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MODESTO, Calif. (CAP) - In what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity, a man resembling Star Wars creator George Lucas was beaten to death yesterday by an angry mob of fans leaving a screening of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
According to witnesses, Larry Finkelstein, 58, a bearded, burly man wearing a flannel shirt and round, wire-rimmed glasses, was eating an ice cream cone in a park immediately across the street from the Modesto AMC Loews Theatre when he was spotted by members of the angry crowd.
"They were already seething," said one witness who declined to be named. "Several of them were so upset they had literally torn their vintage Admiral Akbar t-shirts off their bodies and were burning them on the sidewalk. That's when they saw the guy."
According to police reports, one member of the crowd cried "Oh my God, it's Lucas! Get him!", and within seconds dozens of moviegoers were in the park, beating Finkelstein with makeshift weapons and their bare fists.
"He was probably dead before his ice cream cone even hit the ground," said Modesto Police Chief Frank Reynolds, who added that the crowd continued to pummel Finkelstein's inert body for a full 20 minutes before SWAT team officers in riot gear were able to restrain them.
Amateur video footage captured two assailants - both unkempt, overweight men apparently in their late 30s - screaming "This one's for Jar-Jar!" and "This one's for the f---in' Ewoks!" as they kicked Finkelstein's head back and forth like a soccer ball. It took four SWAT officers armed with tasers and tear gas to subdue them.
The Clone Wars, an animated film that takes place between Star Wars Episodes II and III - and which serves as the launching pad for a new TV show, along with an extensive line of toys, clothing and video games - has been poorly received by critics, who have disparaged its confusing storyline, jerky animation techniques and complete lack of humor, dramatic tension or character development.
"It's the worst piece of garbage put on film since - well, since the last Star Wars movie," said Salon.com critic Andrew O'Hehir, who punctuated his comments by snapping his fingers in a Z formation.
The real George Lucas, meanwhile, has been holed up at his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., surrounded by a contingent of armed security guards. He had no public comment, but according to a source close to the filmmaker, he's starting to wonder if, as "executive producer" of The Clone Wars, he should have spent more than eight minutes on it.
"He's also thinking that revolving the whole storyline around Jabba the Hutt's baby son Stinky, which is an idea he had scrawled on a cocktail napkin while drunk, maybe wasn't such a great idea, in retrospect," said the source.
Since Clone Wars opened, a growing crowd of angry fans has gathered outside the ranch property with signs reading Lucas sucks!, George Lucas raped my childhood and George Lucas should be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc!, although you had to get up very close to read that last one.
It is unknown whether Finkelstein's death will have an affect on other upcoming Star Wars projects, including a planned live-action TV series featuring minor characters from the movies who've nonetheless had action figures made of them, and re-releases of the original six films in 3-D, animated, musical and silent versions.
Meanwhile, Finkelstein's friends and relatives mourn his tragic loss, one that they had feared could come to pass. Given his resemblance to Lucas, "We'd been afraid something like this might happen ever since The Phantom Menace came out," said his cousin, Nancy Schroedburg. "Whenever he left the house wearing that flannel shirt he was taking his life in his hands."
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