Release date announced for next chapter of 'Star Wars' series

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The next instalment of the Star Wars saga is to be released in May, with the veteran horror actor Christopher Lee joining a cast led by Ewan McGregor.

George Lucas's film, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, is the second of a trilogy of "prequels" to the original 1977 Star Wars. It will be released three years after Lucas started the prequel series with the much-hyped Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and picks up the story 10 years on from that film.

McGregor will again star as Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was played by Sir Alec Guinness in the three original Star Wars films. Natalie Portman will reappear as Queen Amidala, and Samuel L Jackson as Mace Windu. New cast members will include Lee, as a character known as Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus. The Canadian actor Hayden Christensen will appear as an older Anakin Skywalker, who was a child in The Phantom Menace.

By the time of the new film – which was shot on location around the world, including in Spain, Australia and Britain – Anakin has become a full Jedi Knight and is given the task of protecting Queen Amidala with Obi-Wan Kenobi when her life is threatened by a faction of political separatists.

20th Century Fox, the film's makers, have scheduled 16 May as the date for national release in Britain.

The Phantom Menace broke British box office records when it was released in July 1999, taking £9.5m in its first four days. The film went on to earn £50m despite lukewarm reviews. It set a record for DVD sales in America, with 2.2 million copies sold in its first week of release this year, and has sold 5 million copies on video. The disappointment of many fans was, however, reflected last month when it was voted one of the worst 10 blockbusters of all time in a poll by Total Film magazine.

Episode III, the final film in the series, is expected to go into production in 2003.