Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace: On Line in Toronto

by Jason Gorber

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It was a sunny day at Yonge and Eglington in downtown Toronto as I approached the line.

There was a week and a half to go before the show let in, as a motley group of about 20 sat on plastic lawn chairs, drinkingfrom cans decorated with Amadala, Qui Gon, and a bunch of other strange creatures. A pair were playing chess, while others were discussing rule changes to make the game of Classic Trilogy Trivial Pursuit harder. Otherwise, you see, the game would be over too quickly. And anticipation, after all, it what makes doing anything worthwhile.

I spent a great deal of time among the people with whom I would see the first screening at the York cinemas. My first arrival found me surrounded by the hardcore liners. There was 'dancing' Ken, who lived in the parking lot for the fourteen days of the line. Matt sat philosophically with his Return of the Jedi bed sheets covering him like he was some Arabian knight. The pony tailed 'Sandwich boy' intensely proved his photographic recollection of the trilogy, deriding the apocrypha that littered the trivia cards. The rest toyed passively with their plastic sabres and contemplated what the film would end up being like. Soon, Debbie joined us for the evening, the sixteen year old organizer of this brood, her face marked with the same harried look that she would wear for the duration of the line.

People drove by, some honking in support, others shouting derisive comments. Favourites included a pair of buttocks with the words "moon of Endor" plastered suggestively across both cheeks, and the vehicle that took four passes to chant out "Get.... A.... Life.... Losers...."

Most people didn't get that for the most part line time was done in shifts - not all of the line was made up of the unemployed or the disenfranchised. They also were surprised to learn that there was a charitable intent as well, raising in the end hundreds of dollars for a local teen organization.

The media took interest, often constructing their own news when the reality of a bunch of fans waiting together for a movie wasn't exciting enough. On local station's presence was particularly repulsive, as they moved in the multimedia sixth fleet, complete with flashing strobe lights and prizes that they gave away to their own staff masquerading as line people. These would be the same news organizations that would unreflexively claim that the film was the "most over hyped film in history." If simple hyperbole can't make your point, then an exploitative media event certainly seemed for them worth a try.

Often, people would come up, asking about the early reports of negative press concerning the movie. For those who thought the point was to see the best movie of all time were entirely missing the point. What the point was became a matter of dispute, but it seemed obvious to all what the line was not. For me, the line was simply and blandly of a group of people united in a desire to see a film together at a classic movie theatre. By the end of the line, none of us were really strangers. Sometimes, of course, this fact became unpleasant. But overall, there developed a comradery that made the first screening extremely enjoyable.

In the end, the point was simply to see the film with this group of people who shared the experience of waiting for the last few weeks together. Many of us, after all, have been actively waiting some sixteen years. What's a few weeks outside when three fifths of my life has been spent in anticipation?

The first screening was inevitably surreal. The receding logo, the title crawl, the familiar theme - the film couldn't help but seem both odd and oddly familiar. It not only was the first time in years that there was a new Star Wars film, it was the first time in living memory that there was a Star Wars film where I didn't know what would happen. It wasn't until the second time through, all reservations and preconditions put to rest, that I could sit back and enjoy the film. And enjoy it I did. Like Return of the Jedi, it includes some of the best and worst elements of the series. Like Jedi, it's more kid oriented than Empire, more polished and less sincere then Star Wars. Yet it does convey a fantastic image, and if not a brilliant movie, it's at least a pretty good one.

The film has been repeatedly described as critic proof, as if there's nothing good to be said about it. Critic's slagged Jar Jar's comedic role, even chiding the supposed racism exhibited in the alien creatures. As Yoda told Luke when he entered the tree, people tend to get out of things only what they bring in with them.

I stayed for seven consecutive screenings, inhabiting the theatre for twenty four hours. It was an attempt to get intimate with the film in the same way that I am with the holy trilogy, knowing the little quirks that make the film interesting. This led to some interesting games: watching for in every scene how Jar Jar could come to his (un)timely death, or how Ewan McGreggor smirks his way through the film, reflecting, as the blue haired line veteran Hillary described it, a mix of "ohmygod I'm in a Star Wars film" and "oh shit this dialogue's terrible."

In the end, the film plays as the first part of a serial. Unlike with Episode 4, Lucas knows he's making two others. It may that when the rest of the pieces of the puzzle are put together, people will look back on the movie and realize it's a better film then they may have thought. Many things are set up, and little events, the more blatant being the introduction of Anakin to Obi Wan (the child who will grow up to kill his master) illustrate the introductory nature of the film that contains many events which will resonate stronger after their meanings are revealed.

Lucas is expected to have the next script done by September. Pre-production has already started, and the art department is hard at work designing the new worlds for Episode II. Was the wait in line worth it? Absolutely. What the film worth the wait? Sure. Would I do it again? Well, twice more, surely.

Episode II opens in May, 2002. See you in line.

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