Eyewitness: With the Fans in Line for Phantom Menace Tickets
"The first transport is away!" shouted the goateed, slightly overweight young man ahead of
us. He was answered by a chorus of cheers up and down the long line of exhausted yet adrenalized Star Wars fans.
We were standing outside Austin's Gateway 16 theater. The time was precisely 2:01 pm on Wednesday May 12, 1999. The first tickets to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace had just been sold to a fan who had been in line since the early dawn hours of Tuesday May 4th.
I was there lending moral support to my friend David, who had been in line for about 54 hours. He had experienced everything: sleeping under a blanket on a folding chair, having food brought in by his wife Desma and friends, trading nuggets of Star Wars trivia and information with other fans as though they were diamonds, and having, all in all, a blast.
Like me, David was only six or seven when the original Star Wars blasted into our consciousness, forever warping us and making us addicts of the shiny trinkets poured on by the Lucas Wonder Factory. Although we were adults now, we both shared a little grin at his accomplishment: he had done this crazy thing willingly, and it sent a chill down my back, even as a mere observer.
A light drizzle started. A young woman was making her way down the line, camcorder on a tripod. At about every fifth person, she would stop and ask a variation of the same question: "So how does it feel to finally get this line moving?"
The answer: a rousing chorus of "woo's" and hand waving and big smiles.
Another person was working his way from the back of the line, tape recorder and microphone in hand. "How does it feel to participate in the Woodstock of your generation?"
I don't know if I would call it that, exactly. A lot of people smelled like they must have at Woodstock, I guess, but this all seemed a little more exciting and transcendent then Woodstock. At least to my "Gen-X ignorance."
David, who had finished his finals last week (he decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering) was determined to stand in line to buy tickets for the 12:01 am showing of Phantom Menace -- the first screening. He had not hesitated. He had not thought twice about the hardships involved. He had a goal in mind. The rest was just details. He had dived into the glowing sphere of Lucasdom and had something of a glow himself, as did the people around him.
Here he was, David surrounded by his favorite kind of people: those who could appreciate some good clean fun at the expense of quotidian reality. What Star Wars gives us is what all good literature used to give us before the onslaught of the realistic novel: an escape from the mere 9 to 5 shuffle, pushing paper (or bits) in a crushing bureaucratic grind, a constantly shifting but nonetheless monolithic chiaroscuro of "please e-mail me the Power Point presentation, write up an agenda for the Engineering All-Hands at three o'clock, and don't forget the five o'clock conference call with Customer Advocacy."
Hell no, I'd rather be slaying dragons with Beowulf, finding the Ring of Power, and yes, rescuing a Princess from the Death Star, all the while blasting Storm Troopers. And oh yeah, thinking about the force(s) that bind us together as one.
And if people think that this is infantile, then I say, "To hell with them." Life's too short not to have a little fun.
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