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Jedi mind tricks

Fool even the biggest ''Star Wars'' fan into thinking you know your stuff with our handy guide to all things ''Phantom Menace''

You’ve got a life. You don’t have time to read the articles (except ours, of course), troll the websites, or make pilgrimages to drool-heavy conventions. So how do you survive the watercooler banter and mile-long ticket lines without sounding like a straight-off-the-speeder, outer-rim yahoo? Never fear: We’re geeks, so you don’t have to be. Here are some Phantom Menace talking points that’ll let you bluff your way into sounding like a Star Wars scholar.

— The name of Liam Neeson’s character, Qui-Gon Jinn, does not contain anything that sounds like key. It’s pronounced like Bridge-on-the-River-Kwai-gone. If you want to sound especially smart, casually refer to Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi as Qui-Gon’s Padawan learner. There are three levels of Jedi: Master, Knight, and the apprentice-level Padawan (the word Jedi itself is derived from the term jidai-geki, a Japanese period-film genre).

— Sagely note that appearing in the prequel won’t necessarily lead to Harrison Ford-style stardom. In fact, Carrie Fisher’s only feature film between Star Wars and Empire was — don’t everyone speak at once — Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video.

Episode I? So five minutes ago. Sound appropriately ahead of the curve by dropping this little nugget: While the bean counters roll naked in his millions, Lucas will be writing the next installment. Slated to begin shooting in June 2000 on digital film at Fox’s Sydney studios, episode II is expected in theaters by May 2002.

— Bitch about Lucasfilm allowing the soundtrack to go out on May 3 with titles that reveal, among other things, the death of a major character. Another complaint: The decision to release Terry Brooks’ novelization on the same day meant the whole plot was available to any loudmouthed dimwit with 25 bucks and a twisted urge to spoil the movie for anyone within earshot.

— Bust a ”been there, done that” and say that if you’ve seen the Ben-Hur chariot race, you’ve almost seen Jabba the Hutt’s ultrafast Tatooine pod race. It’s no fluke: The early ”moving storyboards” for the pod sequence were in part composed of shots from William Wyler’s 1959 classic.

— Tell friends not to blink during the pod race: Warwick Davis, Wicket in Return of the Jedi, pops up in a reaction shot on screen left. His cameo is one of several: Toward the end, when Queen Amidala meets Palpatine, scan right and find the guy in a floppy wide-brim hat — that’d be producer Rick McCallum. Sofia Coppola, daughter of Lucas’ buddy Francis Ford Coppola, shows up as the handmaiden Sache; her brother Roman plays one of the queen’s guards. According to casting director Robin Gurland, the siblings were cast by sheer good luck: ”They came to visit the set, and I said, ‘You wanna be in a movie? Come on in!”’

— Repeat after us: Natalie Portman didn’t have to have her legs digitally added after breaking her foot while shooting, and neither Joshua Jackson nor James Van Der Beek will play Anakin in episode II. After administering a verbal beat-down to any who try to peddle the above Web trash, dazzle ‘em with the latest hot rumor — that Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) will play the next Vader.

additional reporting by Steve Daly