Spirit's Account of
Waiting in Line for Phantom Menace Tickets

May 1999

The week before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace opened, my friend Davin called me up and said he was thinking about standing in line to get Star Wars tickets. I said, "Why? For that nostalgic feel? This is 1999. We have tens of thousands of movie theaters across the country. There will not be a shortage, and the news about lines is a myth."

How wrong I was.

I did not know at the time, of course, that George Lucas was being so stringent about who gets to show his movie, and how tickets will be sold. Opening day, the movie will only be shown at theaters with screens large enough, and sound systems good enough, for George's standards. Tickets were limited to 12 per person.

The debut was moved back from Friday the 21st to Wednesday the 19th, because George knew the die-hard fans would see it first, and he didn't want the die-hards to crowd out the families who would see it on the weekend with their kids. Tickets were set to go on sale Wed. May 12 at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.

I agreed to take off from work on Wednesday the 12th and switch off with Davin in line. We were planning on showing up at the theater on Wednesday morning.

Tuesday night, he called me up and said he'd already been to visit the camp once, and was going back there again that evening, just to spend some time and have some fun. I went with him. He picked me up at the back alley entrance to my house, so I left the front gate closed and locked. I took my toy lightsaber with me.

A private group called Countdown Dallas (now called DFW Fan Force) organized the line outside one of Dallas's biggest theaters, the Galaxy. This theater boasts "the biggest screen in Texas."

We arrived to find a small tent city springing up from the ground. Storm clouds threatened all around, and wooden slats formed a path across the mud to the main canopy. My lightsaber was not the only one there. It was sprinkling off and on. (The weather, not my lightsaber.)

I heard conflicting things. Some people said the theater wasn't working with Countdown at all, that they couldn't. Others said the theater would give people in the Countdown line due preference. Whichever was true, people agreed to abide by Countdown's rules. The alternative was anarchy and disorganization, and no one wanted that.

The number of people camped out were actually very few until the final night, but the organizers had been there for three weeks. They were camped in a small field across from the theater. The rules were that anyone who joined them signed in and out of a log book. When it came time to line up for tickets, people who had amassed the most total time received preference.

Countdown was sponsoring a charity, the Hope Cottage. For every $10 donated to the charity, you got an hour added to your name. A news article stated that they have so far risen $2,500 for the Hope Cottage.

The time system sounds great in theory, but they didn't carry it out perfectly, and not all of it was clear at first. But it was good enough in the end.

I asked one man how long he'd been there. He immediately got defensive, saying, "I'm only staying for one night. I don't know any of these people." He said it as if he was afraid of being branded a weirdo. I left him alone and chatted with someone else.

We had a great time talking to everyone. There was a lot of laughter, a really great atmosphere. The crowd grew along with the evening, and two news crews showed up. We watched their reports on a miniature TV someone had brought along. Davin and I were shown for a few seconds talking with someone.

We talked with a couple of people who had attended the press viewing of the movie that evening. They didn't give anything away, but they were so jazzed. They said it was super-awesome. One man advised us to take a bag into the theater, because the lightsaber fights will cause us to hyperventilate.

About 11:00, they started calling out names from the log book to hand out numbers. Since Davin and I were signed in, we went ahead and took a couple of numbers. They should have had a megaphone, because not everyone was hearing them, and some people missed their names being called. When they stepped forward later, they were told, "Too bad, you should have heard." That was pretty crappy.

They then called a drill, asking everyone to line up along the road! They were preparing themselves to head over to the theater the moment the theater managers allowed permission to enter the property. They told us that no one could leave the line once it formed, except for short breaks. This is where it began to get confusing.

I asked, "Why did you bother handing out numbers? I wasn't planning on staying overnight, I was planning on coming back tomorrow because I have a number." I was told, "Nope. That's not how it works."

Davin and I were contemplating on whether to stay or go, when they called another drill. Then they said it wasn't a drill – it was real. It was midnight, and the theater was allowing them onto the property. The line was forming at that moment. Davin and I had to claim a place in line, or risk being shoved too far back the next morning, for by this time, there were about a hundred people.

So we stood on the curb, joking and yelling and having a really rowdy time. We couldn't step out, for any reason, or we would lose our places.

Then the rain, which had mostly held off until then, chose exactly that moment to pour down in buckets. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts.

We marched over to the theater, around the back, and into a line at the only ticket booth chosen to sell Star Wars tickets. We were told that we could leave for short periods, but basically, it was stay in line for the next 18 hours or lose it. If you were one of the people who had been camping for three weeks, it didn't matter. No leniency was given. Several people (not me) became a bit disgruntled at this.

Then Countdown established another rule which disallowed any hard objects which could be used to hurt someone, either accidentally or on purpose. This included lawn chairs and ice chests! That's right, we couldn't have anything to sit on except for the ground. People griped, but no one argued. Some people were on their way to getting drunk.

