by Richard Woloski
“1990?! That’s a lifetime from now!” I exclaimed when Henry told me that’s what he’d heard about the release of the next Star Wars movie back in 1984. “That’s twice as long as normal. I’ll never make it.!” I’m glad I didn’t know it was more like sixteen years or I would have committed myself to carbon freeze.
It all started up once again on November 17, 1998 with the Star Wars: Episode I teaser trailer. I was numb that whole morning knowing I would be seeing my first glimpse of new Star Wars footage! Since it was a Tuesday, unfortunately and fortunately, no one was able to make the 10:00am showing of The Water Boy since they had normal day jobs. One part wanted to share this experience but on the other hand I felt like this is something I need to do on my own.
I giggled to myself as I bought the ticket knowing damn well that I was not about to sit through The Water Boy and when the trailer was over I would go running to the box office with my beeper in hand, stating that I had an emergency and had to go thus I needed a refund. The perfect crime.
The lights dimmed. Here we go. Of course they waited until the end of the trailer run to show it. And here it comes. The 20th Century Fox logo. Fade out. Fade in on a new John Williams score with a Lightsaber-green silhouetted Lucasfilm LTD logo. I start to sweat. Fade in a foggy environment. My breathing becomes heavier. The fog is broken by a mounted lumbering creature. Heart beats faster. “Every generation has a legend… Every journey a first step… Every saga has a beginning…” My breathing stops as I hear the faint sounds of the familiar breathing of Darth Vader.
John Williams’ iconic theme bursts through the speakers. For the next minute and a half there was a literal party in my eyeballs. Images flashed so fast of familiar faces and sounds and many not so familiar. There was no way to fully comprehend what I was actually experiencing.
This was now real. We were really getting a new Star Wars movie. I was out of breath by the end. I guess holding my breath will do that. The trailer ended. The whole theater got up and moved to the exit. They had the same exit strategy that I did. I got up and bolted to the box office hoping to get my $6 back before they caught on.
As I left the theater with my free Pepsi refill coupon I saw several news cameras waiting to get the reactions from fans. I immediately went the opposite direction. I wanted to process what I had just seen. Besides, what was I going to tell them? “It was awesome!” “It rocked!” “–fill in generic fan reaction–!” I didn’t want to go on record with something like that. If I was going to give a reaction it was going to have content. Right now I didn’t have content. I did a birthday party later that day as Hercules from the new Disney animated movie. I put my all into it, but I just couldn’t focus. My life was about to start once again.
Star Wars mania went from big to COLOSSAL. It had been two years since excitement like this hit with the Special Editions and before that it was way back in 1983 with Return Of The Jedi. I was going to make up for lost time and immerse myself in every ounce of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace hype.
My friend, Matt Baird, and I drove around one Saturday night to every Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken looking for the new Phantom Menace collectible toy exclusives. Between stops we’d also run into 7-11 hoping to find the rare gold Yoda Pepsi can.
My magazine collection was growing rapidly too since everyone from Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair to T.V. Guide and GQ had a Star Wars cover. Everyone wanted in on the Star Wars action. These magazines primarily focused on the continuing phenomenon and the film’s story but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know things like the day-to-day box office grosses (I really just wanted to know when The Phantom Menace was going to take down that sinking boat movie).
I subscribed to The Hollywood Reporter just so I could keep tabs on the box office. In an issue that came out a few weeks before the film’s release, there was an article about an upcoming screening to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I really wanted to go but the $500 ticket price said otherwise. The article went on to mention that the company producing the event was called, Along Came Mary. This was my in!
I run a business in Los Angeles where I provide children’s entertainment for all kinds of events. I called them up and said I would very much like to volunteer my services as well as my co-workers (unbeknownst to them). We would provide balloon artists and face painters for children and guests at the post-premiere party. The director at Along Came Mary graciously accepted my offer, and told me to come down for costume fittings. I told them that won’t be necessary since we had our own costumes. This made them even happier.
I just had my new Obi-Wan Kenobi costume made, complete with Padawan braid, and was excited to wear it. I dressed one of my co-workers in Amidala’s Theed battle outfit and the wardrobe lady at the event gave me grief since she didn’t think this was from the movie. Hold up! You’re dressing the event staff as Tatooine peasants and giving them Lightsabers and your trying to tell me what is in the movie? How dare you? We went several rounds before she gave up and let it go.
