June 1999
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The Opening of Episode One Where it Really Matters-

by Courtney Knopf

Iím not a Star Wars fanatic by any means. You will never see me dressed up in a gold Princess Leia bikini or one of those Queen Amidala getups. I didnít even see the first three installments until they were re-released into theatres two years ago. That was due mostly in part to my mother, who wouldnít let me see them when I was a kid because she thought Iíd be scared of the Ewoks.

Yeah. The Ewoks. The furry teddy bear-like moppets. Cause you know, I definitely wouldnít be scared of Darth Vader or the Storm Troopers or Jabba. Iíd be scared by the Ewoks. But moving right alongÖ

Yet despite these roadblocks to fanaticism, I somehow managed to see Episode One: The Phantom Menace on opening day at Mannís Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I mean, itís not that big a deal because I live here in Los Angeles. Itís not like I came all the way from Australia like the guy in the front of the line who had been there for five weeks. Because that would be excessive. Just to give you a frame of reference as to exactly why people were so set on seeing it at this particular theatre: Mannís Chinese Theatre is one of the last grand movie palaces. Itís the one where all of the stars have their hand and foot prints in cement out in front and also tends to be the location for a lot of bigger Hollywood movie premieres. There is also a balcony upstairs reserved for celebrities who often sit and watch their movies on opening night with the general public.

I go to the same film school that George Lucas went to, and therefore Iím surrounded by people who worship him like a god. Iíve even known a few people who make a ritual sacrifice to him every now and then. So I suppose itís natural that a good deal of my friends are fanatical about Star Wars. So fanatical in fact that on May 12th, when advance tickets went on sale for Episode One, they stood in line for twelve hours to procure their tickets for opening day. Really, I think they just should have used Moviephone. 777-FILM is what itís all about, if you ask me. I can imagine it now; "Hello, and welcome to Moviephone. If youíre a Star Wars Geek, press One now for advance tickets to Episode One: The Phantom Menace." I dunno, that just seems a lot easier than waiting in line for a whole day. But hey, thanks to their fervor, I ended up with a ticket to the 10:30 p.m. showing on opening day.

Even though the movie started at 10:30 and wouldnít be letting in for seating until around 9:45, my friends were in line at 2:30 in the afternoon. And even getting there so early, they were still behind about 75 people. But considering that the Chinese Theatre has seating for 2000, this was not much of a setback.

Waiting in line was like going to a reunion of sorts. So many people we knew walked past and stopped to chat with us, that we came to the conclusion that the entire auditorium would be comprised of USC students and then a few other random people. And thatís how it seemed Ė once we were inside, I was almost surprised not to hear the oh-so-grating SoCal Shout Out that is supposedly some show of school spirit and solidarity. Itís a good thing too, because I would have jumped out of my seat and laid the smack down on whoever started it, because really, itís more a show of idiocracy than anything else.

But back to that whole waiting in line thing. At random intervals, there were people coming by handing out free drinks Ė big ass bottles of SoBe and YooHoo Ė and there were also some genuises handing out bendy frisbees that had the declaration "I Am Sci-Fi" on them. Oh yes, yes you are sci fi. But surprisingly, most of the people in line were not sickly pale Star Wars dorks who do nothing but sit in front of countingdown.com all day waiting with rabid anticipation for the counter to hit zero. I figured all of those people had already seen it at 12:01 the night before. Whoo, am I glad I wasnít there to endure the smell of the unwashed masses who had been in line for a month. Though there were quite a few scary individuals who had on the full Darth Maul makeup or were dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Queen Amidala. Though thankfully, no one was enough of a moron to dress up like Jar Jar.

Once we were finally let in the theater, it was an absolute free for all. Yet amazingly, we were able to get our usual row (either 11 or 12, a topic of much debate among my friends). And thatís when I decided that those geniuses handing out the frisbees in line should have been drug out into the street and shot. Just imagine it; youíre in an immense theatre with 2000 antsy people whoíve been waiting 17 years for this movie. Add in flying objects and what do you get? Beaned in the head, thatís what. All at once someone decided it was a good idea to start tossing the frisbees, and within seconds there were about 500 frisbees airborne, cutting arcs through the theatre. Can you say duck and cover? I can.

Then people started chanting. STAR. WARS. STAR. WARS. This fervor, I just cannot understand. But hey, it makes them happy. Even the two German guys sitting in front of us got into it.

When the lights finally went down, Iím convinced that the cheer which erupted from the crowd left me with permanent ear damage. Surprisingly though, the audience was almost reverently silent throughout most of the movie, only applauding and shouting when somebody used the Force or when Yoda or R2D2 & C3PO came on screen.

I must admit I wasnít all impressed with the movie itself, and that damn Jar Jar Binks character needs to be erased out of his computer generated existence. But really, I didnít go on opening night for the movie itself, I just went to see the freaks. But it really was a hell of a lot of fun, even if I got hit with about 47 frisbees. Now If youíll excuse me, I have to go deliver some food to my friends. Theyíre already queued up in the line for tickets to Episode Two.

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