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Cannes #4: Aboard starship 'Sith'

CANNES, France -- The Force was with us Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival. So was the Queen. The Queen Mary 2 anchored Saturday in the Cannes harbor, making the yachts of the millionaires look like bathtub toys. Sunday we were piped aboard to celebrate the Cannes premiere of "Star Wars," and George Lucas was presented with the Medal of the Festival.

Lucas is here for the world premiere of "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," which played twice Sunday on the vast screen of the Theater Lumiere in the Palais des Festivals. There is no larger screen in the world, no better sound, no hipper audience, and the ticket scalpers in front of the Palais ("Invitation, monsieur?") were so eager they could have eaten Sith for breakfast.

The event on the QM2 was more elegant on the part of the ship than on the part of its guests, a ravenous mob of paparazzi who descended on the buffet in the Queen's Room as if they had not seen a decent meal since moving out from under the roofs of their parents many years ago. Two dozen or more chefs presided over buffet tables groaning with the fruits of the sea, the creatures of the forest, the fowl of the air, the eggs of the fish, the legs of the crabs and the cheese of the cows. Gigantic pastry sculptures immortalized Yoda, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and the immaculately groomed ship's officers stood at attention about the room like a field test of starch.

After the press corps had gorged itself on caviar, we staggered down to the ship's theater, wiping sour cream off our Nikon straps and elbowing each other for front row seats at the presentation ceremony. Alas, all of the front row seats were reserved for "Official Cunard Photographers," of whom eight appeared to be expected. Photographers condemned to the third row were bitter and gloomy until supermodel Eva Herzigova came in and sat down in the fourth row. Then they were so ecstatic you would have thought she was Chewbacca.

George Lucas entered only 20 minutes late, which is so early at Cannes it is gauche. He was wearing blue jeans, a plaid shirt, a sports coat and a silver-tipped cowboy belt, and looked every inch the master of Skywalker Ranch. He was called onstage by the Commodore of the QM2 and by Thierry Fremaux, the delegue artistique of the festival, and Veronique Cayla, the directrice generale.

They introduced a film in which Gilles Jacob, the president of the festival, stood atop the Palais with the QM2 in the background and remembered the first time he met Lucas, in San Francisco in 1972. Jacob said he did not remember which of the two of them had been the most shy, but it reminded him that Stanley Kubrick sometimes drove up in front of the houses of his friends, talked to them on his cell phone, and then drove away "without seeing a single person." I was not sure about the purpose of this anecdote, but I was happy to hear it.

Lucas was then given the Medal of the Festival, which in the past has gone to a select few, including Max Von Sydow, Jeanne Moreau, Sean Penn, Alain Resnais, Gong Li, Gregory Peck and Melanie Griffith. (One would love to see them gathered for Scrabble.) He made a speech recalling that when he was at Cannes in 1971 with his "THX 1138" he signed a contract for the first "Star Wars," so it was appropriate that he had returned here for the sixth and final film.

Back ashore, I turned to view the magnificent ship one final time. It was a thrilling sight, although yesterday I saw a triple-length bright red Mini Cooper stretch limousine, and that was not only thrilling but hilarious. You should have seen all those big spenders in tuxedoes, hunched defiantly inside.

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