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.


  1. I remember the media coverage at the time — some of it was inexplicably hostile, even venomous. I remember one news program doing a live interview with Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News as he waited on line to see TPM and the in-studio anchor couldn’t conceal his massive disdain, sarcastically taunting Knowles about all the useful and productive things he could be doing with his time instead of waiting hours to see a movie. The anchor may really have been angry at his own producers forcing him to devote airtime to something he considered frivolous, and I’d have nothing but sympathy for that…but it seemed downright mean to take it out on the blameless guest. Sorry, that incident always stuck in my craw…Anyway, reading this triggered an involuntary memory of waiting in line at the Loews Astor Plaza in New York at the end of May 1977 to see a related film. It wasn’t opening day but the following weekend, and the lines wrapping around the block multiple times were something to see!

    Comment by RAB — May 13, 2009 @ 5:12 am

  2. It’s funny — I don’t think I waited in line to see the original or Jedi, but I did for Empire. My wife likes to quote something I saw on the TrekBBS about fans lining up for Episode II or III. Tired of constant criticism of Trek aficionados, this person exclaimed, “finally, someone’s making fun of Star Wars fans!”

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — May 13, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

  3. I remember waiting in long lines when I was a kid to see the ORIGINAL Star Wars films. Empire Strikes Back was especially memorable — half my middle school skipped school to go to opening day at the old (and now gone, sadly) Eastwood Theater in Indianapolis — the only theater in Indy at the time that had a huge, curved screen and Dolby sound. And the movies didn’t disappoint. Fun, fun, fun!THEN, when Phantom Menace loomed, I went with a friend to wait in line for a midnight showing at Circle Center. There were no kids to be seen, but all the adults were jabbering away like we were all skipping middle school again. Sadly, the movie didn’t live up to expectations — something I wasn’t used to from a Star Wars movie. The people waiting in line were more entertaining than the movie. That’s the last time I ever waited in line for a Star Wars movie. 😦

    Comment by Sea-of-Green — May 13, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

  4. I feel like I am losing some geek cred for not having to stand in line for the originals. :-)As it happens, when the OT was re-released for tri-night midnight shows in the fall of 1993 (10th anniversary of THX, I think), a bunch of us third-year law students stood in line Thursday night for Star Wars. Don’t remember what the crowd was like for Empire, and I skipped Jedi.

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — May 13, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

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