This is a guest column written by Legion M Head of Content Development David Baxter
When Carrie Fisher passed away at the end of December, like all Star Wars fans, I was heartbroken. But thinking about first seeing her in Star Wars (no episode number IV back in 1977) when I was a 13-year-old brought back one of my fondest memories to help comfort me during the loss of my Princess.
My older brother Alex had seen Star Wars opening night on Wednesday. The next day he mentioned that “You’d probably like this film. It’s cool.” That was the understatement of a lifetime! I had seen a trailer and was intrigued. I was a Star Trek fan but this It didn’t look anything like that.
After substantial pestering, Alex agreed to take me and my best friend Paul to see it that weekend.
That Saturday we picked up Paul in my family’s Oldsmobile 98 and drove to Southfield, the home of the Americana, the largest theater in Michigan which had the only 70mm six-track Dolby Stereo print of the film and 1750 seats to fill.
We arrived about half an hour before the movie started at what could only be described as a mob scene. There was a line around the theater. Paul did a quick mental calculation and declared that we would never get into the theater.
We got to the back of the line and immediately noticed a difference. Everyone was talking about the film, how many times they had already seen it or how excited they were about seeing it for the first time. There had never been a movie that had created this kind of communal feeling. It was electric!
So, we waited and chatted and fretted about the movie selling out until we finally got up to the ticket kiosk. We just made it in but the next problem was there was no chance we could sit together. It looked like every single seat was taken.
Paul, Alex and I all went along different aisles searching for seats to sit in even though the lights had already dimmed. I was losing hope of finding a single seat let along three seats in a row. Then something magical happened. Paul managed to get an entire row of people to move over so we could all sit together!
Suddenly we had prime seats for what would be the experience of a lifetime. Star Wars didn’t disappoint. Paul and I were stunned. Every scene flowed perfectly into the next introducing us to the characters we all now love and admire and the ones we feared…Darth Vader was the coolest villain ever created.
We stumbled back to the Olds planning when we could see it again. Alex had us both sit in the back and when he pulled out onto Southfield Road he roared “We’re making the jump to light speed!” and floored the gas pedal slamming Paul and me back against the rear seat as we laughed in sheer joy! In that moment, it seemed like anything was possible all because of Star Wars!
Of course, Paul and I returned to the Americana over and over to see Star Wars that summer and had to wait in long lines for hours but we didn’t care, now we had the fun of taking about all the details of the movie with our friends or the pleasure of taking someone who hadn’t seen it and bringing them into the lived-in universe that George Lucas created for us all. From then on we and all our friends were determined to be the first in line to see all the forthcoming Star Wars films.
Today, no one needs to wait in line for movie tickets because of advance ticket sales. We actually don’t even need to leave our homes. The window of time between when a film is in theaters and when it comes out for home viewing has narrowed to about three months, sometimes even less if you’re willing to pay a little more. We can watch the biggest movies on the tiniest screens comfortably at home or on the train or waiting in line at the grocery store.
If we do want to go to the movies, it’s easy enough to order tickets online. More and more theaters now have reserved seating so there’s not even a need to arrive early. The movie-watching experience has become incredibly efficient.
But where’s the fun in that?
Although they don’t have to, people are still waiting in line for certain movies — especially the Star Wars saga. All over the country last month people waited in line to see Rogue One. In San Diego a group took turns holding each other’s place in line from 6 a.m. the day the movie opened.
In LA, I was lucky enough to wait in line with die hard fans at the TCL Chinese Theatre. My company, Legion M, partnered with Liningup.net to have a waiting-in-line party to raise money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Despite a rain storm, fans turned out in costume armed with lightsabers five hours before the movie started!
So what is it about the Star Wars films that brings people to wait when they don’t have to? Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I think it’s something more. The internet has brought us close together and provided every fan with a forum where they can dissect their favorite films or TV shows to their heart’s content. And while those connections are fantastic, they’re not in person where the conversations go deeper and connections get stronger.
What’s more, when you’ve waiting in line, all of that anticipation and excitement gets funneled from the street into the theater and fans cheer and applaud together — the experience goes beyond what’s just on the screen.
Waiting in line is the movie-lovers version of the tailgate party. Sports fan love to gather in stadium parking lots hours before the game to drink, eat, talk and laugh with people who share their love of the team. It would be more comfortable to go to a restaurant or bar before the game or to even just stay home in a warm comfortable house and watch the game with easy access to already-paid-for beer and a line-free toilet but that’s not the point for these people.
Technology is great but it can’t replicate the power of standing next to someone who shares your passionate interest in a film or sporting event. Humans are social creatures and no technology can fully replace this urge to, pardon the pun, converge. I’ll be in line next December for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I hope you will be too!