Comics Ate My Brain

May 13, 2009

A dubious anniversary

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 1:04 am
Unfortunately the day is almost over, but I couldn’t let it pass without mentioning this.

Ten years ago today, on Wednesday, May 12, 1999, I got up earlier than sane people should (actually, around 4 a.m.) to (gasp) stand in line for tickets to Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This was at Lexington, Kentucky’s Woodhill Movies 10 (represent!), then the nicest cinema in town, but which I understand has been supplanted by newer movie palaces further out in the ‘burbs. It probably goes without saying that I had taken off from work to do this. (The day of the movie was pretty calm until the afternoon, when I got seriously worried that I’d have to work late, and by all that is holy I was not doing that.)

Anyway, I got there at 4:30 a.m. and was 147th in line, which by that point snaked around to the back of the building. It was a festive atmosphere, like tailgating for nerds. One band of ticket-seekers had brought a video projector (VHS, I presume, but it could have been laser) and was showing the Holy Trilogy on the side of the building. I got there for the last 15 minutes or so of Return of the Jedi.

As for me, I traveled light, with just a paperback. Seems like it was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but it could have been another Tom Wolfe or maybe a Hunter Thompson. Eventually I made some small talk with the guys around me in line, but none of us really bonded for life. After a while, though, this was not a particularly thrilling event, no matter what the “nerd tailgating” nickname suggests. The local new-rock radio station did a live broadcast from near the head of the line, and people were pretty cool about saving each other’s places. I was almost interviewed by one of the TV stations, but then I remembered I hadn’t exactly told the office why I was taking off that day. I even got a break to get lunch and new comics (it was Wednesday, remember). It was sunny too, so that was a plus. I got a good tan — fight the pasty stereotype! — without getting burned.

It seems strange now to think that standing in line for movie tickets was a big deal just ten years ago. I remember The Onion did a story about it and there were editorial cartoons contrasting the lines with the exodus of refugees from the Balkans. However, I didn’t know when the box office would open (it opened early, at 3:30 p.m., so I was in line for some 11 hours), and it only took cash (I was getting 10 tickets at $6.25 apiece).

I did the same thing for Episode II three years later, except I got to the theater at about 7 a.m., it rained a little, and I was only there until the b.o. opened at a little after 11:00 a.m. Also, I was about 20th in line.

So yeah, while it was a bit dull and not exactly the kind of thing I’d want (or need) to do again, it was still kind of fun to see all those years of fan expectations personified in this pre-dawn exercise. Naturally the atmosphere for the actual movie (a week later, on May 19) was pretty charged, although I’m sure one’s feelings about the movie itself probably overwhelmed whatever goodwill that nerd camaraderie generated. Good times, good times.

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