Long Wait Pays Off For Star Wars Fans

A long time ago, the most avid "Star Wars'' fans began lining up for the new chapter of George Lucas' space saga, with some groups camping out in shifts for weeks. Their patience paid off Wednesday night as theaters around the country opened their doors for midnight screenings of "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.''

The 12:05 showing at Gulfport's Cinemark Theater sold out three weeks ago, just like theatres all across the country.

The lines are noticeably thinner than they were for "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace'' in 1999. But as the first "Star Wars'' film in 16 years, "Phantom Menace'' had greater pent-up demand among fans. And the growing use of advance ticket sales over the Internet probably reduced the number of fans who would have waited in line outside theaters.

Some fans planned to miss work so they could stay up late and see the film.

"I told my boss a year and a half ago I wanted the day off,'' said Dave Morello, 31, of Royal Oak, Mich.

"This movie harkens me back to years ago when I had no responsibilities. I was 6 when the original Star Wars came out.'' "Even if the movie stinks, it's still better than going to work tomorrow,'' he added.

Many theaters have taken to throwing open their doors for major movie releases at 12:01 a.m., the earliest time they can begin screening the films on the day of release. Theaters are braced for the big "Star Wars'' rush later in the day Thursday, as the film plays on about 6,000 screens in 3,161 theaters domestically.

Lucas said he does not expect "Attack of the Clones'' to approach the box-office debut of "Spider-Man'' two weeks ago. Playing on about 1,500 more screens than "Attack of the Clones,'' "Spider-Man'' took in a record-smashing $114.8 million in its first three days. "Attack of the Clones'' opened on fewer screens because Lucas was choosy about locations, insisting on top-of-the-line theaters with digital sound.

Crowds waiting outside theaters for "Episode II'' ranged from people who saw the original ``Star Wars'' in 1977 to those who weren't even born then.

"We're a generation that grew up on 'Star Wars,' '' said J.R. Barbee, a youth pastor at a Hollywood church who said he incorporates "Star Wars'' into his classes for middle and high school students.

"I was 6 years old when "Star Wars' came out in 1977, and I remember seeing Luke Skywalker. He was my hero. Lucas has taken a generation on a journey.''