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Episode I: the preems

Stars shine on 'Phantom' benefit bows

So just how will “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” do at the box office?

Disney’s Joe Roth was asked that question Sunday. He was in the Armand Hammer Museum’s courtyard during the film’s benefit premiere after-party; Fox’s Peter Chernin and Tom Sherak were standing nearby.

Without any hesitation Roth replied, “My numbers are $300 million by June 2 and $1.5 billion worldwide.”

There was a pause. The large figures seemingly floated in the air. Then Sherak said, “I wouldn’t comment on that, but no one is better at numbers than Joe.” Then they laughed.

Even the numbers at the premiere were impressive: 1,462 guests raised $1.25 million for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The entire amount will go to research since Flexjet underwrote the event.

What Flexjet paid for was an extravagant kids party produced by Along Came Mary. It had the panache of a birthday celebration Bill Gates might throw if he had an 8-year-old boy who was into “Star Wars,” or maybe for himself.

The Hammer’s courtyard featured a rock-climbing wall, arcade-style videogames, face painting, seven buffets (serving such delights as Darth Maul Dogs and Jabba Burgers) and a ride, called Acro Flight, that combined elements of a trampoline and a bungee-cord slingshot. Kids were bouncing 20 feet into the air. It looked like an odd mix of fun and medieval torture.

As for the film, the reaction was positive right down the line. Danny DeVito called it “visually stunning.” Steve Tisch said the series has “trans-generational phenomenon status” and he wouldn’t “have a clue how to produce a film like this. It’s technologically overwhelming.” Sony’s Gareth Wigan (who was at Fox when the first “Star Wars” pic came out) said the film “creates a great place for kids to live.”

A number of guests faulted the reviewers for being downbeat. Mark Canton said, “I think the critics got it all wrong.” Fred Rosen said, “It proves to me that film critics are morons.”

Among those on hand were co-stars Jake Lloyd and Samuel L. Jackson, Sherry Lansing, Brian De Palma, Sid Ganis, Mark Shmuger, Drew Carey, Fran Drescher, John Singleton, Jennifer Tilly, Norman Lear, Magic Johnson, Lisa Kudrow, Renny Harlin, Melanie Griffith and Glenn Frey.