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DEAR MR. FANTASY

George Lucas with ''Star Wars'' scoop -- Mr. Fantasy spills the beans about Darth Vader in ''Episode III,'' the saga's future on TV, and how Han Solo isn't a murderer

As the whole moviegoing world knows by now, George Lucas grew up on cliff-hanger movie serials, so it's especially momentous that the 60-year-old writer-director-technological innovator is at last about to wrap up all of the plot threads and close the book on a three-decade phase of his career that he still, surprisingly, refers to as a ''detour.'' This week brings the long-awaited arrival of the revised (he prefers ''completed'') editions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on DVD, with retoolings that will delight many fans and frustrate some film preservationists. At the same time, a double-disc edition of Lucas' first film, 1971's dark, dystopian THX 1138, in which Lucas directed a young Robert Duvall, offers buffs a chance to see a considerably grimmer vision of a George Lucas future world and get a taste of the semi-abstract experimental filmmaking that he once expected would define his career. And next May 19 will bring the release of Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, the movie that finally reveals just how and why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, and is likely to push the Star Wars franchise's worldwide grosses close to the $4 billion mark. On a recent visit to New York City during which Lucas, his early boss Francis Ford Coppola, and his THX 1138 coscreenwriter -- sound designer Walter Murch reunited to celebrate THX's rerelease, Lucas sat down with EW to talk about Star Wars' past, present, and future.

EW What's the line between restoring a film and altering it? Obviously, the versions of the Star Wars Trilogy and THX 1138 on DVD go far beyond what we saw in theaters.

GL Film is so expensive, and it's run by corporations. They just take it away from you, and it's frozen in time at the point where it got yanked out of your hands. I've been lucky enough to be able to go back and say ''No, I'm going to finish this the way it was meant to be finished.'' When Star Wars came out, I said it didn't turn out the way I wanted -- it's 25 percent of what I wanted it to be. It was very painful for me. So the choice came down to, do I please myself and [finally] make the movie that I wanted, or do I allow the audience to see the half-finished version that they fell in love with?

If you really look at it, there's hardly any changes at all. The thing that really caused the trouble on Star Wars is the whole question of whether Han Solo or Greedo shoots first. The way it got cobbled together at the time, it came off that [Han] fired first. He didn't fire first.

EW So you consider this a correction?

GL It's a correction. [When I made Star Wars] I said, ''Well, I don't have that shot, so I'll just, you know, fudge it editorially.'' In my mind [Greedo] shot first or at the same time. We like to think of [Han Solo] as a murderer because that's hip -- I don't think that's a good thing for people. I mean, I don't see how you could redeem somebody who kills people in cold blood. Every [other change] is, you know, I wanted to have a good matte painting here.

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