May the Force be with you

. . . because it probably won't be a part of the prequel.

"Every generation has a legend. . . . Every journey has a first step. . . . Every saga has a beginning." Cue John Williams' swelling symphony. Picture a vaulted marbled palace, a majestic young queen, and an innocent blond 8-year-old boy who will grow up to be Darth Vader.

Star Wars: The Phantom

Menace' trailer

written and directed by George Lucas

starring Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor

Pacific Place Cinema

Last Tuesday in selected theaters, before selected movies, advertised only on the official Star Wars Web site, Lucas Films released a one-day-only sneak peek at the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Episode I, in what will eventually be the nine-part "Skywalker" series. The 11am screening of Meet Joe Black at the luscious new Pacific Place Cinema was packed with prequel fanatics who cheered all the way through the two-minute clip and cleared the theater as soon as it was over.

I'm happy to report that the trailer was a bit disappointing. It's an unwritten Hollywood rule to pack as many expensive special effects into a preview as possible, and this spot was jammed with explosions and computer-generated aliens. If there were one film in the history of movie publicity that doesn't need to sell itself with high-tech hype, it's this one. Worse yet, some of the special effects, especially some of the new alien creatures, seem obviously animated, not unlike several of the Jurassic Park's too-clean and saccharin dinos.

The Menace trailer packs in its stars: Liam Neeson as a venerable Jedi Knight, Samuel L. Jackson as a rebel/ally, Natalie Portman as the young and noble queen (future mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia), and Ewan McGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Portman is the only one who packs a punch, dressed in formal regalia and whiteface, like some mystical geisha. The saga's true protagonists, the only characters who appear in all nine Star Wars chapters, R2-D2 and C-3P0, barely make an appearance.

Lucas would have been much wiser to take advantage of his hold on Star Wars fans by offering a measured introduction to the 8-year-old Jake Lloyd, on whose shoulders the entire series rests as the young Anakin Skywalker, future lover of the Queen, father of Luke and Leia, Yoda disciple, and eventual prince of the dark side, Darth Vader.

There's too much anticipation for this film; it's destined to disappoint. The preview, released a full six months ahead of opening night, is letting me down easy.

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