Blame it on 'Star Wars'

Five previously released "Star Wars" films have grossed an estimated $3.4 billion at the box office, but there's a flipside economic impact that usually goes unnoticed: the cost to employers when workers go AWOL to see the latest episode. The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. has calculated that the Star Wars-induced absentism for "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," which opens at 12:01 a.m. on May 19, could be as much as $627 million in lost productivity. To assist the hooky-playing film buffs, the Geek Squad, which provides IT support in homes and businesses, has even created downloadable excuse notes to help explain why employees may be "unreachable for about two hours, thirteen minutes, and eleven seconds."

By George, 'Star Wars' returns to the big screen

At this point, it may seem that filmmaker George Lucas began his celluoid "Star Wars" adventure a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, the first installment was released in 1977 and began the story in midstream. The original movie in the series was actually the fourth of six episodes. Wednesday the final piece of the story - "Revenge of the Sith," or Episode 3, is opening in theaters around the world. Fans in some locations have been camped out for days, waiting to buy tickets to the missing "chapter" of this morality play - the one that shows how Luke Skywalker's father turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader. The films in the series, the year of their release, and the cost to make each:

"A New Hope" (Star Wars)1977 Budget: $11 million
"The Empire 1980 Strikes Back" Budget: $18 million
"Return of the Jedi" 1983 Budget: $32.5 million
"The Phantom Menace" 1999 Budget: $115 million
"Attack of the Clones" 2002 Budget: $115 million
"Revenge of the Sith" 2005 Budget: $113 million -

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