Soldiers of the Empire stand guard at the Festival Palace before the screening
of the latest Star Wars film in Cannes. Photograph: Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty
The republic is crumbling under attack from alien forces. Democracy is threatened as the leader plays on the people's paranoia. Amid the confusion it is suddenly unclear whether the state is in more danger from insurgents, or from the leader himself.
It sounds more like a Michael Moore polemic than a Star Wars movie. But George Lucas, speaking as his latest epic was given its world premiere at Cannes yesterday, confirmed that Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, could be read as a parable about American politics.
When he conceived his series of films in the 1970s, he says, he was thinking about Vietnam and Nixon, investigating "democracy, and how a senate could give itself over, could surrender itself to a dictator".
He found historical echoes down the ages. "I looked at ancient Rome, and how, having got rid of kings, the Senate ended up with Caesar's nephew as emperor ... how democracy turns itself into a dictatorship. I also looked at revolutionary France ... and Hitler.
"It tends to follow similar patterns. Threats from outside leading to the need for more control; democracy not being able to function properly because of internal squabbling."
"I hope that situation never arises in our country," he said. "Maybe the film will awaken people to this danger."
Asked whether Star Wars Episode III openly alluded to the Iraq war, he said: "When I wrote it Iraq didn't exist. We were funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We were going after Iran. But the parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we are doing in Iraq are unbelievable."
Lucas yesterday received, amid enormous hoopla, one of the highest honours Cannes can bestow: the Trophy of the Festival, which he was awarded on the world's largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2.
His film was screened out of competition at Cannes before its London premiere tonight. Lucas said: "I am happy the film doesn't have to compete , because it probably wouldn't win."
But he was bullish about the tepid critical reception of the more recent Star Wars films.
"I see it all as one movie; I don't pay much attention whether people like individual chapters or not," he said.
"There are two groups of fans for my films: one group over 25, and the other under 25. The people in their 30s and 40s love the first three, and they are in control of the media and the web.
"The more recent ones are fantastically adored by people under 25 and the devotion of each group is about equal ... but one group can express themselves more loudly than the others.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in 10 years when the younger group has grown older."
I always thought the Star Wars saga ("Long ago in a galaxy far away...") was secretly about modern times, and it is nice to see it confirmed from the "horse's mouth" as it were!