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Tour de Force

Canadian actor and Star Wars fan Charles Ross brings the first three movies to the stage in a comic, one-geek show.

Published August 18, 2005

NEW YORK - When George Lucas released the first of his three Star Wars prequel movies six years ago, some fans grumbled that the special effects masked a lack of character development and plot that took away from the heart of his original intergalactic fairy tale from the 1970s.

Star Wars purists will truly appreciate Charles Ross, who brings his show to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Nov. 1-6. The Canadian actor, starring in the One-Man Star Wars Trilogy at the Lamb's Theatre off-Broadway, brings Lucas' three original films back to life in about as low-tech a way as possible. Ross embodies all the characters and provides his own sound effects for the light sabers, spaceships and lasers - cramming all three films into an hour's worth of high-energy, often immensely comical entertainment.

Ross is a self-described Star Wars geek who has acknowledged seeing the first film in the series some 400 times (it seems likely it was even more). His impersonations, therefore, are dead-on, particularly his chirpy, robotic C-3PO, his whistling R2-D2 and his very James Earl Jonesian Darth Vader. Even casual fans of the movies will recognize some of the more obscure references, such as his take on the long-legged AT-AT Walkers that attack the Rebels on the planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

However, for those who haven't seen the movies, beware. You will be lost.

Ross provides little in the way of narration to accompany his lightning-paced recreations of the movies, so plot lines sometimes blur and characters seem to morph into one another. Also, in his zeal to make the action scenes lifelike, he occasionally comes off as a tiresome, "look-at-me-watch-me-now!" child, with exploding bombs and whizzing lasers combining to create an awful cacophony.

This is really a minor complaint, though. For all the screeching and diving on the floor, there are equal measures of cutting satire that only a self-professed Star Wars geek could write. Ross is especially brutal in his impersonation of Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, turning him into an overly earnest, slightly prissy antihero. Princess Leia is a clueless shrew. And Han Solo is clearly oversexed, grabbing himself and saying "Schwing!" (one of Mike Myers' famous lines from Wayne's World) when he kisses the princess.

Ross plays up the sometimes corny dialogue from the movies. He throws in his own lines at times, including the observation Luke makes when Darth Vader (whose voice in the films was provided by Jones, a black actor) finally takes off his helmet and reveals himself to his son: "I thought you were black," Luke says deadpan.

Were it not for moments such as these, the One-Man Star Wars Trilogy would probably have difficulty rising beyond being a novelty piece. If anything, a retrospective look at such a pop culture phenomenon almost demands more satire to maintain its interest.

After all, it reinforces that film characters that have reached iconic status are also fallible, sometimes badly written and overacted.

[Last modified August 17, 2005, 13:17:02]

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