Fully Operational Fandom: The Waiting Is the Hardest (and Maybe Greatest) Part

Hear from fans who found waiting in line for past Star Wars films to be an experience long-remembered.

Waiting in line is a way of life for anyone who belongs to any fandom. If you’ve been a long time fan of a franchise, you can look back and define moments in your life around waiting — this is especially true for those who love the galaxy far, far away. Standing with friends and family to buy tickets or to get the best seats is a thread woven into the histories of many Star Wars fans. And the remarkable thing is that in this context, anecdotes about waiting aren’t negative. There aren’t many tales of horror; instead, there are glowing, fond memories about the experience. Star Wars fans wear their hours spent in line like badges of honor.

The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is less than two months away. Tickets just went on sale but purchasing them doesn’t work like it used to. Back in the day, acquiring tickets required a little more work than refreshing the screen and clicking to get reserved seats at the theater of your choice. You had to wait in line at the theater to buy the tickets, and then get back in line in order to secure the best possible seats. I talked with several fans about their experiences waiting in line and their plans for The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: A New Hope poster

Michael Price, writer of the LEGO Star Wars films, stood in line for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Revenge of the Sith. He recalls being a little late to the party for Star Wars; the film had been out for about a month when he got the chance to see it. He’d heard a lot of buzz about the movie and even though he wasn’t a huge sci-fi or fantasy geek, he was intrigued. He didn’t expect there to be a line a month after the film’s release at the Menlo Park Mall Cinemas near his hometown of South Plainfield, but the phenomenon that was Star Wars couldn’t be contained. He says, “The line to buy tickets was really long, snaking into the parking lot. Once you got your ticket, there was another line to get inside the theater, and that was just as long, running all the way through the theater’s large lobby. We must have waited close to an hour to get in and as I recall the theater even delayed the show by a few minutes to clear the line out. We were in the extreme end of the line.”

He continues, “It seemed to me that most of the people my age there had already seen Star Wars at least three or more times and they were chatting excitedly about it. As I recall, the thing that most kids my age were into was the lightsabers, with various guys having air lightsaber battles in the parking lot while imitating the distinctive lightsaber buzz. I also recall overhearing someone spoil the ending for me by saying something to the effect of, ‘They let Vader live at the end so he can be in the sequel.’ Oh, well. But the biggest bummer was still to come. The line was so long and moved so slowly that they started the movie before we got in! So I missed the opening crawl, the monster Star Destroyer shot, all of the best stuff of the first two minutes. I distinctly recall entering the theater just as the hatch on the Blockade Runner blasted open to reveal Darth Vader standing there. I somehow was able to catch up with the story from there and fall in love with the movie.”

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace poster

Besides braving the hardships of waiting in line, countless fans have battled the elements. Dustin Bennett didn’t want to leave purchasing tickets for The Phantom Menace to his unreliable dial-up connection so he and his friend went to the theater to get in line for the presale. They arrived the night before the on sale date at 9:00pm and joined the 40 or so people already in line. But a few hours later, a storm swept in. They jokingly called it Tropical Storm Lucas. Bennett says, “There was an awning that went around the perimeter of the building so the line eventually moved its way under it but it was little good to stop the power that was Tropical Storm Lucas. Some groups decided to take shifts, let half their group go sleep in their cars while the others of the group waited in line. At 3 a.m., however, it got to the point where wind was breaking tree branches and lightning had even knocked down a tree. It was then everyone ran for their cars. Once [George] Lucas passed everyone started slowly getting out of their cars and reformed the line. As morning came and the sun rose, fallen tree branches became lightsabers, people were generous in allowing the original line order to form, and eventually we all got our tickets.”

The release of The Phantom Menace in 1999 was prominent in the stories of many fans I heard from, including Jessica Scott. She saw Star Wars when it was released in 1977, and it had such an impact on her that she went to USC because George Lucas went there. Because of that, she met Chris Carter and got her first professional gig as a staff writer on The X-Files. Star Wars has helped shape her life, so when The Phantom Menace arrived, she pulled out all the stops. She’d camped out as a kid for the original trilogy movies, but for Episode I, she waited with friends for two weeks. She waited despite the fact that her wedding was scheduled at the end of that month.

Scott describes the experience, “It was a full-on tent city at The Big Newport. I’d say at least 40 tents and about 100 people. The theater was amazing. They let us jack into their power supply. They let us use the bathrooms. They kept concessions open all night, even coming around at 3:00am with free popcorn. We became friends with everyone in line. We played Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, we had lightsaber battles, we set up couches and full-sized fridges and flat-screen TVs and binged watched the original trilogy over and over. John Williams’ iconic soundtracks were always wafting out of someone’s tent. I remember it like it was yesterday.” She plans to camp out for The Force Awakens too, with the same group of friends and even the same tent.

Two weeks is an impressive amount of time to wait in line, but Bryan Lee has it topped. He was part of a group that participated in a charity line-up for Revenge of the Sith to raise money for Starlight Starbright. They stood in line for six and a half weeks outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Lee himself spent  just over 1,001 hours in line. He says, “Naturally camping out for Star Wars on Hollywood Blvd for over six weeks made for some crazy stories. There was a pay phone by the line, and we published the number for people to call in, so all day we’d take calls from fans cheering us on, jerks heckling and prank calling us, radio stations and press from around the world interviewing us, etc. To pass the time in line, some of us built our own Jedi cloaks and lightsabers, played board games, chatted with fans watching our 24-hour webcam, and even super-glued a quarter to the sidewalk to count how many people would try to pick it up.”

After all the waiting, the film didn’t even get shown at Grauman’s so they had to split up and go to two different theaters. On their last day in line, Lucasfilm arranged a garrison of 501st Legion members to escort the group from Graumann’s to the Cinerama Dome. The experience was so memorable that several participants got matching tattoos to commemorate the occasion. Most of the same crew is planning an event for The Force Awakens, but with assigned seating and advance ticket sales, they’re only planning to line up for about 12 days. They want to preserve the fun and experience of waiting in line even if it’s not completely necessary any longer.

Have you waited in line to buy tickets or get the best seats for a Star Wars film? Share your stories in the comments.

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.