The Fandom Menace

Living on the sidewalk for a month. Sleeping with Wookiees. $300 action figures. The new Star Wars isn't just a movie. It's a force that's with us.

They're out there right now. The skinny raver-looking guy who wears a different T-shirt in every picture on his Web site was the first to sit down on the concrete with his Dell Inspiron laptop and sleeping bag. Right there on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard, too, outside Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

Others followed, and soon, more young men and women, maybe a dozen, maybe 50, show up and sit down. Since parking's a bitch and $7 an hour, most of these people are dropped off by friends and relatives. Each carries tools for portable survival -- sleeping bags and PowerBars 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 Coronet in San Francisco's Richmond District 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 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 Web cams. Those living on the Hollywood sidewalk will shower across the street in the Hotel Roosevelt, 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 eat 6-foot sandwiches provided, free of charge, by Subway. 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 Subway 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.

And 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, 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 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 to 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. 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. But they held onto 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. 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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