Monday, May 9, 2005

Perhaps it is like some ancient ritual in which tribesmen endured sun and rain for days on end to prove their worth. Perhaps they come to form friendships and bonds with others that will define this moment in their lives.

Or, perhaps, they simply like the attention.

Whatever the reason, fans of the “Star Wars” franchise began lining up Friday outside the Uptown Theatre in Northwest 13 days in advance — yes, 13 days — to see what is being billed as the final film in the series. “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” opens May 19.

It certainly can’t be just to get first pick of the Uptown’s 840 seats.

Yesterday, behind metal barricades on the sidewalk outside the theater sat a man in a chair, under an umbrella, by himself. He, or any one of about half a dozen other pilgrims like him, have been sharing the space set apart on the sidewalk and waiting.

They are the first to arrive, the vanguard.

The man asked not to be identified. For the sake of this story, let’s call him, “Obi-Wan Doe.”

His wife is the real fan, he said. She got him into it. Still, he has camped outside theaters for all three of the “Star Wars” prequels.

Next to Obi-Wan Doe is a bust of Darth Maul, a creature of pure evil forged by the hateful energies of the Dark Side to exact vengeance upon the Jedi for the decimation of the Sith ranks.

The bust looks as if it may have held cookies at one time.

Across from Obi-Wan Doe’s chair is a mattress and a “Star Wars” sleeping bag.

Unlike vigils before the previous two films, Obi-Wan Doe wears no costume. He usually dresses as a stormtrooper, but he has to order another costume on the Internet. They can cost more than $500, he said. And they are hot.

Heat should not be a problem today, but Obi-Wan Doe is dreading tomorrow because there’s a chance of heavy rain in the forecast. In that event, a blue tarp stands ready to be flung over the habitat in seconds.

Heat, rain or wind, Obi-Wan Doe, who later was identified as Halit Sari of Maryland, won’t be alone for long.

A message board on a Web site,, spreads the word for those who might be interested in camping outside the Uptown. The message purports to come from the “Garrison Tyranus 501st Legion of Stormtroopers.”

Further down, another message addresses the logistics: No, the police won’t arrest anyone for sleeping on the sidewalk. Yes, the local civic association is OK with this. No, the store owners won’t fuss — as long as nobody blocks the doors to their shops. Bathrooms? That one is still being worked out.

Henry Passman, the manager of the theater, has been cooperative. He did not work at the Uptown when the prior two prequels opened, but he seems to understand the ritualistic behavior of “Star Wars” fans. He even provided the metal barricades.

He may need them.

On Thursday, the Uptown will host a charity screening of the film. Attendees will march past the gathered pilgrims as they enter and exit the theater, one week before the film opens to the general public.

Mr. Passman said the theater is prepared for anything — even a revolt.

“There’s a contingency plan for each contingency,” he said, adding that the plans must remain secret because their disclosure would render them ineffective.

When asked whether he expects sellout crowds, he refused to be pinned down.

“Tickets are selling briskly for the first week,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

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