This was the ultimate Star Wars party! Moisture vaporators were constructed and put around the courtyard of the Hammer Museum where the event was taking place. The Phantom Menace music was being piped in. Everyone was in great costumes (sans Lightsabers for the Tatooine peasants. I made short work of that). I felt a great sense of belonging especially when everyone was coming to me for last minute details on character names, vehicles and planets for signage.
We got word that The Phantom Menace had just let out and now the lucky golden ticket holders were about to file into the courtyard. New cast members Samuel L. Jackson and Jake Lloyd were there. I was really hoping to meet them or at least say hello but Sam Jackson was surrounded the whole time by the media looking for a sound byte. Jake spent the afternoon at the video game console playing a Podracing game. Other celebs such as Drew Carey, Lisa Kudrow, Melanie Griffith, Magic Johnson, Danny Devito and Brian De Palma also were in attendance (I was envious and angry with all of them for seeing the new Star Wars film before me!).
I had a job to do and I wasn’t going to let my star-gazing get in the way of my responsibilities. I armed the kids with balloon sculpture weaponry such as Lightsabers, Battle Droid blasters and Boba Fett arm lasers. I even took it up a notch by teaching myself new sculptures such as Naboo Starfighters and Podracing goggles. One of my co-workers (who was the girl in Steve Miller’s Abracadabra music video. I wish I could find her name) was face painting a little girl when her mom mentioned that this was Jake Lloyd’s sister. She was an extra who stood right behind Anakin during the end ceremony scene when the Naboo and Gungans unite in peace.
I was surrounded by people that had just seen the new Star Wars film I had been waiting 16 years to see. What if they were to start discussing a major plot point? By this time I had probably seen almost every image, heard tons of audio clips, and knew things I wished I didn’t thanks to The Phantom Menace soundtrack! However, I held out hope there was still more that hadn’t been released or leaked yet.
With every ounce of my power I tried to drown out all conversations. But the dark side consumed me when I heard the names, Darth Vader and C-3PO in the same sentence. Against my better judgment, I had to know context. Unfortunately the person I asked wasn’t familiar with the phrase, “Spoiler Alert!” He started to tell me that young Anakin built the protocol droid when I covered my ears and ran away. POODOO!!
Despite hearing more plot points than I wanted, this was an amazing event. Big time props must go out to George Lucas and 20th Century Fox for offering numerous charities the use of The Phantom Menace as a way to raise millions of dollars, particularly for the kids infected by the HIV virus I had met that day. By the end of the event I felt like I was a part of something meaningful. For that afternoon, those kids looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. They were having fun playing video games, meeting celebrities, battling with balloon Lightsabers and trying to scare each other with Darth Maul painted faces. They seemed to forget any worries or troubles they had back in the real world. I hope that feeling stayed with them for a long time. A long time…
A week later it was my turn. But before anyone got in line to see the movie, you had to get in line to get tickets to see the movie. My friend, Matt Goudey, and I were among those who slept on the Hollywood Blvd. sidewalk to get these coveted tickets. We waited two long days of eating what the nearby convenient store had to offer and playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Like many people, I’m sure you’re wondering about hygiene. Since I only lived up the street at the time showers and bathroom breaks were not a problem.
We got our tickets, now we just have to wait a week before showtime. However, we were back sleeping on the sidewalk a few days later. I always find it fascinating when people find all this waiting around to be stupid or a waste of time. Since they are “above all that” they will unfortunately never understand that it’s not just about waiting for a movie, it’s about forging new friendships and talking to people from around the world who you would never have had met otherwise. It’s a United Nations for Star Wars fans.
It was the eve of the opening. We missed out in getting tickets for the midnight show, and the first available weren’t until 8am. The red rope that held the midnight line was dropped and hundreds of fans cheered as they charged into the theatre. Each “yahoo,” felt like another kick to the kidneys. If only I had slept another month on the sidewalk, it could have been me shouting “yahoo” as I walked victoriously into Grauman’s. We decided then to call it a night and crawled into the pup tent that Matt brought.