I hadn't been planning to stay longer than 11:00, and suddenly, I was in an overnight line. It happened so fast, I'm still not sure how I ended up there.

Davin and I had been planning on trading out, so we both didn't need a number. He was ahead of me, so I gave up mine. We were told that trading out was okay. I needed to go home. Others were dressed a little more warmly. I was going to get pneumonia if I stayed there another five minutes, but Davin was the one who had driven there, and his car was several parking lots away. The rain was still pouring.

At that moment, another friend of ours, Marvin, showed up. He'd seen us on the news, and he was driving by to visit. He was a Godsend. He agreed to drive me home, and Davin would stay in line.

By this time, I was excited. It was like being at a big party, and standing in pouring rain for Star Wars tickets made me feel alive. Despite the griping, everyone was having a great time, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Marvin dropped me off in front of my house, where I normally enter. The rain had stopped, but I was still cold. He drove off, and I went up to my front gate – which was locked. I had forgotten that I had left by the back gate.

I had to walk around the block and into the alley. I had never walked the alley before, so I'd never truly appreciated how long and dark it is. I needed some light. So if any of my neighbors glanced out their back windows at 12:30 that morning, they would have seen a glowing lightsaber being carried down the alley. I was just hoping a police car didn't come by, because I didn't want to explain myself.

I reached the back gate without being attacked by stray cats, muggers, or stormtroopers. I changed into warmer clothes, got my camera and a big coat to lie on, and drove back to the theater in my own car. Luckily, I only live about 10 minutes away.

Davin and I decided to stick it out in line. I wanted to be able to say, "I did this. I waited overnight in a Star Wars line!" It's like a badge of honor, and I wanted it.

I took the first shift. Davin went home to get some sleep, and people around me slowly settled down for the long wait. By this time, I was tired, but I didn't get much sleep. The police showed up for some kind of trouble, I never learned what, and apparently some people were asked to leave.

One of the guys in front of me kept us all "entertained" (and I use the term loosely) by telling us how brilliant he was, how right he was in his opinions, and how many drugs he did in high school. He was irritating, but tolerable. A lot of the crowd consisted of high school and college students, many of whom weren't even a twinkle in anyone's eye when Star Wars was originally released 22 years ago.

I borrowed a puzzle book someone brought and did some puzzles, or just rested. I also took a few pictures with my camera and with Davin's camera. Around 4:00 AM. I left to get a newspaper. A cute girl named Heather gave tarot readings. I don't believe in tarot, but for something to do, I asked her to do a reading for me. I also showed her a card trick. The reading she gave was interesting, but I think it was more based on her reading of people rather than the cards. A newlywed couple ahead of me had a really cute puppy dog, about six weeks old, which they kept in their car and let out for walks every now and then.

The news crews came back twice. They loved a girl who gave a Yoda impersonation (whom I later learned was Mary, I think), and the guys who were playing Star Wars Monopoly.

I finally drifted off to sleep around 5:30. By this time, the line was a long row of sleeping bags. I woke up at 6:00, when reveille was played in the form of a CD player belting out the Star Wars theme song.

Around sunrise, we learned the district manager for the theater was coming out. Apparently, people in Califronia had been acting up and not abiding by Countdown's rules, and things were getting ugly on the west coast. The manager wanted to make sure the same things didn't happen in Dallas. (I'm proud to say it didn't.)

Davin came back about 6:30. I went to get us breakfast, then left him to it. I went home, checked my mail, and went to bed, setting the alarm for 12:00.

I got up on schedule and popped a tape into the VCR for a local TV station, in case I was on the news again, and returned to the theater. The line extended halfway around it. Everyone was still there, and tickets were about to go on sale. (About an hour before schedule, I might add. Whether the early release of tickets was authorised by Lucasfilm or not, I don't know.)

A cheer went up when the first man got his tickets. From there, it took us about 15 minutes to reach the box office, and we got what we wanted – 12 tickets for the earliest possible showing. I'll be seeing the film at 12:01 AM, Wednesday May 19th, on the biggest screen in Texas. (And Texas is a very big place.) They were $6.50 a piece.

Davin and I walked once around the theater, taking pictures and viewing the line we had beaten. I knew the poor sods in back weren't going to reach the box office in anything less than five hours. As we walked, people pointed and stared at my lightsaber. It was then I remembered that to them, it was strange. These were the casual fans, not the die-hards. To me, the lightsaber wasn't a big deal. To them, it was a novelty. I was one of the whackos who had stayed all night.

We signed out of the log book and went to lunch, where I sat wondering how I could stay awake the rest of the day.

Countdown is still going. Another line will form for the actual movie viewing, and the time system still applies. The time Davin and I logged will be counted towards how high up in the line we can be to enter the theater. I, for one, do not intend to have lain on a sidewalk for six hours just to end up in the back of the theater. So it looks like I'll be headed straight to the theater after work next Tuesday.

Photos of the Phantom Menace ticket line

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