August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

CHEWBACCA CAUGHT IN EWOK LOVE TRYST! BEN KENOBI CHECKS IN TO TATOOINE REHAB! STAR WARS PREQUEL DELAYED: IT’S OUT OF FOCUS! Well, okay, only one of these rumors about George Lucas‘ long-awaited Star Wars: Episode I (due next May) has really been making the rounds. The point is, we’ve been noticing a bunch of persistent made-for-tabloid stories being bandied about everywhere from the legitimate press to fanzines to the Internet. Which leads to the question, What’s idle gossip and what’s the real story? So we checked it out. Here, then, the truth about the prequel.

GOSSIP Forty percent of Episode I was blurry. Lucas catapulted over budget (to $115 million) trying to correct the mistake.
REALITY? Lucasfilm spokeswoman Lynne Hale clears the air: ”Anybody who’s seen the footage knows it’s not true. The amusing part is to think that we just noticed it was out of focus. I mean, we completed the majority of principal photography last year!” Hale also denies the inflated-budget rumor. And Tom Sherak, chairman of Twentieth Domestic Film Group, which will distribute the prequel, labels the story pure fiction. ”There’s not even a kernel of truth to this,” he says.

GOSSIP In a nifty bit of historical bookending, Steven Spielberg — a Lucas buddy and one of the few early supporters of the original Star Wars — was shown a rough assemblage of the film and came out spellbound. His response: ”Oh, my God!”
REALITY? Does a Wookiee have hair? A spokesperson for Spielberg’s DreamWorks says that not only is the story true, but the director ”also said he wouldn’t want to be the guy [releasing a film] either a month ahead or a month after the movie.” Point taken. While it was rumored that Paramount’s Beavis and Butt-head II would go up against the prequel next May, the studio now says it has nothing currently slated to open on Memorial Day ’99. Neither does any other major studio.
GOSSIP To stem press leaks, Lucasfilm security has achieved Nixonian levels of paranoia: shredding office documents and wiring parts of the Skywalker Ranch with devices to eavesdrop on employees.
REALITY? And Jabba the Hutt’s on Sugar Busters! Of course, many standard security measures have been taken (i.e., the film’s stars and crew have signed confidentiality agreements), but Hale denies such extreme vigilance. Recently, she went so far as to offer a tour of the postproduction facilities to prove it. ”Sure, we have proprietary software, and we don’t exactly let [public] tours go right through ILM [Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas’ visual-effects house],” says Hale, ”but we haven’t instituted any of those things. It makes for a good story, though.”

GOSSIP The first trailer for the prequel would accompany the X-Files movie (it didn’t). Now fan sites are buzzing that it will hit theaters around Halloween.
REALITY? Turns out this treat’s a trick too. ”We thought it was funny when everybody said ‘It’s in the front of X-Files!”’ laughs Sherak. ”We didn’t tell anybody that. The thing is, people know Star Wars, so there’s no urgent rush to release anything. But it’s not about secrecy. In no way are we trying to take the tack that Sony took with Godzilla.” Sherak declines to comment on when a first trailer will be released, saying that the marketing plan for the prequel won’t be complete until sometime in the fall. A trailer seems likely in early ’99.

Action Adventure,
134 minutes
Jake Lloyd,
Ahmed Best,
Brian Blessed,
Anthony Daniels,
Ian McDiarmid,
Ray Park,
Terence Stamp
20th Century Fox Film Corporation

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