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At a Movie Theater Not So Far, Far Away

'Stars Wars' fans camp at Grauman's Chinese six weeks before 'Episode III' is set to premiere somewhere else.

April 08, 2005|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

It was Gianennio Salucci's turn to answer the calls from reporters on two pay phones at "Star Wars" fans' campsite outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

"Yes, we know the movie isn't coming out for six more weeks," he told another radio reporter. "Yes, I know it's not playing at this theater."

"Yes, I have a job."

And when the inquiring mind on the other end muttered the inevitable signoff, "May the force be with you," Salucci replied with a sigh, "And with you too."

"They all ask the same questions," he said. Added Sarah Parker-Allen: "We figure the story's already written, and we're just the props."

Those phones at Hollywood Boulevard and North Orange Drive have been ringing virtually nonstop since Variety, MTV, the BBC, Associated Press and several TV stations reported that the fans had chosen the wrong theater for their camp-out.

The movie they are salivating to see, "Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith," sixth in the "Star Wars" series to be released, is set to open several blocks away at ArcLight Cinemas on Sunset Boulevard.

But it's all a misunderstanding, say the "Star Wars" campers, one of whom came from Ohio and another from Australia. The two dozen fans at the site at midday Thursday said they just wanted the premiere switched to Grauman's. After all, they said, the first movie to be made in the series, 1977's "Star Wars," premiered there.

Moreover, they don't like ArcLight's assigned seating and prefer Grauman's THX-certified sound system to the Dolby at the other theater.

"Star Wars" is synonymous with Grauman's; it meets director George Lucas' standards, said Erik Murillo, 32.

A few dozen fans have been camping out around the clock since Saturday. They have rigged up a DSL high-speed Internet access line, along with an electrical line from a nearby store, so their laptop computer can access the Web as they sit on home-made wooden benches and under a tarp.

They are also rigging up a live net-cam. "Star Wars" fans can tune in to their website, www.liningup.net, and donate to the campers' charity.

As of Thursday afternoon, they had raised $8,000 for the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, which works with seriously ill children.

The more hours each of the campers hangs out, the more points they accumulate toward getting tickets -- assuming the movie opens at Grauman's. If not, they vow to skip the premiere.

"I just won't go," Jerry Anderson said. Would he really miss the premiere of the latest installment in his all-time favorite movie series? "Well, I will be so disappointed," he said. "It will probably take one or two days to get over it, but then I'll go."

"It's an honor to stand in line to represent something," said Anderson, 27, who works at a clothing store. "A lot of people might call us geeks or dorks, but it's really cinematic history."

Sarah Sprague, 31, was growing testy as she tried to say the same thing to a sports reporter calling from Detroit.

"Yeah, I know it's just a movie," she said. "You've been reporting on sports, and you ask me whether I have a life?"

Then she asked the reporter if he wasn't wasting his life covering 40 Tiger baseball games this year, referring to the team as "that losing cause."

The fans said they had camped out before the debuts of "Star Wars" movies in 1999 and 2002. They claimed credit for persuading 20th Century Fox to switch the '99 premiere from what was then the Cinerama Dome (now the centerpiece of ArcLight) to Grauman's, at that time called Mann's Chinese. In 2002, they flocked to Grauman's again after hearing rumors that another "Star Wars" film would open elsewhere. (It didn't.)

All of which raised the cynical question: Have such camp-outs become part of the studio publicity game?

"I don't think it's purposeful manipulation," said Ric Peralta, 32, a Hollywood optician who is camping out on his day off. "But it works out in the end, because it benefits charity."

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