You know, I hadn’t meant to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on opening night, but it just kind of happened. In fact, I wrote about our experience of waiting in line for Star Wars a decade ago and posted it to a school website. What the heck, I might as well re-publish it here.
We hadn’t planned on seeing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace the first night it opened, I swear.
Granted, I’m a nerd. It comes with being a physicist — in fact, it’s almost a requirement. We’d offer classes on being a science nerd alongside the standard E&M and quantum classes, but there’s really no need, it’s so instinctual. Also granted, I’m a fan of Star Wars. Even though I was only four years old when the first movie came out I managed to see it over and over in the theatre. I had very understanding parents.
Still, the hype and excitement surrounding the release of the first Star Wars movie in some sixteen years was more than I wanted to deal with just to see the movie. Stand in line for a day, maybe more, for tickets to the midnight premiere? Wait with folks decked out in Ben Kenobi robes and stormtrooper uniforms, just so I could say I saw it first? Forget that. Like any sensible person I was going to wait a few days for the first wave of fandom to crash against the theatres before I braved the lines.
Imagine my surprise when my wife Misty called me a week before SW:TPM opened and told me that we had tickets. Our conversation, as best I can recall, went something like this:
MISTY: How would you like tickets to the midnight premiere of Star Wars? Because we have tickets.
ME: You are lying.
MISTY: Nope. I have two tickets to the midnight show.
ME: You are lying.
MISTY: I’m not lying. (away from the phone) He thinks I’m lying to him. (sound of phone being handed off to someone else)
ANDY: She’s not lying. We’ve all got tickets.
It turned out that her co-worker Andy and several others took turns waiting in line for tickets, and that Misty was able to wheedle two of them because “they’d be a great anniversary present.” Yes, the tickets were an anniversary present from her to me. Does she know how to be married to a science fiction fan or what?
So it was that on Tuesday night after work I found myself headed to a theatre in near-by Cary, NC. The theater, appropriately enough, was named “The Imperial.” Misty had managed to snatch two more tickets when two of her friends were unable to make it to the show, so I was accompanied by Mike and Wendy, friends of ours. Misty worked in Cary, so she was meeting us there and holding our place in whatever line might have formed by 6:00 P.M.
We arrived around 7:00. No one was in line. Misty was sitting in our car, reading a book. “No one’s here, and there’s no line yet.” She had already eaten, but Mike, Wendy and I had not, so we all went to a fast food joint. On the way there, Misty told us of her conversation with a guy in the theatre’s ticket booth. “Where will the line for the Star Wars movie be?” she asked.
“Oh, there’s not going to be a line,” the guy responded.
“Uh, there’s not?”
“No. We’ll be letting people into the lobby at 11:00 and then into the theatre shortly before 12:00.”
Right. No line for the Star Wars movie. There were going to be hundreds of restless fans milling about in a theatre lobby, but the theatre wasn’t going to have us form a line. This guy’s grasp on reality obviously lacked opposable thumbs.
We got back to the theatre shortly before 8:00. Still no line. Wendy had brought one of her birthday presents, a tiny TV with an active matrix screen and an antenna. We watched “King of the Hill” and “Futurama” while we waited in the car and marveled over how good the picture looked.
Finally, around 9:00, two people began a line outside the theatre. “Better make that line official,” Mike said, so we ambled over to extend the line. It was a good decision, as Andy and several of his friends showed up right after that. They brought snacks, drinks, and, most importantly, Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.
We spent the next ninety minutes asking each other questions from the game. Who became Admiral at the end of The Empire Strikes Back? How many droids did the jawas display in front of their sand crawler in the first movie? One of the people waiting in line had a collection of Star Wars fruit snacks. “Eat a battle droid?” he asked me. I declined.
Sometime during then, we discovered that the midnight show wasn’t sold out. Oh, sure, every showing from Wednesday night through Friday night was already sold out, but for some reason people hadn’t wanted to brave a midnight showing. Wusses. We called another friend, Dan, who said that he most certainly did want to join us if another ticket was available.
So there we were: three physicists, a biomedical engineer, and a graphic designer, answering Star Wars trivia questions with several other people. By the way, if you ever play this game and are asked a question involving an Imperial officer in The Empire Strikes Back and you don’t know the answer, “Admiral Ozzel” is a good guess. He was often the answer in the batch of questions we went through.
The crowd in line was remarkably restrained. There was only one person with a lightsaber, and few people were dressed up. One woman just behind us had brought her young son. They were both fans, even though he was born nearly a decade after Return of the Jedi.
10:30 rolled around. Now we were getting impatient. Our boredom was relieved somewhat when two of the theatre workers, both teenage girls, came out for some advice. “See,” said one, “everyone’s got Star Wars names but me.”
“Yeah,” her companion said, “I’m Beck-2 D2.”
“And I was thinking that y’all could come up with something for me. I’m Sarah Thackery.”
Someone suggested “Admiral Thackbar,” but Sarah didn’t like that for some reason. After a few minutes and some false starts (someone suggested “Saralacc Pit”), we were able to come up with a name she did like: “Saracious B. Crumb.” She went inside to change her name tag.
After that, every once in a while we’d see Saracious stick her head out of the door of the theatre and look in our direction, then vanish back inside. Fifteen minutes later, the manager of the theatre came outside to talk to some of the guys behind me. It turned out that Saracious, who was seventeen and had just graduated from high school, was kind of interested in a couple of them. Since the guys were all in their mid-twenties and one had a child, they decided not to ask Saracious out on a date.
the ticket stubThis whole issue of Star Wars names reminded Misty of something she had heard on the radio that morning about what your name would be if you were a Star Wars character. You take the first three characters of your first name and add the name of your car to make your Star Wars name, and you are from a planet whose name is that of the last prescription drug you took. For instance, I’m “Ste Camry from Guaifenesin.” After we all revealed our Star Wars name, we decided that Dan’s name was best, as he was “Dan Corolla.” Unfortunately, he was from the planet “Tylenol Three With Codeine.” We also decided that incorporating drugs into your name might not be a good idea. What do you do if you run across someone from the planet “Mycelex-7,” or “Crack”?
This led to discussion of what your name would be if you were a porn star. Your porn star name is the name of your first pet followed by your mom’s maiden name. Again Dan won. His porn name was “Sugar Vest,” which brought the reply from someone, “I think I used to rent your videos.”
About that time they opened the theatre doors. We filed in in eager anticipation. After a couple of hours of waiting in line, we were about to see what we had all been waiting for.
 The definition of “sensible” I’m using here is rather specialized, referring as it does to slightly-rabid fans only and not the general populace at large. ↵
 Or fourth, depending on your pedantic leanings.↵
 If you figure out why Sarah would rather be named for a cackling muppet who sat on Jabba’s tail than for the admiral of the Rebel fleet, please let me know.↵