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For Star Wars
fans, it all ends soon. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who caught the
previous screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the May 19 theatrical debut of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
is your first chance to see the last big-screen installment of George Lucas’
unparalleled science-fiction epic. Naturally, the trivia implications of this
event are all but incalculable.

While fans in the know may marvel at the first-ever onscreen
duel between two characters wielding the same color lightsaber (Anakin
Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi) or chuckle at the title’s nod to a previous Lucas
publicity stunt—Revenge of the Sith
is a tip of the cap to Revenge of the
, a faux title to Return of the
, which Lucas leaked to sniff out bootleg merchandisers—the most
devoted Star Wars aficionados will be searching for Episode III‘s contribution to the ultimate Lucas inside joke: 1138.

In 1971, George Lucas directed his first professional film, THX 1138, a dystopian sci-fi tale
starring Robert Duvall. Lucas openly expressed his dissatisfaction with how his
parent studio (Warner Brothers) stifled the release of THX 1138 and thus smuggled coded references to his freshman
directorial effort—namely the number 1138—into most of his Star Wars works.

In the original Star
—since renamed Episode IV: A New
—that reference came when a disguised Luke Skywalker delivered a bound
Chewbacca to the Death Star detention center, explaining it as a “prisoner
transfer from cellblock 1138.” In The
Empire Strikes Back
, Rebel General Rieekan orders “Rogues 10 and 11 to
Station three-eight.” While no obvious reference exists in Return of the Jedi, that hasn’t stopped
fans from looking.

The trend continued into the prequel trilogy. In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,
a prominently featured shutdown battle droid sports a 1138 designation. In
contrast, the Episode II: Attack of the
reference ventures into take-our-word-for-it territory, as every
digitally rendered clone trooper’s helmet bears the designation THX 1138, but
it’s too small for the naked eye to see onscreen.

Yet, for all the underground fame that THX 1138 has earned thanks to its Star Wars homages, there is another, far more obscure, numerically
named film that Lucas has similarly evoked in his sci-fi saga—one that Lucas
claims helped him craft a key component of the Star Wars mythos.


Besides his own THX
, what other film has George Lucas secretly referenced within the
original Star Wars—an obscure piece
of cinema that helped shape a key component of the Star Wars mythos?

In 1964, experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett produced the “found-footage”
short 21-87, a work George Lucas has openly
lauded as one of his primary influences—so much so that he’s smuggled
references to it into at least two of his films.

In Star Wars, Princess
Leia’s cell aboard the Death Star is number 2187, a fact that Han Solo notes
out loud during the rescue sequence. Second, Lucas’ original student-film
version of THX 1138 took place in the
year 2187, and Maggie McOmie’s character in the theatrical version dies on the
coded date “21/87.”

As for the film 21-87,
found footage refers to discarded or
reused film samples from various other works spliced together into a new
sequence, with its own implied story. Director Lipsett married this concept
with unusual sound samples and voice-overs, producing an intentionally
unsettling and dystopian quasi-narrative. 21-87
heavily influenced THX 1138—both in
storyline and style.

Star Wars,
however, may owe as much, if not more, to 21-87.
One of the sound samples used by Lipsett in 21-87
is a conversation between Warren S. McCulloch, a pioneer of artificial intelligence,
and Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer and director who helped develop the IMAX
film format.

That conversation included this line: “Many people feel
that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living
things, they become aware of some kind of force,
or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us…”

That’s Kroitor speaking, but we’d forgive you for thinking
it came from Master Yoda. Lucas has admitted that this quote from 21-87 helped shape his ideas about The Force,
that mysterious and powerful energy wielded by the Jedi heroes and Sith
villains within the Star Wars
universe. And you thought it was just simple shorthand for life force.

Thus, for those Star Wars collectors out there, you have
another film to add to your all-things-Lucas anthologies. Until you find it,
may The Force (and Geek Trivia) be with you!

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the April 27 edition of Geek
Trivia, “Pointer
of origin.”
TechRepublic member BR-549
had a grammatical bone to pick with me.

“When the computer mouse first became popular (Windows
286 and Windows 3.0 days), the plural of mouse was debated. It was determined
by the powers-that-be at the time that, since this device was not a rodent, its
plural is mouses—not mice.”

I hate to disagree, dear reader, but Merriam-Webster
says otherwise
. Until the dictionary changes course, I’m sticking with the
official version. In the meantime, keep those quibbles coming.

For more, check out the Geek
Trivia Archive

The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.