May the 4th Be with You

"Actually thinking about cutting costs is a scary concept for a lot of studios," McCallum continues, "and especially a lot of stars. But we're not inhabiting that mental landscape at all. We don't have the highest-paid behind-the-scenes talent. We have everybody who worked on Young Indy. This is their shot to make their names and then go off and make as much money as they want to. But somebody else is going to have to pay them for that, not us." The same philosophy is likely to apply to the trilogy's on-screen talent, who collectively are unlikely to approach the $20 million paycheck that Jim Carrey got for The Cable Guy.

Perhaps the Star Wars prequels' most inspired time- and money-saving innovation is the way they'll exploit the time difference between Watford, England, and San Rafael, Calif., where Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic effects shop is headquartered. The Leavesden studio has been wired with fiber-optic cables and satellite transmission facilities. As each day's filming wraps, the footage can be instantly beamed to ILM. Digital effects artists will start working while the actors and director sleep across the Atlantic. "That way, we should be able to squeeze six, seven months out of the production process without going into enormous rounds of very expensive overtime," says McCallum.

If the profit margins prove big enough once the prequels hit theaters, Lucas may never have to go overseas again. He's likely to plow some of his earnings into an ambitious $87 million expansion of his Skywalker Ranch, nestled unobtrusively in the hills of Marin County. The proposals call for a facility that would provide Lucas with his lifelong dream — the first one-stop-shopping digital film-production center. A county board unanimously approved the project last fall; then a homeowners' group brought a lawsuit against it. Now the suit has been dropped, but with Lucas gearing up to direct, construction on the complex — which will take up only 3 percent of a 3,391-acre expanse — probably won't get under way for a few years.

Of course, the project's most crucial public referendum won't come until Memorial Day, 1999, when the world gets a look at Lucas' new vision and judges whether the Force is still with him. Few doubt that it will be — and some are even predicting that the film's arrival will be heralded by the first-ever $100 million opening weekend. And wouldn't that be a nicely symbolic figure? After all, teeming columns of ones and zeros are the very things that ILM's super-powerful graphics computers use as the basis for all their information storage. To Lucas, though, they're more than just something to laugh with all the way to the memory banks. They're the bricks and mortar of what promises to be a new order in 21st-century filmmaking. Talk about sticking it to the Empire.


Casting Calls

LIAM NEESON A Jedi master who mentors his fellow knights