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Darth Vader in Wilson for 'Phantom' Premiere

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WILSON — Star Wars fans are not the only ones bombarding movie theaters on the opening day of"Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

Darth Vader himself caused quite a scene in Wilson when he showed up to see the latest installment of the Star Wars series.

So what did the "Dominator of the Dark Side" think of the film?

Dave Prowse said he likes the new movie, and just after midnight Wednesday morning, he watched it for the first time with hundreds of fans in Wilson.

The man who started the phenomenon is still in the middle of the action.

"It was like d&#233j&#224 vu. I mean it was like seeing 'Star Wars' over again, going back 22 years," said Prowse.

The actor who is the centerpiece of the Star Wars phenomenon is not in New York or Los Angeles for opening day.

Dave Prowse is in Wilson.

Dave who?

Prowse. He is the real Darth Vader -- not the voice. That was James Earl Jones.

Prowse was the actor in the costume. He was in North Carolina to visit friends, and decided to take in the new film during his visit.

"I really felt sort of pangs of jealousy over that fact that I wasn't in the movie," said Prowse. "I would love to have had one, even if it was just a small cameo role, or something where I could be visibly seen for instance."

George Lucas handpicked Prowse for the movie after seeing him as a bodyguard in "Clockwork Orange." But guess which part Lucas mentioned first?

"He said, 'I'm doing this film called 'Star Wars' and I'd like to offer you one of two parts in the movie.' And I thought this is lovely. I'm being offered two parts in a movie, and I said what are they?"

Prowse said the first role Lucas offered him was the role of the big hairy gorilla-type creature Chewbacca. But Prowse donned a different mask and made film history.

So what does Prowse think of the new movie?

"I don't think it's as good a film as 'Star Wars,' but I thought it was every bit as exciting," Prowse said. "There was plenty going on for everybody, and I think obviously it's a great tribute to George's film-making attributes."

Prowse is keeping busy running a business in London and doing guest appearances for fans. He says the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down.

The Star Wars movie madness began at one minute after midnight, when the prequel opened nationwide.

It is estimated that some two million people missed work Wednesday to see "The Phantom Menace." At the Raleigh Grande Cinema, over 1,300 people waited in line all day Tuesday to see the movie when it opened at midnight.

"Episode I: The Phantom Menace" cost $115 million to make. Some movie experts say it could become the highest grossing film of all-time.

But the film has some stiff competition. The original "Star Wars" is the number two movie of all time. Counting its various re-releases, "Star Wars" has sold $461 million in tickets in the United States alone. "Return of the Jedi" is seventh on the list and "The Empire Strikes Back" is number nine.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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