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Jake Lloyd doesn't fear the force of 'Star Wars' fame

Jake Lloyd plays the young Darth Vader in "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"

Web posted on: Monday, May 17, 1999 3:09:52 PM EDT

By Andy Culpepper
Turner Entertainment Report Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Never mind the special effects, the costumes, the music, the set design and the rest of the shooting match that is, was, and shall be "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

The fate of a galaxy far, far away rests on some rather diminutive shoulders. While the movie-making magic and relentless hype may produce a record box-office opening, it won't matter much if audiences don't warm to one person not yet seen by a generation of fans for whom George Lucas' space saga is a force.

Child actor Jake Lloyd and his teenage co-star Natalie Portman are in the unenviable position of being heirs to a franchise. The offspring of their characters are known to millions of moviegoers.

Natalie Portman plays the Queen Amidala

Skywalker and Amidala

Lloyd, 10, plays Anakin Skywalker, a slave boy who gains his freedom to begin training as a Jedi knight, a mythic warrior and guardian of all that's good in the "Star Wars" scheme of things. 17-year-old Portman plays the teen Queen Amidala, ruler of the imperiled, peaceful planet Naboo.

Their characters' destinies are known to most of us. Skywalker and Amidala will eventually become the parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia -- played by Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the first-released set of "Star Wars" films.

But young Lloyd's character, Anakin, has even more business ahead of him. In episodes still to be written, young Skywalker eventually undergoes a transformation: He'll fall prey to the Dark Side of the Force. In the process, he'll become known as the villainous Darth Vader, nemesis of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kenobi was played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Scottish actor Ewan McGregor takes on the character as a young man in this newest installment, "The Phantom Menace."

It might be reasonable to expect a modicum of panic to set in for a young actor finding himself taking on such weighty responsibility for the future of the "Star Wars" franchise.

Add to that overpowering legacy the fact that this latest feature arrives with more than 20 years of anticipation.

Make his day

If the attendant hoopla is cause for alarm, young Jake Lloyd seems not to know it.

Seated in a chair that seems to make him smaller than he is, Lloyd looks in person like a cross between Timmy of "Lassie" fame and Dennis the Menace.

Go ahead. Make his day. Ask him if he knows how important his role is.

"Oh, yeah," Lloyd says and nods vigorously. "Young Darth Vader, come on!" It's much more a statement than a question he utters, as if to say, "Duh."

"It's a very important part." Lloyd narrows his eyes.

But did he feel any slightest pressure making the movie?

The eyes become slits. "No. Well, I didn't feel any pressure because I was there with very supportive people so I didn't feel any pressure at all." Yes, he's only 10. No, he's not the latest droid from Lucasfilm Ltd.

Lloyd is a veteran of 1996 films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Jingle All The Way") and Gena Rowlands ("Unhook the Stars").

When Lucas sent out a casting call for Anakin Skywalker, Lloyd's agent submitted a picture of Lloyd, then 6. But the part required the character to be a kid of 8. Luck interceded and made Lloyd's agent seem prescient.

It took Lucas longer -- by several years -- to cast the part. Lloyd -- the son of industry parents -- grew into it. Did he think he had a prayer of getting the role coveted by every stage parent, agent and child star in Hollywood?

"Quite, honestly, no. But, with the help of my agent who can get me into anything...." The word is stretched out to three long syllables. "Yeah," he suddenly contradicts himself, "I did."

Theatrical preview for "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"
Windows Media 28K 80K

'Mannequin' Skywalker

If Lloyd has lived something of a charmed life and career to this point, his "Star Wars" experience away from the set hasn't been altogether positive. Early appraisals of his work from unnamed sources were less than kind. One story in a national publication referred to him as "Mannequin" Skywalker.

Time Magazine's recent review didn't make things seem much better. "The line readings of Portman and Lloyd are often flat, or flat-out wrong," writes critic Richard Corliss in the May 17 issue.

Lloyd reportedly took the initial sniping hard and took some teasing from classmates who got wind of the unflattering critiques.

But if the youngster has been affected negatively by the less-than-positive press, he doesn't show it. He has a stock reply, it seems, for anyone curious about the identity of his favorite "Star Wars" character.

He leans back in his chair. "Darth Vader, of course, "because he's evil, just like me." But before that remark can register, the youthful embodiment of Lord Vader does another 180. "Because he's a good guy," he corrects himself. "He killed the emperor. I think that's enough to redeem him," he says matter-of-factly, referring to Darth Vader's resolution in the original trilogy.

Jake's future

Lloyd's own destiny is somewhat less clear. While his character will be in each of the next two films to be made, Lloyd won't be playing the role.

Lucas and his team have already begun work on Episode Two, and it seems likely both it and Episode Three will be completed within the next four years. Lloyd simply will be too young to play the part which requires a teenage love interest for Portman's Queen Amidala.

Can Lloyd expect his life to go back to some semblance of what it was before all this "Star Wars" business began for him?

"It's gonna be the same, I hope," he begins, but then comes the assessment. "I don't really know. Nobody really knows until it happens."

Maybe he is a droid. Could anyone so young be so savvy? Does he talk this way all the time? "I'm like this a lot. But not all the time," Lloyd says. "I'm still a kid."

Ask him his favorite part of his "Star Wars" experience, and it's the kid who supplies the answer. "All of it."

And you believe it. No battle scars here, scripted or otherwise. Just ask him the hardest part of making this film, and you wonder if Lucas put him up to it. "Leaving the set," Lloyd says in earnest. "Four months with them. You guys are like family."

Maybe that's a reason, for the sometimes inexplicable appeal this saga has had over the years. Maybe family fealty is impetus enough for standing in line for weeks on end simply to be among the first to see the new film.

For better or worse, in Episode One, a 10-year-old towheaded kid named Jake will forever be this family's patriarch.

Try leaving that, kid.

Star Wars: Back to the Beginning

Star Wars Official Web Site
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