Weekender

People used to camp out to see a new ‘Star Wars’ movie in Centre County. Is it still a big event?

“Star Wars” fans have a mock battle in State College while awaiting the midnight showing of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” in May 2005.
“Star Wars” fans have a mock battle in State College while awaiting the midnight showing of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” in May 2005. Centre Daily Times, file

“Return of the Jedi” opened in theaters everywhere on May 25, 1983 — except not really.

That summer’s top grossing film — and the third in George Lucas’ original and mega-successful “Star Wars” trilogy — didn’t reach movie screens in Centre County until more than six months later, thanks to a contract dispute between distributor 20th Century Fox and Cinemette Theater Corp.

Three years prior, “The Empire Strikes Back” had ended on what is perhaps the most infamous, oft-referenced cliffhanger in all of popular culture. Say it with me now: “Luke, I am your —.”

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to ... something or other. ... Anyway, it was less than ideal.

A State College man named Earle Harner chartered a bus to transport disenfranchised fans to a screening at the Roxy Theatre in Lock Haven. He received more than 45 inquiries in three days.

“It seemed like there was a need for something to be done,” Harner said.

On Sunday night, I forked over $63 in exchange for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that these pretty blue eyes will be among the very first to gaze upon “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Technically, I only agreed to $21 (side note: if a theater’s website freezes in the middle of processing a ticket order, do not hit “refresh” three times. Just put your hands in your pockets and slowly back away from the computer).

For $63, Mark Hamill should sit next to me in the movie theater and provide a running commentary that includes no less than three colorful anecdotes about the making of the film. Peter Mayhew should drop by the house in full Chewbacca costume and help me put up the Christmas tree.

But you know what? I have no regrets. Firstly, because I’m certain that the blind complaint I filed on theater’s website has about a 60-40 shot of landing in front of actual human eyeballs.

And, secondly, because it’s “Star Wars.”

I pitched this column as sort of a pop cultural audit. Is “Star Wars” still an event? Would people still hop on a bus full of strangers to get the results of Luke Skywalker’s paternity test?

There are so many of these movies now (nine and counting) and so very many more to come (Lucasfilm wants to drop at least one a year) that I keep waiting for fatigue to hit, the day that blowing off work and going to the new “Star Wars” movie feels like blowing off work and going to OfficeMax.

Should that day ever come, I take comfort in knowing that at least I’ll have company.

Way back in May 1999, the CDT covered the opening of “The Phantom Menace” over at the Cinema 5 Theatre on Hiester Street. People had literally been camped outside of the theater since midnight, waiting for tickets for the critically drubbed installment to go on sale at noon.

“They’re awesome,” a fan named Lila Naydan told the CDT of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. “There’s no way this can (be that bad).”

How’s that for blind optimism?

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

  Comments