Tuesday, May 17, 2005

If half the cubicles in your office are empty Thursday, blame it on George Lucas.

Mr. Lucas’ sixth, and final, film of his decades-old galactic saga, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” opens Thursday and is likely to lure many die-hard fans out of their office chairs and into stadium seating to see why Anakin went Darth.

Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm, estimated that 51 percent of people attending opening day would be full-time workers, costing employers as much as $627 million in lost productivity.

“Already we were looking at huge opening weekend audiences,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the firm.

Researchers calculated the number of absent employees by assuming that opening day of “Revenge of the Sith” will at least match that of the most recent “Star Wars” movie, “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

Based on the 9.4 million people who attended “Attack of the Clones” and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers were able to calculate the cost of 4.8 million employees taking a day off to see the movie.

“Of course, these estimates are probably on the conservative side … absenteeism may even start on Wednesday for those who want to see the first screening at midnight,” Mr. Challenger said.

Nobody contacted for this article wanted to discuss their planned absences.

The number of employees taking off to see “Star Wars” has been steadily climbing since 5.7 million people turned out to see “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” on opening day six years ago.

When “Attack of the Clones” opened in 2002, Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicted that as many as 2.6 million workers would take a personal day to attend.

“This is a pop culture event, many people have used this movie to mark their lives and they want to see how the final chapter is going to end; this is the grand finale in a 28-year journey,” Mr. Challenger said.

The first “Star Wars” introduced Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Yoda and Darth Vader to movie-goers in 1977.

The last, or third in the prequel series, “Revenge of the Sith,” explains how Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader.

For those planning on skipping work or school, information technology support company Geek Squad is offering fans free excuse notes that they can download for free.

Officials at the company said they expect the movie to attract a large number of IT workers and thought excuse notes would be “fun.”

But for some fans, the power of the Force just isn’t strong enough to make them miss work.

“My wife and I stood in line years and years ago when the first one came out, but we aren’t planning on doing it again,” said Terry Rudd of Columbia, Md.

“Revenge of the Sith” is expected to top $100 million in box-office receipts for its first four days.

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