at home.

Taylor and Zach recently picked costumes from a book about the making of the new film. Taylor's mom, Kathy McNichol, got aboard, and a seamstress friend helped with elaborate costumes.

Taylor and Zach took a workshop where they learned about fight choreography from Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Christopher DuVal in a Southern Oregon University youth program. DuVal worked with them on cues and timing and talked about safety. Fight scenes at OSF and elsewhere are very carefully choreographed, he told them.

The boys created four routines lasting up to half a minute each. In one, one gets killed. In another the other gets it. In the third they both get it, and in the big finale they string most of the moves together and both meet a big, Shakespearean end.

At Tinseltown it must all come together. Zach spins to block Taylor behind his back. Then Taylor leaps over Zach's sweeping weapon. The fight draws a small crowd.

Donny Biggs of Central Point nods approval. Biggs came with a group of 20 star warriors, guys and wives ranging in age from their mid-20s into their 30s.

They're pretty good, Biggs says.

The boys draw back, then jump into the next routine. The crowd grows. There are whoops and cheers as the boys whirl and leap.

Then there's a trip, and Zach is down, and Taylor gives him the coup de grace. The victor steps back with a flourish to a rousing cheer.

I don't think we had any screw-ups, Zach says in a quick postmortem.

Both boys smile. They know the sweet sound of applause now, and the force is strong in them.
A 'Star Wars' primer: that galaxy far, far away Star Wars (1977)

Started it all, with Luke Skywalker and his twin, Princess Leia, getting help from Han Solo to battle Darth Vader and save the galaxy. The full title was Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It was hailed for its ground-breaking special effects.

Closely following mythologist Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, the picture was one of the most successful ever released, making multi-millionaires out of writer/director George Lucas and actor Alec Guinness and establishing a franchise.

It was turned down by every Hollywood studio except 20th Century Fox. In a masterstroke, Lucas asked for not a lot of money, but final cut, a piece of the gross, all future episodes and merchandising. Good idea.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Luke, Han and Leia continue to battle Vader and the Empire, and Vader drops the bombshell that he's Luke's father. Lucas made up huge cost overruns out of his own pocket. The picture proved there was a public for the franchise. It was the biggest-grossing movie of the year. Darker than its predecessor, it was praised for its more natural acting.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

(1983) pushes the cute meter off the scale, introducing the cuddly Ewoks. But it restored balance in the galaxy and redeemed the Force. It marked the apparent end of the highly successful series, although Lucas talked loosely about a prequel.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

(1999) marked the start of a three-movie prequel about the times before Episode IV (the first movie, right?). Although the picture was a huge success, some felt a waver in the Force for the first time.

Consider: TPM focused on a trade dispute and congressional wangling; it had the annoying Jar-Jar Binks; and although the special effects were revolutionary, it lost the Oscar for effects to The Matrix. It even came under attack for revealing there was a scientific explanation for the Force. Who knew?

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

(2002), perhaps the most eagerly awaited movie since Gone With the Wind, was the first film to shoot its action scenes in high-definition. It was the first film in the series to not be the box office champion (losing to Spider-Man).

Palpatine's climb to power reminded people of Hitler. Anakin got a mechanical hand. The galaxy learned what a Geonosian execution is all about. Critics carped about the Anakin-Padm? relationship, but applauded the downsizing of Jar-Jar.

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

brings the saga back to where we came in. The Clone Wars end, Obi-Wan Kenobi chases the remaining separatists, Chancellor Palpatine proclaims himself Emperor, a war is fought for no good reason, Anakin Skywalker gives in to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader, Padm? goes into hiding, and the Skywalker twins are sent into hiding.

Critics are being kinder to the film than 2002's Attack of the Clones. Roger Ebert called it a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series.

Others have chafed at the dialogue (rumor has it polished by playwright Tom Stoppard) and the characters. Peter Travers, in Rolling Stone, wrote Sith is a stiff, brought down by that special knack Lucas has of turning flesh-and-blood actors into cardboard cutouts.