Our eyes sprang open at 2:30am by the loud enthusiastic crowd coming out of the midnight show. There were smiles all around. They were giving us who were still waiting a bug thumbs up. I tried getting back to sleep but now I was like a child on Christmas Eve. Visions of Jedi, Sith and Gungans danced in my head. Soon, I was lulled back to sleep.
The outside noise woke us back up at 6:30am. We poked our heads out of the tent to see what was up. The 50 people in front of us in line had mysteriously grew in number to roughly 100! As we stood there assessing the situation the three people in front of us were letting 15 of their friends cut in. So let me get this straight, a few hours ago we were 50 people back in line. A few minutes ago were 100, now we’re 115. Oh, hell no!
We packed up the tent and empty bags of Funyuns and walked around the cutters so that we were now ahead of them. We heard lots of grumbling but all it took was for us to turn around and give them a death glare so severe that even a Wampa would have backed down. I did not just sleep on the sidewalk for the last few days to have these well-rested people cut in an hour and a half before.
But what is this now? More people were walking up to the line. They would give someone at a table their name and stepped in. These people had paid a handsome sum to placeholders so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets of Hollywood. I hoped they really didn’t think they would get away with this. They didn’t wait days, they didn’t OD on onion-flavored snacks and free Taco Bell burritos (thanks again Taco Bell, that was most generous) so they ain’t cutting. Again, we walked around this group.
A man in a security shirt stopped us by putting his hand on my chest. (With all my power I tried to bury my dark urge of ripping off this man’s hand and slapping him with it.) I asked if he were worked for the theatre. “No,” he answered. I asked if he were a cop. “No,” he answered again. “Then take your f@$%ing hand off me right now!” The man looked at Matt to see if there was going to be trouble. The look on Matt’s face suggested, “most certainly.” He took his hand off and we moved ahead.
At 7:30am the red rope was dropped and hundreds of us sped into Grauman’s Theatre. Matt and I knew exactly the seats we wanted which was about 2/3 to the back which was where the best audio impact was. (I jinxed myself back in 1989 when I waited for a midnight screening of Batman. I said “I bet someone with big hair will sit right in front of me” a minute later a guy with a towering Mohawk sat right in front of me. Drat!)
That was not going to happen this time. I poured half my bottle of water on the seat in front of me assuring no one would sit there (I’m not condoning what I’d done, but I had to do what I had to do since I am very hyper-vigilant about bothersome stuff at the movies). I had to tell several people who were about to sit down that others had jumped up from that seat because they felt something wet. It was one of the last seats in the theatre so eventually it was taken. However, the poor fan had to put a pile of napkins down first. My plan had worked somewhat since it was a short person (who didn’t have a Mohawk).
The lights went out and minutes later it was about to start. The crowd went absolutely crazy! Adrenaline was coursing through my body. I was so excited to finally be seeing a new Star Wars movie. Twenty or so minutes in, my adrenaline suddenly dropped. Then, the lack of sleep crept in. Uh-oh, I was falling asleep.
I tried to fight it, but I wasn’t strong enough. Matt elbowed me a few times but that just upset me since it was a reminder that I was dozing off. Every time I jolted myself awake I tried to get back into the story. What’s this about taxation? Who’s the squabbling delegates? Unfortunately I jolted back awake towards the end to see Darth Maul getting sliced in half. I didn’t know this was going to happen so again I was infuriated that I saw that. I wished I had just slept to the credits so I wouldn’t ruin the ending for myself.
Luckily I was seeing it again that night with Matt Baird. Remember when I just said I have a bad habit of falling asleep during movies? It happened again!
Luckily I was going to see it again three days later when I flew back home to Boston to see my sister Lisa and her family. Guess what happened then? I saw the whole entire film again for the first time. I loved it! New characters, new adventures, old friends. I saw The Phantom Menace 14 times that summer.
This time period marked a very important time in my life. A new Star Wars movie that I heard was on-again off-again so many times since the early nineties and now was finally here. I felt so alive having something so important to me be such a big presence. Seeing all the hype and merchandising and hearing about it non-stop, it felt like I was surrounded by friends everywhere I went.