The Fandom Menace

Living on the sidewalk for a month. Sleeping with Wookiees. Thousand-dollar action figures. Think the new Star Wars is just a movie? You poor fool.

One of them is out there right now. The skinny raver who wears a different T-shirt in every picture on his Web site sat down on the concrete a week ago with his Dell Inspiron laptop and sleeping bag. Right there on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard too, right outside Mann's Chinese Theater.

Others will soon follow. On Monday, more young men and women, maybe a dozen and maybe 50, will show up and sit down on the sidewalk. Each will carry tools for portable survival--sleeping bags and PowerBars and generators and DVD players. They are all in for the long haul. Thirty days and 30 nights. A month of their lives.

This same thing will happen a few miles away in Westwood in front of Mann's Village theater. It will happen, too, outside the UA Galaxy 9 in North Dallas, the Coronet in San Francisco, and the Ziegfield in midtown Manhattan. Packs of squatters will show up, carrying whatever they consider essential to daily life, to set up camp on the sidewalk. They will sleep there, brush their teeth there, live there. Some will switch off with partners, tag team-style, signing in and out with an organizer holding a clipboard. Over the following weeks, their numbers will swell. Thirty or so other cities across America, including Chicago and Denver and Austin, will spawn these urban campgrounds where hundreds and hundreds of people will talk, play games, and broadcast themselves on 24-hour-a-day live WebCams. Those living on the Hollywood sidewalk will shower across the street, in the Roosevelt Hotel, where a few have rented rooms. Some concrete dwellers will wear smooth white helmets; others will wear brown robes. They will hold small plastic representations of people in white helmets and brown robes. They will munch on Subway sandwiches, likely provided free of charge by the company, a rumored sponsor. A half-dozen documentary crews will film the scene from start to finish.

After two or three weeks, Hollywood Boulevard's population may rise into the thousands, and TV news crews will gleefully broadcast shiny white helmets and fast-food logos around the globe. Eventually, there could be as many as 13,000 people on the sidewalk outside the Chinese Theater, crowding out the footprints and handprints and tourists.

One month after The Line began--and five weeks after the skinny raver showed up--on May 19, the packs of nomads will start filing into theaters to watch a movie. Two hours later, they will emerge from the dark, and many will get right back in line.

And this is just the beginning.

There is a moment in Star Wars, the 1977 film about a bored teenager who left home to save the galaxy, when a tiny black spaceship gets blasted in the wing and spins off into space. It is not destroyed, and neither is its inhabitant, the evil Darth Vader. This happens late in the movie, just as Luke Skywalker, the hero, blows up the planet-eating Death Star and gets a medal.

Cecil Seaskull, then 7 years old and living in New York, saw Darth Vader's escape in the spinning ship and jumped up, grabbing for her father's hand. "There's gonna be another movie!" she told him, astonished, impressed, aware of the deepening plot even at the film's end. There's gonna be another movie!

And there was. In 1981, writer-creator-god George Lucas delivered The Empire Strikes Back, the continued story of Luke Skywalker's journey from farm boy to spiritually mature warrior. Darth Vader revealed himself as Luke's father, Han Solo got encased in a big slab of metal, and the bad guys won. A cliffhanger with a promise: There's gonna be more.

And in 1983, Return of the Jedi. Good regains ground, battles are won, hundreds of furry pagans dance, the father is redeemed. End of story. By this time, Cecil Seaskull and the millions of other young moviegoers by now seriously addicted to Lucas' space opera knew that the man had plans for the future. These fans could handle that Jedi was subpar, a piece of shit compared with the others, because they believed there would be six more movies. Three would have their action set in a time before the original Star Wars, telling of how a young boy named Anakin Skywalker became the evil Darth Vader; three would happen after Jedi, telling of the rebuilt Republic.

Yet for 16 years, George Lucas delivered nothing, except the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition in 1997, a remastered version with added scenes and updated computer graphics. (It took in $475 million.) For most of Cecil Seaskull's life, the great bearded god did other things, and a generation of kids who first learned of good and evil, of religion and relationships, of life and death from Lucas' movies were left to grow up alone. They held on to their faith that there would be another. During these Dark Ages, Seaskull returned again and again to the time when she first saw Star Wars, when that spaceship spun away unharmed, and the story arc was revealed to her--the first time something clicked.

"That was the defining moment when I decided I was going to be a storyteller," says Seaskull, now 29 and living in Silver Lake, California, just east of Hollywood. She relives the scene with wide eyes and two hands waving in the air. "That was the moment where my life's path was made, you know?"

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