Excitement Mounts for Final 'Star Wars'

In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Che la Forza sia con te." What? The Jedi master speaks Italian? Of course. And Chinese. And French, and an array of other languages that have enabled him and the rest of the characters from the "Star Wars" galaxy far, far away to conquer movie-goers here on Earth.

Around the world, this week's opening of the final episode in George Lucas' (search) sci-fi series — "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" (search) — is eagerly awaited.

In Stockholm, fans camped out for days for early tickets that sold out in less than an hour after the box office opened. In Milan, Italy, fans dressed in Star Wars costumes paraded on a soccer pitch to seek donations for children's hospitals.

The world mania has snowballed since the first Star Wars film in 1977, and the series has ridden globalization and the creep of English terms into foreign languages.

Over the years, as the characters have become more familiar from Buenos Aires to Beijing and beyond, they have undergone at times strange transformations.

In Italy, 'droids C-3PO and R2-D2 had different names during the first trilogy: respectively D-3BO and C1-P8. As their international fame grew, the combative pair are now called by their English names.

In France, Chewbacca was first known as "Chique-Tabac" (literally Chew Tobacco). But he's plain old Chewbacca now.

Some changes have stuck: In Italy, Darth Vader is "Darth Fener." To the French, he's "Dark Vador."

"'Darth Vader' is impossible to say in French," said Patrice Giroud, an organizer of a three-day Star Wars convention in Paris over the weekend that was billed as the first of its kind in Europe.

To the Germans, Yoda remains "Jedi-Meister Yoda." The Swedes call the series "Stjarnornas Krig." In Chinese, the latest episode is known as "Xisi de Fanji."

Britons were treated to an early premiere Monday, capping back-to-back showings of the previous films in the series at a Leicester Square cinema. Tickets to the marathon screening sold out in minutes, and cost up to 250 pounds (US$460) each.

A crowd packed the square in central London for a chance to spot director George Lucas and stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, who were attending the premiere Monday night.

The level of fan frenzy varies partly on when countries gained access to the series — and partly on government willingness to open up to Hollywood.

For example, ticket sales have been only average in the Czech Republic — beyond Hollywood's orbit while a former Soviet bloc state. The movies were shown there only after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

In authoritarian China, which has a policy of promoting homegrown films, few newspapers have talked about the upcoming release. The official Xinhua news agency's Internet site, picking up a Chinese newspaper report, said last month that 300 copies were going to China — 200 of them in English. The report said it was the first time that the number of Chinese copies had been eclipsed by English ones.

Even France — which has resisted the invasion of English terms and Hollywood's expanding influence — has fallen under the spell. All three major dailies featured front-page photos of Star Wars characters Monday.

"Whatever the language, you could plop down a child in front of a Star Wars film and he'd be thrilled just by the music, sound and images alone," said Giroud, editor of LucasFilm magazine, a French bimonthly which claims sales of 50,000 copies each edition. "Star Wars is for everybody."

One French television network has been broadcasting the five previous episodes each week.

Whether for the French — "Que la Force soit avec toi", Italians — "Che la Forza sia con te" or Portuguese — "Que a Forca esteja contigo", the translations of "May the Force be with you" are known to many.

In Ireland, supermarkets spruced window displays with Star Wars toys or masks designed to make kids sound like a breathy Darth Vader. On one Dublin playground, kids battled with toy light sabers received in a cereal box promotion.

In Australia, a dozen stormtroopers were to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge to the city's famed Opera House Wednesday ahead of the first screening there.

Some fans worry about being perceived as fanatics.

"I don't build my life around it," said Romain Berteau, who was dressed as a Jedi at the Paris convention. "We like Star Wars like some people like cars. It's not like they'll always sleep in the garage."

Don't tell that to the kids, though.

"This will be the best Star Wars ever," said Gavin Dowling, a 7-year-old in Dublin, where tickets have been on sale for the last month. "It's going to be a lot bigger."